SAF Family Ties

Friday, February 16, 2024
Katie and Ben Ma

It’s not every day that two siblings are interested in, admitted to, and graduate from the same specialized undergraduate and master's programs.  

Meet Ben and Katie Ma, an extraordinary duo that we caught up with recently in honour of Family Day. 

Ben graduated from the Accounting and Financial Management (AFM) program and received his Masters in Accounting (MAcc) in 2017. He has his Chartered Professional Accountants (CPA) designation, Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Charter, and Certified Financial Planner (CFP) Certificate. After graduation, he worked at CIBC, EY and concluded his public accounting career at MNP as a Senior Manager, focusing on Mergers and Acquisition taxation. Ben has recently moved from industry to academia and is now a first-year PhD Student studying Accounting at the University of Toronto. Ben continues to volunteer with UW’s Accounting & Finance Student Association (UWAFSA) Tax Clinic every March. 

Katie completed her AFM and MAcc degrees in 2023. She successfully passed the Common Final Exam (CFE) in the fall of 2023 and is now focused on obtaining her CPA designation. Currently, Katie is a Senior Associate at PwC in the Assurance Practice, where she specializes in Asset Wealth Management. She currently sits on the Board of Directors for Waterloo’s Accounting and Finance Endowment Fund (AFEF). 

How did you decide to come to the School of Accounting and Finance (SAF)?  

BM: That decision was made almost 13 years ago now, so my memory's getting a bit foggy. One thing that stood out to me was the co-op program and the chance it gave me to explore and find what suited me best. I'm grateful for that opportunity – it led me to pursue taxation after I experienced it in one of my later co-op terms. If I had started in taxation and stuck with it throughout all my co-op terms, I don't think I would have chosen it as my full-time career.  

KM: Towards the end of high school, I was torn between pursuing science or business. Ben and I have a 6-year age gap, and fortunately for me, Ben got to test the waters and experience the AFM program first. Hearing about his experience and seeing his success — along with the impressive statistics of the co-op program — I felt confident that graduating from SAF would provide me with job security and the most valuable experiences. I have no regrets about my decision.  

BM: In other words, I was the guinea pig.  

Did Ben give you advice before beginning at SAF?  

BM: I'm curious to see Katie's response. I remember being surprised when she chose AFM. I had the impression she planned to apply to a health science program and attend med. school.  

KM: Actually, I think I kept my post-high school plans to myself and only confided in our mom about where I wanted to go. As Ben mentioned, it surprised him when I didn't choose science. However, once I got to Waterloo for orientation week, Ben gave me some valuable advice. He shared insider secrets about professors he enjoyed, recommended courses and even helped me grasp key concepts throughout my undergrad and master's. He even encouraged me to get involved in SAF events and extracurriculars to make friends within the SAF community.  

What did you notice was similar or different about your experiences at SAF?  

BM: Katie and I are quite different individuals and our experiences reflect that. While I opted to experiment with various jobs during my co-op terms, Katie seemed to have found something that resonated with her in her first term and stayed with it. Despite our differences, I believe we both formed lifelong friendships during our time in the program, for which we are both incredibly grateful.  

KM: I was more of an extrovert, while Ben was more introverted and I think that influenced our SAF experiences greatly. I was heavily involved in extracurricular activities such as UWAFSA, UWAC, AFEF, DECA, (holy acronyms, Batman!) and was constantly busy with event planning and socializing. On the other hand, Ben was a homebody and wasn't as keen on socializing, so he dedicated more time to studying. Through this, he developed a passion for teaching and delving deeper into accounting theories, which is why pursuing a PhD is the ideal next step for him after SAF.  

How has the University of Waterloo made an impact on your family?    

BM: Our dad has certainly become accustomed to driving down to Waterloo! Our parents are certainly used to telling relatives that one of us is still in school. By the time I complete my PhD, our parents will have had at least one child in school for the past 30 years.   

KM: The University of Waterloo provided us with the opportunity to forge friendships and lasting connections with people who share similar interests. I still see my friends from Waterloo nearly four times a week at work and we often spend time together after work or on weekends, playing board games or exploring new restaurants.  

What is a favourite memory of your sibling?  

BM: Ah, time for embarrassing big brother stories. Like any good older sibling, I loved to prank my sister. I'd come up with all sorts of tall tales and made-up stories just to see her reaction. One time, I convinced her that ice wasn't made of water and that you could get strawberry milk from pink cows (which, of course, totally exist). Looking back, I guess this is probably where Katie developed some of that professional skepticism...  

KM: Every summer, our parents would enroll us in the same camps and get us a season pass to a different theme park. One of my favourite memories with Ben was when he would accompany me on all the rides I was too scared to go on alone, like Wonderland's Viking Rage, Marine Land's Sky Screamer or Disney's Space Mountain. We'd spend hours waiting in line together, finding ways to entertain ourselves through crafts, games or just enjoying each other's company. It was some quality sibling bonding time.  

What makes you proud of your sibling?  

BM: I admire that Katie has developed a strong speak-up-for-yourself attitude. She won’t hesitate to address an issue if she sees it and calls out errors as she sees them. She’s learned how to say no and establish boundaries.  She knows how to stand up for herself – it’s a skill I want to learn, too, as I would be more likely to acquiesce to keep the peace.  

KM: Ben possesses remarkable intelligence and a deep-seated passion for understanding technical concepts and sharing them with others. He has an exceptional ability to grasp key concepts quickly and thoroughly. He excels as an educator and tutor because of his patience and willingness to teach. During COVID and throughout my master's program, he helped me navigate some very challenging concepts that I struggled to comprehend. He even took the time to teach my friends and I some tax concepts around our kitchen table in Waterloo before exams and cases.   

What are you looking forward to in 2024?  

BM: I am looking forward to a solid nap and a relaxing summer vacation! Since my busy season is over, I'm excited to go on holiday. I'm planning to travel solo to Asia for a wedding and tick off a few countries from my travel list. It's going to be a great adventure! 😊  

KM: I’m looking forward to travelling to Europe with my friends to see some of my favourite musicians play live. I’m also looking forward to going to Japan and Hong Kong with our parents to visit extended family and during the summer I’m excited to take up some new hobbies like beach volleyball and cooking classes with my friends. On the work front, I’ll also be studying to write CFA level 1 in 2024.