Tales from the frontline: Julia Seppa
Newly elected to ICAEW’s Council, Julia Seppä is also risk manager and a chief of staff in the risk advisory team at Deloitte, North-West Europe. She believes strong relationships are the key to a sustainable future.
I was born and raised in Astrakhan, in the south of Russia. My mother was, and is, my role model. She ingrained very strong work ethics in me from the start. She told me that while no amount of raw talent and ability would get me to where I wanted to be, hard work and determination would.
I have heeded her advice all my life, and now try to pass it on to colleagues and other Institute members, along with the importance of nurturing strong relationships and connections. Once these are in place, you can start building a sustainable future.
When I graduated in 2008 – with a major in economics and a minor in financial management – Russia was feeling the effects of the global financial crisis. My city offered only limited opportunities so I relocated to Moscow. It proved to be one of the best decisions of my life. I got a job at Deloitte, within the oil and gas, energy and resources audit group, specialising in gold mining. I travelled a great deal, which I loved, and became a team leader.
Two years in, I was asked which qualification I wanted to train for. I chose the ACA. I knew it would be the most challenging, but I also knew that many of the best finance professionals in the world are ACAs and I wanted to follow in their footsteps and become one too. I never lost sight of that, nor of how hard I’d have to work to pass. I even used my annual leave to study.
After five years at Deloitte, I was ready to move. I’d fallen in love with a Finn I’d met in Moscow, and he’d moved back to Helsinki. We didn’t want to keep jumping back and forth between our two countries, so I looked for a new position within Deloitte, and luckily I found one.
I joined the group audit team, and spent three years working on a hugely challenging and rewarding audit of an international multi-billion-euro company that was going through a massive restructuring. Simultaneously, I was also risk manager and a chief of staff in the risk advisory team, North-West Europe, contributing to strategy and overseeing the execution of programmes that support our clients’ growth. At the end of 2018, I joined the cyber team. I chose the unusual journey of chief of staff and cyber manager because it tests me, and I know my background as a chartered accountant has prepared me.
My department’s job is to help businesses protect their assets and become more resilient in the face of persistent and increasingly sophisticated cyber-crime. Every day there are new threats, and we stay secure by combining the best human intelligence with the most advanced security systems.
In addition to this, I’m also involved in helping to integrate Deloitte firms across 10 countries, including Ireland, the UK, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark, into one unified brand that showcases the breadth and depth of our capabilities. The Deloitte name is recognised throughout the world, and it is important that what it signifies in one country is consistent with what it signifies in another.
You do have to allow for cultural differences, but that aside, the core values should be the same. Now that I live and work in Finland, I miss Russia deeply, but can view my home country far more objectively. In Finland, I like to believe that no one is held back by gender. I see more women in senior and management roles, whereas in my country, power is still highly concentrated in the hands of men. Another difference is how easy it is to do business here because trust seems to underpin every transaction.
In Finland a deal is good if the outcome is win/win, but in Russia a deal is good if you win and the other person loses. Things are changing, but unfortunately progress is slow. At the beginning of June, I took up my position as an ICAEW Council Member. One of my key aims is to build a strong community throughout Europe and Eurasia, one that supports people professionally and personally. It goes back to what I said at the beginning – that relationships, connections and a sense of belonging are vital.
We have members in so many countries and regions who don’t feel a part of the ICAEW community, despite paying their annual subscription. I think this may well be because they’re unaware of the benefits that active membership delivers, or of how much support they can receive – not only from the Institute itself, but also from their peers. I hope to change that. I want to amplify ICAEW’s presence and voice so that members don’t miss out.
Originally published in Economia on 3 June 2019.