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Circle of Excellence Winner Q&A Christine Hontoy

Accountants

Circle of Excellence Winner Q&A Christine Hontoy

Tell us about your career up until now, starting with why you chose this profession.

I had finished my CEGEP, but I did not know which major field to study heading to university.

So, I decided to stay an extra year in college and enrolled in various classes like politics, economy, art history and accounting, to name a few. All these fields were interesting to me. I really enjoyed my first accounting class so I signed up for the second. My teacher told me that I asked «university level» questions and mentioned the Accounting Sciences program. I think this is when my passion for accounting began. I was eager to learn. I would also like to mention that I was always fascinated watching my father fill in his fourteen column sheets when doing the farm’s accounting. I loved his meticulous writing and the care he took doing it.

So I did my bachelor’s degree in administration majoring in Accounting Sciences. Then came the chartered accountant’s final exam followed by my internship. I worked four years for Raymond Chabot Martin Paré. Those four years were a superb learning experience for me. For the next ten years I worked as financial director for a private sector organisation. There were businesses in diverse sectors of activity and many challenges.  This exposed me to many new situations in various contexts and were an extraordinary learning experience. Then, wanting to trim down my working hours. I accepted a position as controller but, we can not change our nature, my hyper responsible side has emerged and the work to be done too.

Everything happens for a reason. I had been thinking about starting my own accounting firm for a few years by now and I finally decided to make the jump. I gave my employer a little over three months notice and an exhaustive list of every task I needed to complete before leaving. At the end of 1999, I went into business for myself.

In order to return to public accounting, I had to prepare and meet someone from the order of chartered accountants. I explained that I wanted to build an accounting firm centered on training and teaching. I wasn’t all together sure how I was going to get there but at least I was moving forward.

It was by doing my own accounting using ‘Simple Comptable (Sage 50)’ that I got the idea of teaching it to others. In 2003, I started teaching ‘Simple Comptable (Sage 50)’. I soon realized that the accounting system was not well understood by some users so I added an accounting class to my program. Being passionate about teaching, I then decided to take the short master «pédagogie de l’enseignement supérieur de l’UQAM» in order to hone my skills.

I have been at the helm of my accounting office for over twenty years now. I was not alone for any length of time. Already in 2000, I was working long distance with a colleague. Since 2002 my new office has been established in Montreal.

We offer our customers all the various services of an accounting firm, with a special focus on training and teaching, either in groups or private coaching.

Tell us about the clients that you serve, which industries they operate in and explain your approach to working with them and helping them achieve their desired results.

Our customers come from a wide variety of sectors of activity. We adapt ourselves to them. In my opinion, the best way to advise a client is to know is real situation, his needs and his intentions. Question him on his objectives, listen closely and propose services that will help him meet his goals.

Have you experience migrating clients to the cloud? How was this process?

Yes. There was very little reluctance and once they accepted the idea, the process was relatively smooth. This catered well to the client’s needs, the needs of the firm and the customer relationship.

Which trends do you think have the potential to disrupt the future of bookkeeping or accounting?

I don’t know about disrupting. I do believe that everything will get more automated, like many sectors. But human intervention will remain important. Accounting is always evolving, but at its core remains the same. Double bookkeeping has been around since 1494.

Our world, our environment and our habits are constantly being transformed. It’s all getting more and more complex, and confidentiality has become a subject of high importance. Legislation and accounting standards will then called to be modified, which is normal in my view.

What impact did COVID 19 have on your business? What guidance did your clients need during this time? Did you need to pivot or adapt your own business during this time?

The impact of Covid 19, what a question! For me, it has been to put myself in “solutions” mode and this has not happened without some frustrations. Planning, organising and adjusting, in order or in disorder, were omnipresent. We already supported our clients on line, so, fortunately, this was one of our strengths going in. One month before lockdown, we had put up a portal for electronic signing of documents as well as a drop zone for documents. The timing was almost perfect. We accelerated the implementation to all clients. We quickly adapted and, under the circumstances, did our best.

Our customers needed advice on how to deal with staff cuts or non cuts, questions that I was asking myself, so I was just as concerned as them. And then they would ask about government grants, possible loans and their situation with their banks. Seeing clearly through all of this wasn’t easy for any of us, especially that legislation and interpretations were changing constantly.

How does it feel to be recognized as an award winner in your industry?

Well, it’s always nice to be recognized. This contest has existed for three years and I have been nominated each year. I would like to thank everyone who nominated me and the people at Simply Accounting who, back in 2003, gave me the opportunity to teach the software. Through the years I have taught this software and accounting to many people. I do so with energy and passion with the goal that participants develop their skills and find answers to their questions. I’d like to think that I have made a small difference, like my CEGEP teacher did for me all those years ago.

What advice would you give to the next generation of students considering a career in bookkeeping or accountants?

The most important thing is to choose something you love. Accounting is a vast domain and it can open many doors. Accounting is also much more than adding up columns in a spreadsheet. We want to make the numbers talk so we can make informed decisions. So, I would say, explore the avenues, discover your fields of interest and find the proper learning program to lead you to your ultimate goal.

How do you enjoy your time outside of work?

I admit, I work a lot but, I do find time to relax. Walking in parks, observing and listening to birds. Just thinking about it brings me joy. I love browsing in antique shops, learning and discovering new things. These days I do weekly classes of yoga and meditation…on zoom, of course.

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