Andrea Vilas MPAc 16
Accounting and Criminal Justice Serve Her Well at KPMG
For Andrea Vilas, numbers fit together like a puzzle, once you find all the missing pieces and unravel the mystery of where the wrinkles lie—kind of like being a detective.
Vilas’ attraction to the hunt for missing pieces is a large part of what drew her from her initial career path of criminal justice to the Master of Professional Accountancy program, and perhaps to forensic accounting one day. That and the fact that talking the “language of business” runs in her family. Both of her parents are accountants.
“When I was younger I would say (to my parents) ‘I am not going to be an accountant like you guys. I want to be a lawyer. I want to be in criminal justice,” says Vilas, who grew up in Danville, Calif.
“I still love the criminal justice system, but now I’m looking forward to being an accountant like (my parents). I guess it was meant to be. You can say my love for accounting is in my blood.”
That affinity for accounting landed Vilas an auditor position at KPMG in Walnut Creek after her degree. She recently talked about her path to UC Davis, her experience and her new career.
How does it feel to work at a Big Four firm?
Working at a Big Four is both challenging and rewarding. I have been able to work on a variety of clients and participate in all aspects of the audit from start to finish.
This can be challenging but keeps me on my toes and ensures I am constantly learning something new. Additionally, having access to the large resources of the firm gives me opportunities to do rotation in other industries or cities. I am currently looking into doing a rotation in Europe at some point in the next couple of years to take advantage of the opportunities available to me.
“I always loved how numbers work and everything has a place and it fits in an order. When something’s not working right, it’s quite frustrating, but it’s also kind of like a puzzle to solve. When you finally get it right, that feeling is so gratifying.”
Plus, since I have a small office I get the small firm feel with all the resources. It’s the best of both worlds really.
What has your career life been like since graduating?
My career has definitely been different than expected. Going in with no experience definitely made my first year a bit of a whirlwind. But, now that I am a bit seasoned and the first year jitters are gone, I am finding my own.
I have found the small feel of the Walnut Creek office has made this possible because management really cares about their people. All of the partners and managers support my goals and if I ever have any concerns or questions they are there for me. I have grown close to the people I work with, which is extremely important on 12-hour days. I definitely fit into this life, but I do find it is a challenge to find a work-life balance at times. Having a career has taught me to prioritize what is important in life. This way I can continue my success without letting my job consume me.
How did your academic and personal paths lead you to the UC Davis Master of Professional Accountancy (MPAc) program?
I was an undergraduate in sociology with a concentration in criminal justice at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. As a requirement we had to do an internship. In the spring of my junior year, I had an internship at a jail and over the summer of that year I had an internship at a police station.
Working at the county jail, I realized I didn’t want to do that aspect of criminal justice. Then when I did my summer internship, I realized I didn’t really want to be a police officer either.
I had taken a financial accounting class and I absolutely loved it. I decided I wanted to take a new path and decided to pursue my master’s. I took another managerial accounting course my senior year and decided that’s what I wanted to do.
I first applied to the UC Davis MBA program wanting to do finance. The School said they have this great graduate accounting program and it’s just one year and that it would be a good fit. And it’s exactly what I want. That’s how I got from criminal justice to accounting.
“White-collar crime costs the country billions more than people realize and it has really been running rampant for the last couple of decades. We need more people to be able to do something about it.”
What was most appealing to you about the MPAc program?
Our corporate recruiting process was great. They prepared us so much during orientation, helping us with our resume, helping us with our interview skills. So when the interview process came, I had four first-round interviews, four second-round interviews, and four jobs offers.
That’s one of the reasons I chose this program—knowing that I can focus on school without worrying whether I am going to have a job in the fall. I knew that I was going to have that job and have the skills to be marketable in the professional world.
What stood out at UC Davis that showed the unique strength of the program?
The support of the MPAc Program Manager Christine Lyles. She was been absolutely great. I was involved in the Associated Students of Management (ASM) and we became very close with Christine. I was doing announcements and planning events. I enjoyed working with her. Having her support and meeting so many people by being a part of the ASM was amazing. I reached out to international students who I normally would not have been able to know, and now they were my workout buddies at the gym. The program fostered growth and a great sense of friendship among people.
What courses specifically stood out?
I was in a communications course and also took an ethics course. These are things people don’t think about with accounting. But people can be put in situations that make them uncomfortable and they can be put in situations (where they ask themselves) ‘Is this being fudged too much?’ or ‘Do I need to report this to our client?’ And also, there’s this stereotype of this kind of introverted accountant, but we do a lot of speaking presentations.
So when I started at KPMG, I could communicate with a client from the get-go and I knew I my have been better prepared than someone who couldn’t communicate quite as well. We learned how to communicate in different ways. For instance, in an authoritative manner or a more informal fashion. So when you engaged with a client you could determine how best to present information.
How did your UC Davis education help in your next steps?
My degree was extremely helpful for the CPA exams. The program covered a lot of the information found in all four exams. I just finished my last one and I can say that studying information that you have seen before makes the tests a little more manageable, especially when balancing work and studying.
What are your long-term goals and interests?
KPMG is one of the number one providers of forensic accounting for public accounting. One day I might decide to join the FBI where I do forensic work for the government.
What is it about accounting that you love?
I skipped a grade in math. I always loved how numbers work and everything has a place and it fits in an order. When something’s not working right, it’s quite frustrating, but it’s also kind of like a puzzle to solve. When you finally get it right, that feeling is so gratifying.