Susan Field 2 Mar 2017 10:30am

Tales from the frontline: Susan Field

Susan Field has spent most of her career in practice, advising a wide range of charities. As she explains, it’s the ideal background for the new president of CABA

Caption: Photography: David Vintiner

My father was an accountant and I used to go to his office on a Saturday morning. But I was told accountancy wasn’t a career for girls so I studied pharmacy, which I loathed, then business studies. I gained the confidence to stand up to those who told me not to become a chartered accountant and trained at a small firm in the City.

My then husband and I and a friend used to volunteer at our local Citizens Advice Bureau helping people with tax problems. That friend was running her own practice and when she went to live abroad she asked if I would take over. She had quite a few charity clients and it continued to grow from there.

I sold my practice in 2012 but continued to work there to facilitate the transition. In 2015 I was approached to become FD of a homeless charity and have been there ever since. In 2012 I became a trustee of CABA and took over as president in 2016 when former president Richard Wade retired.

There was an internal restructuring during Richard’s time in office to focus on awareness raising and increasing engagement with ICAEW members and firms. Part of my role is to support the senior management team as they increase the range of services. Because I’m on the Institute Council and have been around for a long time, I know a lot of people and I hope my contacts will help with this.

Since we sold a piece of land we owned, we’ve been able to expand the range of what we do. It means CABA is different to 10-15 years ago. We now have support to help people with all areas of their personal wellbeing. We also work with other charities including Dementia UK and Age UK to provide additional specialist support.

All three ICAEW office holders are CABA patrons and we try to involve them as we work to raise awareness. We are increasingly working with larger firms.

While they have their own wellbeing and pastoral care, we try to work with them to complement their existing employee support. We offer an alternative to going to talk to their HR departments. Life in smaller practices can be stressful, because of the constant deadlines. Our work covers a range of things such as physical wellbeing, emotional health, career support and much more. Some people have this image of a fusty old benevolent association that just provides financial assistance to people. We do so much more than that now. CABA’s founders wouldn’t recognise it today. The spirit of benevolence is there, but the services are different.

We have a diverse audience, and it’s important to recognise we have members in business as well as practice. We need to help members cope with change, whether that is the digital revolution or audit. Most chartered accountants are good at keeping themselves up to date, but last year we built a career adaptability tool with Warwick Institute of Employment Research, which helps people measure how adaptable they are and how they can improve.

As accountants we set ourselves up to help others manage their financial affairs so it can be difficult for us to admit that we need help, whether that’s emotionally, financially or anything else. These days there's less stigma around mental health, however there's so much more that can be done.

We encourage people to speak to us – no matter whether their problem is big or small.

And we're available 24/7, so we're always here when you need us. We’re concerned about all aspects of life: family, finance, work, health. Everything contributes to our sense of wellbeing.