Benjamin Okyere Counts Accounting Degree as Career Investment

by Joanna Corman

For as long as he can remember, Benjamin Okyere has always liked accounting and with family members in the field, he was inspired to pursue a master’s degree in accounting to compliment his finance background.

The profession’s need for linear thinking and problem-solving skills appeals to Okyere’s mindset. “I’m very analytical; I like to figure things out, either on my own or on a team, and make sense of the numbers. Accounting offers me the opportunity to do that.”

Okyere is pursuing his dream as one of the 30 members of the charter class of the Master of Professional Accountancy (MPAc) program that launched in the fall.

The nine-month program, the first of its kind in the University of California system, is ahead of the curve by meeting the requirements of a new California law beginning in 2014 that will require those seeking a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license to complete five years of postsecondary education.

At a career fair at the Graduate School of Management last September, Okyere and his classmates met recruiters from the Big Four accountant firms—PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, Deloitte and KPMG—and medium-sized firms such as Moss Adams and Crowe Horwath. “It was a great event as most of the firms were recruiting for start dates this fall, which eliminates the pressure of looking for a job after graduating,” Okyere says. He recently accepted a position with Deloitte after considering several other offers.

He chose the UC Davis MPAc program because of the School’s business school ranking, faculty reputation, close-knit GSM community and small class size. “In addition to the actual course work, the intention is to promote a collaborative work environment, and to develop and refine the skills needed to be successful in the accounting industry,” he says. “That was appealing as well.”

Okyere says he would have applied to the program even if there were no new state requirement because he sees it as an investment in his career.

In 2003, Okyere emigrated from Ghana to California at the age of 15 to join his father.  Okyere attended his father’s alma mater, San Jose State University, for his first undergraduate year. When his family moved to the state capital, he transferred to California State University, Sacramento, and in 2009 received a bachelor’s degree in finance, risk management and insurance.

Committed to his success, he financed 85 percent of his education by working a 40-hour week at two part-time jobs—at Sears and at the nonprofit Foundation for California Community Colleges—while carrying a full academic workload.

He joined State Street Bank in Sacramento, working most recently as a fund accountant managing a $50 million portfolio for the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS), the nation’s largest public pension fund. Okyere kept track of fixed income transactions such trades, and interest payments executed by the client to ensure accurate valuation of the portfolio. He received a promotion and was given the responsibility of managing more complex portfolios and helping to train new team members.

“I gained a deeper understanding of the financial services industry and acquired so many transferable skills,” says Okyere, whose post-degree goal is to audit public and private companies preferably in the financial services industry after receiving his CPA license. Long-term, his sights are set on becoming a CFO or controller.