Golden beaches and permanent sunshine weren’t the only things on Gretchen Hammes’ mind when she accepted the offer of a rotation from KPMG in the US’ Kansas City office to the Cayman Islands. “I did a wide range of audit work in Kansas City, but I wanted to do something different,” she recalls. “I had always been interested in insurance and as a centre for financial services, the Cayman Islands offered an opportunity to increase my experience of working with insurance companies.”
Having joined KPMG in the US’ Kansas City office from college, Gretchen was keen to gain international experience and had said as much during her annual performance review. This ambition was picked up by her performance manager and when an opportunity arose in the Cayman Island member firm, Gretchen was asked if she wanted to go for it. “I wanted to move my career on and I wanted to be sure that going to the Cayman Islands was the right thing to do,” she says. “So I didn’t say yes until I was sure that it was a good opportunity.”
As it turned out, the Cayman Islands posting has provided Gretchen with a wealth of experience and not just in terms of her sought-after exposure to the insurance sector. “I arrived in September 2008 and met with a whirlwind of opportunities,” she says. These included developing her skills as a Sampling Specialist and working with a senior manager on technical updates. In 2009, Gretchen flew to Frankfurt, where she trained as eAudIT Champion, a role that will see her assisting in the global deployment of eAudIT for the Cayman Islands and TOG (The Offshore Group subregion).
Equally important, Gretchen feels that her status as a professional arriving from another office gave her an outsider’s perspective, which was definitely useful. “Coming in from the outside, I could make suggestions about the processes and how they could be improved,” she says. Gretchen was later appointed to the role of Audit Manager in October 2009.
Nestled amid the warm azure waters of the western Caribbean and comprising three islands – Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman – the Cayman Islands are actually the world’s fifth largest centre for banking and financial services, with the core of the industry residing on Grand Cayman. Famously, the Cayman Islands are a tax-free jurisdiction and are currently the number one authority for hedge funds and structured finance. For Gretchen, the demands of working in such a diverse financial environment were certainly balanced out by the pace of life in the Caribbean. When she arrived, she noticed straight away just how relaxed everyone appeared compared to the USA. “You work long hours in the Cayman Islands, but you also enjoy a very laid-back lifestyle.”
Gretchen’s new routine offers both benefits and frustrations. Getting to and from work is relatively stress-free and after a hard day the Islands offer plenty of opportunities to relax. On the other hand, getting certain things done can often take time. “Signing up for a utility contract would take you half an hour in Kansas,” says Gretchen. “Here you have to set aside half a day.”
However, Gretchen was well prepared for the change in pace. “One of the things that our global mobility professionals do is give you information on the expat experience,” says Gretchen. “This certainly helps you prepare for the move.” As she settled in, Gretchen welcomed the opportunity to try new things and establish herself within the Island community. For instance, she was asked by a co-worker to join the national women’s rugby team and it wasn’t long before she was jetting back to the USA to play in an international tournament in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
With her tenure in the Cayman Islands now spanning two years, Gretchen is certain that the opportunity to work in new locations is a key benefit of working for a global network like KPMG. “Moving brings in a lot of experiences that you wouldn’t otherwise have,” she says. “And that opportunity is definitely part of the KPMG experience.”