Accounting Alumna Oh ’90 Speaks to Student Accounting Association

Posted on 5/8/2019 7:59:49 AM

“Accounting is a great springboard,” said Susan Oh ’90. “You know how to read and analyze financial statements. This is an important asset to have. You can take your knowledge anywhere. Never partner with fear in anything. I partner with courage. Fear keeps you small and keeps you from reaching your destiny. You won’t go anywhere with fear.”

These were IUP accounting alumna Susan Oh’s final words of advice during her presentation to a group of more than 70 students at the Student Accounting Association meeting held on April 23, 2019, in the Eberly auditorium. Oh is currently serving as the director of risk parity, currency hedging, and strategic implementation for the Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System. PSERS has assets totaling $55 billion.

Oh immigrated to the United States from South Korea in 1984, when she was 16 years old. After attending Central Dauphin High School in central Pennsylvania, she attended IUP, where she graduated summa cum laude in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting. Upon graduating, Oh worked as an auditor and consultant at KPMG, a Big Four public accounting firm. Since her time at KPMG, laws have changed, and auditors now cannot serve as consultants simultaneously. PSERS was one of Oh’s clients while at KPMG.

SAA President Matthew DeCesare conducted a “fireside chat” interview with Oh following her introductory presentation on what she does at PSERS. DeCesare’s first question was asking Oh what it was like to move to the United States at 16 years of age and what prompted her to choose IUP. Oh mentioned that when she first moved to the United States, she was speaking broken English, and she knew she wanted a university that offered small class sizes. She knew IUP was the perfect fit for her needs.

Oh was next asked why she chose accounting as her major and how her work experience at KPMG led her to her current position at PSERS. Oh stated that her father recommended accounting to her as a profession. At first, she had difficulty understanding the fundamentals of accounting; however, she persevered and did not give up. She mentioned a now retired emeritus accounting professor, Mohamed Ghobashy, as being a very important mentor to her while at IUP, and she has continued to stay in touch with him.

Susan Oh Accounting Alumnus

Front, from left: SAA Vice President Kaitlin Albright, Susan Oh, SAA Faculty Advisor Kim Anderson, and SAA Senior Vice President Kelly Kumetis. Back, from left: senior accounting majors Anthony Maticic and Matthew Miller

At KPMG, Oh was assigned PSERS as one of her audit and consulting clients, which led to her receiving a job offer from PSERS. She accepted the offer, thinking she would work there for about two years. Instead, Oh has been with PSERS for 24 years. She mentioned that her four years with KPMG prepared her well for her PSERS position. Her KPMG experience provided her with an incredible ability to analyze and understand financial statements, enabling her to have fluid conversations with business executives. 

DeCesare asked Oh to explain her current position at PSERS. She spent her first four years working to “beef up” the investment accounting group. Due to her excellent work, the director of equity stocks at PSERS asked her to manage the non-US equity portfolio. Originally, Oh turned down the offer, feeling uncertain about her qualifications for the position. Due to her husband’s encouragement, however, she accepted the position and went on to pass the rigorous exams necessary to become a chartered financial analyst. She has since devised several new investment programs and strategies to protect and enhance the system’s retirement benefits and dollars.

When asked why there aren’t many women in the investment field, Oh brought up the point that many women do not perceive themselves as being able to work on Wall Street due to the cultural bias that women don’t fit that mold. This bias results in fewer opportunities for women to advance their careers in the investment world, which in turn produces fewer role models for girls and young women. Oh is only the second woman in 20 years at PSERS to be promoted to director, and only 16 percent of CFAs are women.

—Jonathan Rorabaugh, SAA Publicity Chair

Eberly College of Business and Information Technology