Auditing in the Caribbean: An opportunity of a lifetime


On an island 8000 kilometers away from the Netherlands, where the sun always shines and where the average rainfall is less than 20 inches a year, there is a place called Aruba. Aruba is an island that forms part of the Dutch Caribbean and is part of the Dutch Kingdom. Many people are familiar with this island due to its beautiful beaches and friendly people. An ideal vacation destination that one of your acquaintances or relatives always talks about. Though, for some people, this place is considered home, which means that ‘real-life’ jobs also exist here.

Reading the word auditing in the title may stir some confusion.  What does this island have to do with auditing? What in the world would people audit on such an island? Coconut shacks? Jet ski rentals? Not quite. Aruba is known for its tourism industry and hence has a lot of commerce business on the island. Consequently, this stimulates the need for auditors on the island. On Aruba, the profession of auditing is mostly stimulated through endogenous incentives. Banks are the ones that are the most likely to ask for an audit to be conducted, however, there are also shareholders that require this sometimes. All of the hotels and activities that a person makes use of as a tourist have to be audited as well. Though, what is so different about auditing on the island of Aruba especially if one were to work there? 

In this article, Mr. Edsel Lopez RA and Dr. Robin Litjens RA guide us through the world of auditing on Aruba. Not only do they talk about the differences in the field of auditing, but they also talk about their experiences as an auditor there. One with a local background, and the other as an expat.

The Setting on Aruba

Mr. Lopez, current partner at Grant Thornton (former partner at PwC), is a well-known accountant on the island with more than 20 years of experience working on Aruba. He has been in the field of auditing ever since he completed his studies at Tilburg University. Lopez started his career in audit at Coopers & Lybrand in Amsterdam after  completing a master’s degree in Administrative Information Science, at Tilburg University. Afterwards, he proceeded to obtain his post-master Accountancy  degree at Tilburg University as well. Later, after working for a couple of years in the Netherlands, he then moved back to Aruba to proceed with his career. 

“As an auditor, you become much more of a generalist because you ought to audit many industries with minimum companies to compare with.”

Looking out of his office right outside to the main road on Aruba with coconut trees waving after experiencing a heavy gust, Lopez mentions that the auditing scene on Aruba is to be looked at from a helicopter point of view. “There aren’t many companies in each sector on Aruba, for example, we barely have two complete hospitals on the island.” “As an auditor, you become much more of a generalist because you ought to audit many industries with minimum companies to compare with.” Lopez states that an auditor on the island of Aruba experiences a lot more from a bigger standpoint than the average auditor in a bigger city. Also, with minimum people to carry all the workload, the auditor tends to be placed at a much higher level very fast compared to if he/she were in a bigger city. 

However, there are other factors that are an outcome of a small island. One must note that there are approximately 120.000 people living on the island. So, one thing that becomes really important is your soft skills. How are you going to deal with a situation where you might meet your engagement client in the supermarket? Are you going to ignore his questions about the engagement and try your best not to create a social bond with him to keep your audit independence? Or are you going to deal with this differently? Hence, you are encountered with challenges that you are less likely to encounter in a big city or a big country where there are millions of people living. 

A different setting brings its challenges. However, coming from a point of view from someone who has spent a big part of his career on the island can be a bit biased. So, how did an expat experience this?

Experience from an Expat

During a cold winter day in the Netherlands, where the weather is all grey and it hasn’t stopped raining for the past couple of hours, sits in his office at Tilburg University, none other than Dr. Robin Litjens RA. Litjens is an assistant-professor at Tilburg University at the department of Accountancy. Though, before starting his career in academics, Litjens had been an auditor in practice. After completing his studies, and while he was already working for a couple of years, Litjens looked back at never having the opportunity to go abroad during his college years. “During my time studying, it was not so common for a student to go on exchange. Things didn’t go as easy back then.” This had left Litjens with the desire of moving abroad for his career someday. After going on vacation to Aruba, Litjens spoke with some people about the opportunities there. He immediately knew that this was the place to be. “It was not only the atmosphere that has made me attracted to Aruba, but also its people. I was on vacation and asking strangers about opportunities and people were already offering me positions as a business controller in the then newly opened telecom company Digicel.” However, Litjens wanted to remain in the auditing scene and got to transfer from KPMG Netherlands to KPMG Aruba

“To my surprise, I was almost immediately in a position where I had to make decisions on a higher level than which I had to make in the Netherlands. Some of these decisions entail decisions on what was feasible for the engagement(s) and what could be negotiated. I was also taking place in meetings where top political people were sitting next to me which did not happen often in the Netherlands. My learning curve was all of a sudden going steep up.” Other than this, living in another country has also taught Litjens about a new culture. This mostly had a positive impact on him. Not only did he adapt to the spontaneous lifestyle that a lot of people adapt on the island, he also discovered a new hobby: kitesurfing.

“I will never forget the moment I walked out of Schiphol when I got back to the Netherlands. I still see it in front of me. Rain was pouring and the skies were dark grey. I immediately thought to myself, what have I done!?”

Nevertheless, working in the Caribbean mostly brings a picture in one’s mind of a very relaxed work-setting. However, Litjens mentions that he worked as hard on Aruba as he did in the Netherlands. “On Aruba they do it differently. Everything is so close by, your home, the groceries, the office, the clients, et cetera. It was not strange to just ‘pass by the office’ on a Saturday. In the Netherlands you work longer hours in one sitting (on the same day) but on Aruba it’s a bit more scattered.” Litjens mentions that the work-ethic on the island did not really make you feel like you were working, but you actually were working which made it kind of hard to distinguish the difference. “I mean, I mostly had the time to go kitesurfing afterwards and sometimes the lunches were a bit longer than usual, but the work was always done. There were early mornings and also late nights, but it just felt different.”

Next to the advantages of working here, there was and there still is a small disadvantage of working here. The downside of working on Aruba comes from the benefit of working there as well; the island is small and opportunities to learn more after a long period also diminishes. “After a while, you have to make a decision on whether you would like to stay longer. This likely comes at an opportunity cost of proceeding with your career in a bigger city. Excelling with your career in a larger city gets easier than in a smaller city after a certain time. Though, if you plan on going to Aruba for a short period of time then this will not be a problem. However, my main reason for going back to the Netherlands was for family matters, and I was also interested in the academic world. I will never forget the moment I walked out of Schiphol when I got back to the Netherlands. I still see it in front of me. Rain was pouring and the skies were dark grey. I immediately thought to myself, what have I done!?”

What to Expect from the Audit Companies

The population on Aruba can be described as a melting pot. There are nearly 100 different nationalities that reside on this island. Having so many different nationalities also increases the odds of having a very diversified team in the audit field. Lopez mentions that “There are lots of people that come from abroad to work in the audit field on Aruba. Either to learn something new or just get away from their reality for a while, these people are often well educated, and all bring a different perspective into the audit field. They all have a different background which they bring with them. Not only do you learn to work in the setting of Aruba, you also learn to work with people who all have a different approach to auditing based on where they come from”. 

One might be thinking, how difficult is it to get a job here as an expat? Lopez says the following to anyone interested: “Drop in an email and we’ll fix something. We do not wait long with applications, but rather give a fast response. We are punctual and do not waste time. However, we also expect the same from you. The more difficult part is getting a working permit. It is often the case that you usually get it, but it can take a while. Hence, it is important to arrange things on time.”

Having said that, before picturing yourself watching the sunset after work, anyone looking to go work on Aruba as an expat can take the following tip from Lopez and Litjens: “Try to adapt to a more relaxed lifestyle. Don’t expect the bus to come at 12:16, but at 12:20. It’s the island way of life.”