My secondment experience and the importance of secondment

Trainees at RSM are often given the opportunity of going on secondment to a number of countries around the world, including Australia, Netherlands, New Zealand and the UK, to name a few. Secondment has always been attractive to me but it was not a factor when I chose to do my articles at RSM in the beginning of 2015 (my reasons for choosing RSM could be the subject of another article). The reason I never really considered secondment a factor was that I had never fancied the idea of travelling thousands of miles and being away from family and friends. However, this changed at the beginning of 2019 when I was fortunate enough to be seconded by RSM South Africa to the New York office of RSM US. My experience in New York was absolutely amazing and all thanks goes to the amazing RSM staff in New York and Chicago.

I was excited and nervous at the same time to leave work in Cape Town - where I have a very good relationship with the majority of my colleagues and generally have a great time at work - and travel to New York where I may not feel the same. 

The big difference with RSM US is the general culture and office environment. In New York, on a typical day people start filtering in between 8:30 – 9:00 with a few late comers arriving between 9:00 and 10:00.  The time you come in is quite flexible (or whether you do come in at all), and management is much more concerned with you getting your work done, although you do still have to put in between 60 and 65  hours every week. This, I am told, is only the case during busy season which is the period between January and May each year. During the remainder of the year, the average number of hours is 40, which is slightly higher than the hours we do in South Africa. In my first week in New York, I was intrigued by the flexibility around the time one comes in and leaves the office and the fact that one is allowed the freedom to work from home on any day. I enquired with one of the senior managers who is originally from South Africa and he remarked that this was also a surprise to him when he first arrived as he was used to the strict schedule that we work on in South Africa. He added that the approach made sense to him as in his view, the nature of the work that we do requires absolute trust between employer and employee.

Another notable difference was that in the US, people go on about their business and don’t have the personal connection to their colleagues like we do in SA. The culture was different however with US colleagues who had been exposed to secondment, people who had been seconded to the Australian and UK offices. These individuals were the first ones to reach out to me and show me around and they really made my transition seamless. This to me, emphasised the importance of secondment in enhancing and fostering relations between individuals within the network.

At a personal and professional level, the program provided me with an opportunity to create new contacts and develop my professional network. This I achieved through working with people from different backgrounds and getting to know them on a personal level. I believe these contacts will be an invaluable resource back at my local firm and in future roles. My stint in New York also gave me exposure to some financial services sector areas that I had not been exposed to in SA. These included, inter-alia audits of SPVs and hedge funds, and greater exposure to financial modelling. I also got an opportunity to audit some of their NPOs operating in the financial services sector.

The secondment opportunity also afforded me an opportunity to travel the great state of New York and see all the major tourist attractions, everything from The Statue of Liberty National Monument to Wall Street.

There is no doubt that the secondment program plays a crucial role in deepening inter-office relations among network firms and encouraging essential skills transfer. I would strongly encourage trainees to take advantage of this unique opportunity and make the best out of it.

Xolani Ngwenya

Audit Manager, Cape Town

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