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Cecilia Thoma

From a nontraditional path to the CPA to working in many areas of accounting, Cecilia Thoma is now working to bring financial inclusion to people around the world.

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Cecilia Thoma


Technical Director of Financial Inclusion
World Council of Credit Unions
Washington, D.C.

A role with purpose

I have been Technical Director of Financial Inclusion at the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) since April 2021. Credit unions bring financial services to everyone as they are owned by their members making them more likely to be able to serve geographical areas that wouldn’t normally be served by a traditional financial institution. At WOCCU, we focus on improving lives through credit unions. We believe that all people should have access to affordable, reliable and sustainable financial services.

In my role, I’m responsible for the development and integration of technical methodologies, ensuring that there are documented for future use and their adaptation in other countries or programs. I love that my role has such a worldly purpose: to promote financial inclusion, with a focus on bringing financial services to people not yet enjoying it, especially those in rural and remote areas.

I’m indirectly supporting people to get financial stability in their lives and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to interact with other cultures. I also enjoy learning about different methodologies to support financial inclusion such as mobile banking, digital wallets, etc.

The road to CPA: a non-linear route

I learned early in my life that I had a knack for numbers, so becoming an accountant felt like an obvious career path, but I didn’t have the opportunity to go straight to college after high school. Instead, I started working right away in the finance field. It’s allowed me to really experience the accounting profession from the ground up, starting as an accounts receivable bookkeeper.

I completed my degree by 35. After graduating with a major in accounting with a concentration in IT, I took the CPA as I knew it would give me credibility and accreditation to succeed in my chosen field. Along with the CGMA designation, it’s helped give me global recognition and I’m fortunate now to have worked in many countries around the world.

The advantage of going to college later was, by that point, I was very confident accounting was what I wanted to do. It also taught me firsthand that it’s never too late to go to college or change career. To anyone in that position, my advice is to be mindful of what you enjoy and what your areas of strength are. The accounting profession offers a variety of professions; for instance, being a financial analyst or an auditor are very different professions. Take initiatives early in your degree rather than later to seek out internships and get practical experience.

A varied career

I’ve covered many areas of accounting throughout my career. I started out doing bookkeeping and financial statements. Then, I worked in audit at the Office of the State to ensure the N.C. taxpayers’ money was being used properly. From there, I moved to work for Wake County managing housing grants. Then, I transitioned back to audit working for the Local Government & Civic Federal Credit Unions. From there, I heard about WOCCU and got my current role.

The power of volunteering

I first got involved with WOCCU by volunteering with one of their programs, TIFI (Technology and Innovation for Financial Inclusion), in Guatemala. The program is funded by USAID and established to implement and digitalize tools for small and medium businesses (SME) in developing countries to enable them to grow their businesses.

My contribution was to share with Micoopes (as credit unions are known in Guatemala) analytical strategies to identify their lending risk level. The program helps SMEs to access funds through their local financial cooperative – something that wasn’t possible there prior to WOCCU’s work. This methodology is also customized and has been rolled out in other countries around the world.

Looking to the future

The CPA gives you a sense of public responsibility. Ultimately, as CPAs, we serve the public and we have to be trustworthy. It’s a profession that demands a lot of discipline and accountability. The CPA gives you the foundation skills for many high-level positions. It’s why the accounting profession is such a flexible career path.

As for me, I really like what the WOCCU stands for and what we do. For now, I see myself staying here: I want to become better at what I do. Over the next few years, I’ll be focusing on developing our current programs, supporting our teams, and developing our people so they can transfer methodologies to credit unions from other countries and programs, all in the name of reaching our goal for financial inclusivity.

  • 6am: Daily exercise

    Drive to my RPM class

  • 7am: Checking emails and daily appointments and work on documentation

    My work day starts by checking my emails and calendar to organize priorities. Then the majority of my day goes into preparing audit documentation (unless assigned to a CAAT routine) that includes all kinds of work papers; narratives, analytics, issue sheets, tests, defining samples, etc.

  • 8am: Make calls and appointments to support audit

    While preparing the audit work papers, it is normal to come across questions about the procedures, estimates, or any processes that are part of the audit or requiring further documentation/evidence from the auditee. As these situations arise, I make a phone call or send emails requesting interviews with the auditee or documentation required.

  • 12pm: Meditation

    I enjoy using my lunch time for a 30 minutes of meditation to help me to stay focused on what is important and to achieve balance in my life.

  • 1pm: Meeting with auditee

    The duration of these meetings vary depending on segment — anywhere from half an hour to two hours. I drive to the auditee offices to discuss the procedure in question, request any further documentation, inform them of any concerns identified, or provide the auditee with an update of any issues.

  • 3pm: Data retrievals

    As part of the Information Systems team, we extract data required for audits from various agencies and university systems. Sometimes the data needs to be cleaned and formatted for its use; we do this for other divisions as required. At other times we need to develop a CAAT routine (Computer Assisted Audit Technique), used to test specific areas of the audit; these are usually more time consuming and once developed are used recurrently. Much like the auditee meetings, the duration of the data retrievals range from an hour to a full day depending on the request.

  • 4pm: Meeting with audit team

    Status update on issues related to the audit in course.

  • 6pm: Dinner with my family

  • 7pm: Toastmasters International meeting

    I regularly attend events that focus on my personal development. Sometimes is a networking event or a training/CPE event, but tonight I'm participating at the Toastmasters International club to better my public speaking skills.

  • 9pm: Wrap up my day and prepare for the next day

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