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April 2018

Accounting as an inherited profession

Nury Vittachi

Hong Kongs humorist on keeping accounting a mystery to stir your childrens interest

Must write to the International Olympic Committee to introduce a “rolling eyes” competition, so my kids can win gold, silver and bronze.

They have to do something worthwhile with their lives, since none of them want to be writers; like their Dad. “We want proper jobs,” said one. “With money,” said another.

One of them fancied being an accountant until I told him that you had to pass 15 exams before they let you into the building.

My mind was on the topic of job inheritance after I received a letterabout a real-life scene in India. Picture this: A woman has a baby. “Is it a boy or a girl?” asks a friend. “It’s an accountant,” says the woman. All the family members applaud.

That happens all the time in the Chaturvedi family. In 1925, a man in India of that name decided to join the relatively new profession of accounting. Today, five generations of Chaturvedi family members are chartered accountants, and there are about 500 accountants in their caste in the district of Mathura, near Agra. It’s like a whole tribe of people in dark suits holding calculators. Frankly terrifying.

Their story, from The Hindu newspaper, was sent to me by a reader who did not want her name printed in case her children think she is pushing them to follow in her footsteps. “Do accountants give birth to accountants, or is this unusual?” she asked.

Good question. I embarked on a comprehensive research project (typed the question into Google). Up popped a 2017 New York Times study which identified something called “the breakfast table effect.”

As parents chat about their work lives, their children associate thoseactivities with noble, worthwhile ways to spend their time. Although in my case, the children learnt jobs to shun.

The study also said that the higher the level of mysterious and arcane skills in the job, the more likely they were to be inherited by children.

A woman named Sara Genn told the newspaper that she and both her brothers followed their father into becoming artists. “We would have really been rebelling if we decided to become accountants or doctors,” she added. So clearly not a Hong Kong family.

The study didn’t specifically mention accounting, so I asked a researcher at Hong Kong Polytechnic University for help. She said one of the biggest studies of job inheritance took place in 2016. It showed that military men often had sons who joined the army, and female teachers regularly gave birth to girls who went into teaching.

Other “family” trades were management, construction and entertainment. But accountants did not significantly give birth to accountants.

Why not? Accountancy has a lot of specialist knowledge, right? Perhaps it’s just not mysterious and arcane enough. 

If you and your spouse are accountants and want your children to follow in your footsteps, talk about your profession over the breakfast table in ways that sound enigmatic and esoteric.

“I’m auditing a new client today: remind me to bring my amulet, pentagram and the magical Lamp of Thoth.”

“Sure. I’ve got a tax consultation this morning so will need our altar bell, hex powder and Ancient Book of Spells.”

But here’s a warning. Kids these days are pretty smart, and some won’t be fooled. They’ll just roll their eyes. 

Good practice for the latest Olympic sport.

Nury Vittachi is a bestselling author, columnist, lecturer and TV host. He wrote three storybooks for the Institute, May Moon and the Secrets of the CPAs, May Moon Rescues the World Economy and May Moon's Book of Choices