By Isaac Leong (15A13A), Katrina Jacinto (15A13A), Marcus Tan (15A01A) and Tan Yi Chern (15S03N)
The finances of our college don’t work their own magic, but instead, in preparing every budget and expenditure sheet is a team of real people who work their magic and do the math to ensure the health of the school’s financial operations. In trying to find out more about this team, Raffles Press met up with and interviewed Ms Lynette Neo, RI’s Manager of Accounting.
With finance being a corporate department, students, like us, know little about what happens behind its doors. But as Ms Neo patiently explained, the Finance department handles all money matters in school, from the regular monthly collection of school fees to the periodic collection of money for school trips and examinations; as well as the recording of school expenditure and the sorting of information for the school administration to decide how to budget its finances. With the nature of its work, it was no surprise that we were greeted by cabinets of files when we stepped into their office – with Ms Neo adding that their department probably uses the most paper in the whole college.
However, despite the amount of work the Finance department has to do, it is a small department consisting of only 12 individuals across Year 1-6 – that means 12 people managing the finances of a school that is almost 5000-strong! With the small department size, Ms Neo claims that work tends to be allocated quite flexibly and there is no “normal” workday for herself and the rest of the department.
In a department like Finance, work life is far from smooth sailing. When asked about the most frustrating aspect of her job, Ms Neo confided that it was having to chase students to pay the right amount at the right time. Though it seems harmless to hand in payment for an ORA donation card or CCA trip fees a few days late, it actually has a huge impact on Ms Neo’s work since there are 4800 students across Year 1-6. When RI has so many concurrent programmes, student groups, competitions and, most tediously of all, overseas trips, “just one or two” students “just a few” days past the deadline suddenly becomes many late payments to account for. Even with help like automatic deductions through GIRO, it’s certainly exhausting work. Ms Neo adds that it is even more so for the cashier, who “can’t cash in all the money at once and has to make multiple trips to the bank!”
Though working with students seem to be her biggest burden, Ms Neo admits that she rarely ever sees us students. Most of her time is spent interacting with other staff members instead. Likewise, to the students, the cashier at the SAC is the most, if not the only, visible element of the Finance department. It therefore comes as no surprise to find out that Ms Neo considers “spending quality time with her colleagues” one of the most exciting parts of working in RI. In fact, being such a small team, the Finance department works so closely with each other they’re almost like a family. Even during their lunch breaks, they can be seen in the Y5-6 canteen, eating together from their favourite fishball noodle stall.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of Ms Neo’s work to the average student who sees stars in numbers is her work experience, which has brought her from working in the “fast corporate world to her office in the Admin Centre. With her degree in accountancy, Ms Neo used to work in manufacturing firms in the business arena, where Finance departments were crucial to the running and operations of the company. When asked to compare working in RI and in the corporate world, she commented that the work was very different because of the pace of information required. Ms Neo explained that the profit-making nature of firms meant that financial information was needed very quickly in order to respond to profits or losses, whereas RI is a school and hence, the finance department takes a “backseat” and supports the running of educational programmes instead. They monitor the finances required and make sure that payments to vendors and from students are done on time. Ms Neo also explained to us how the culture in the two sectors are vastly different, saying that she did face an initial “culture shock”, especially with the different lingo and acronyms used in the education system and in RI especially, all of which were unfamiliar to her.
When looking back on her decision to join RI some six years ago, Ms Neo wasn’t too sure about the exact reason why she did so, laughing and saying that she was “not sure either”. However, what she is sure of was that it was a leap of faith, explaining to us how there were pros and cons of working in RI instead of a profit-making business. She felt that working in RI was a more stable job, but was yet also less attractive because it had limited career prospects compared to working in the corporate world. Looking back, however, she has no regrets about taking the job and working at RI.
However, there is more to those working in the Finance department than just counting money and crunching numbers. Even with the demanding schedule that comes with her position, Ms Neo is an avid reader and spends as much time as she can afford with her beloved books. “Right now, I’m reading The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan, mostly on the train from work,” Ms Neo quips, happy to share her literary exploits. Her all-time favourite author is Jeffrey Archer “I first read Kane and Abel and after that I was hooked”. Excitedly, she tells us that she’s eagerly awaiting the last book in his most recent five-part series. Ms Neo is also a longtime fan of Marvel’s X-Men and can’t wait to catch the newest addition to the film franchise, Days of Future Past, and her favourite character, the classic Professor X. Just listening to her rave about her favourite series is enough to get the interviews excited too!
High up in the Administrative Centre, Ms Neo sits in her office, patiently filing away the cheques and forms for all 4,800 of us. It can take awhile to fully settle all of the accounts, but she and her team take it all in good stride. The integral work of the Finance Department certainly isn’t sorcery – it can be tedious, and it can be tiring. But, above all, it is mostly invisible to us students-yet we are also the very people who benefit from it the most. Perhaps, it is a kind of magic after all.
Appreciation Week is a collaboration between students from The Humanz Initiative (THI) and Raffles Press that bids to recognise and appreciate the non-teaching staff members who do a lot that we often don’t value enough. Do head down to our booth at the canteen walkway if you’d like to leave Mr Chan, or other non-teaching members of staff, a little note of thanks via the cards and post-its that are available.
Also, there is a box for you to leave your well-wishes for our principal, Mr Chan Poh Meng, who has not been in school in recent weeks due to health reasons.
If you’d like to find out how else you can contribute to Appreciation Week 2014, do firstname.lastname@example.org.