Claire Lake, Partner at Niewe Consulting and CIPFA Director for North America
Claire is a Partner at Niewe Consulting and looks after CIPFA's interests in both Canada and the USA. She is a Chartered Public Finance Accountant (CPFA) and a Chartered Accountant and has over 20 years of experience in management consulting, financial management and accounting-related services.
She has worked in a range of industries including the public sector, financial services, high tech and IT, automotive, energy and engineering. Claire’s career spans the globe; she has provided counsel to organisations in countries including Canada, the USA, the UK, France, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand and the Middle East.
Claire’s focus on both public sector financial accounting and financial management comes from years of experience working with federal and provincial governments. She is currently working in the Canadian public sector on improving public financial management.
Please summarise your current job role, your career to date and how long you have been a CIPFA member
I oversee CIPFA’s North American presence, supporting members and promoting CIPFA. The role is incredibly varied; I could be doing anything from presenting in accounting conferences to training new officers in the Canadian government.
I left university in Sheffield with a degree in accounting and financial management and got a job with a merchant bank in London – with them I worked across the globe. When I was in New Zealand doing a deal the accounting firm on the deal offered me a job, so I retrained as an accountant. After I qualified I completed a masters in the UK and became a consultant focused on financial management.
When I moved to Ottawa, I began working with the Canadian government in public sector financial management. I also own my own consultancy firm specialising in public sector financial management.
While working with the Canadian government I was introduced to CIPFA. The Canadian public sector decided that it wanted to improve the financial management and accounting skills of its staff, and we were looking for an international body that had gravitas, knowledge and experience – that’s when we went to CIPFA. It was at this point I decided to qualify as a CPFA, which was about six years ago, and from then I began representing CIPFA.
What led you to become a CIPFA member?
CIPFA is the only international body completely focused on the public sector. When you work in the public sector it’s vital that you have a body that understands the issues you face to represent you. CIPFA has a strong knowledge base that it’s willing to share, and you can utilise your CIPFA contacts to challenge your ideas.
When did you first become attracted to a career in public finance?
While working in merchant banking I had to deal with governments around the world when raising money for large infrastructure deals, so I got to understand their different funding models. During my first consulting job with Transport for London I got much more exposure to how the public sector works by looking at their funding models. Moving to Canada gave me the opportunity to refocus my career and I decided to work in public finance.
Why did you choose the public over private sector?
Because I get the chance to give back to society. The work I do directly impacts Canadian’s lives. I can help to ensure that funding moves around government in a more effective and efficient way.
The public sector also has a larger female presence. I have the privilege of going into meetings where I can be sat at a table with a deputy minister, a CFO, a deputy CFO and all of us are female, which is not something that I experienced in the private sector.
What have been the highlights or biggest successes of your career to date?
In 2013 I helped to rewrite the financial management policy suite for the Canadian government. This meant transitioning from a descriptive, rule-based structure to a more principle-based and pragmatic structure that empowered people to think through decisions on behalf of the government. As a Canadian citizen I get to see the effects of this. Decisions can now be made at a quicker pace and with more focus on helping Canadians.
What has been the greatest challenge, during your career or within the public finance sector as a whole?
Ensuring that voices are heard. My first job was in 1992 and I was often the only woman at the table. This has influenced me to make a conscious effort to consider inclusion and diversity in every aspect of my work. It’s important that we don’t think that we’ve solved this problem and we must always take the time to ensure that people from all walks of life have a seat at the table.
How has being a CIPFA member supported you in your career?
I have access to resources, both digital and human, that understand the business I’m in. You can reach out to experts and generate discussions with people on an international scale; CIPFA has opened up my connections to other parts of the world.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given and by who?
“Choose your boss carefully” – by Peter Siggins, Partner at PA Consulting. Your boss will help to shape your career, so you need to make sure you’re choosing someone that you trust and whose opinion you value.
What advice would you give to people who are beginning their career in public finance?
I think it’s crucial that people understand that the public sector will give you skills to work not only across your country, but around the world. Public sector finance is international – it’s the perfect career if you want to travel.
The public sector often leads on change because we’re doing it for the right reasons. I’m currently studying how we can change working arrangements in the Canadian government, and I think we’re ahead of most of the private sector.
What book/film/podcast would you recommend to anyone working in public finance?
I don’t think of things to read, watch and listen to just from a public sector point of view; I read everything! I’d advise them to read Dilbert, the cartoon strip by Scott Adams, because it sums up brilliantly what life is like in any organisation. It’s funny but it also teaches you some great lessons.
What would you say to somebody thinking of becoming a CIPFA member?
Join now! CIPFA gives you access to people and knowledge that are specific to what you do for a living, is representative of your interests and will lobby for you.