5 Questions For: Chase Branham, Senior Assurance Associate
September 27, 2018 is Auditor Proud Day, a nationwide celebration of the auditing profession. Chase Branham is a Senior Assurance Associate in CohnReznick’s Charlotte office, working primarily with the Commercial Real Estate, Residential Real Estate, and Not-for-Profit industries. In this edition of 5 Questions For…, Chase talks to Stacy Hagan, Manager – Marketing, about his path to becoming an auditor, where he sees the profession going in the future, and his passions for the piano and promoting diversity and inclusion at CohnReznick.
Q: What got you into auditing?
A: Prior to joining CohnReznick, I attended Appalachian State University, where I received three undergraduate degrees in accounting, music performance, and sacred music, and a graduate degree in accounting. While I was studying to become a professional classical pianist, I realized that I’d like to also have a corporate day-to-day job. I entered business school not knowing what specific path I’d take. However, I quickly fell in love with my accounting courses. I was initially drawn to the auditing profession because I’d be able to get a comprehensive understanding of organizations across various industries. When I was interviewing for positions, I was drawn to CohnReznick because I knew I’d have the opportunity to play a vital role in the entire audit process, collaborate with a team of fine professionals, and have consistent client interaction.
Q: Has auditing provided opportunities you wouldn’t have originally envisaged?
A: Yes. One of my clients has an alternative investment fund for international timberland properties. Every few years, a team of foresters conducts an observation on a property consisting of thousands of acres of pure timberland to appraise the value of the land and timber. In November 2017, I was sent with a colleague to accompany the foresters on a two-day “timber cruise.” At the time, neither of us truly envisioned what that entailed: two days of hiking in cold temperatures, up and down undeveloped steep mountains, in search of a pre-determined sample size of specific trees. The terrain was so intense. Not to mention, the bear droppings and markings that we discovered!
Q: How do you see auditing evolving in the coming years?
A: It’s an exciting time to be in the audit profession because I foresee a culture of change. Although it might be difficult to adapt for some, the implementation of smarter, more efficient processes will allow us to produce superior products for our clients. Fully embracing the use of artificial intelligence, data analytics, and real-time assurance will ensure our Firm’s long-term sustainability. The push for innovation is partially being driven by a change in expectation. Are financial statement users fully satisfied with simple “clean” or “unclean” opinions? Soon, we’ll be able to provide more insight to how opinions are determined. Also, I believe that we will see a greater demand for non-financial assurance, such as sustainability reporting.
Q: Outside of auditing, what are you passionate about?
A: I’m passionate about organ and choral repertoire deeply rooted in the Anglican liturgical tradition. I’m a classically trained pianist and enjoy performing solo and collaborative repertoire. I believe my experience as a professional musician for the past 12 years has strengthened my abilities to provide creative, detail-oriented, and professional products to my clients. Watch Chase perform Chopin's "Excerpt from Étude in C Minor, Op. 10, No. 12" here.
I’m also very passionate about diversity and inclusion. I’m chair of Charlotte’s Diversity & Inclusion Local Action Council and chair of the National LGBTQ+ Diversity & Inclusion Taskforce. I believe diversity and inclusion are at the very core of innovation needed to succeed in a changing world. I want to help create an environment where people can leverage their differences as strengths to create more accepting culture with equal opportunity for all. During Pride Month [June], I’m often asked why the LGBTQ+ community needs a designated month to celebrate. To me, Pride isn’t just a month; it’s a state of mind and being. Pride is about accepting yourself and standing up for justice, peace, and the dignity of every human being.
Q: Who inspires you and why?
A: I’ve always been inspired by Diana, Princess of Wales. She transformed her role as a member of the British Royal Family into a position for the greater good. She was true to herself and full of a free spirit. Her charity work and patronage were particularly inspiring to me, as she could connect with people from all walks of life. Her compassion, style, and grace are things I looked up to as a child. She died on my seventh birthday, but I’m reminded of her legacy every year.
Q: Bonus: Can you share with us your happiest memory?
A: Christmas morning, 2001. I was 11 years old, and my sister and I eagerly ran downstairs to see what awaited us. This year, Santa gift-wrapped the doorway to our living room with a large bow and note that read: Merry Christmas, Chase. I ran through the gift-wrap to find my first-ever piano by the window. That’s when it all started for me – my true passion in life: music. To this day, I still play that same piano. Practicing before my morning walk to the office helps me get energized in a proper mindset for a productive workday.