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Not your typical accountant: making the world better one line-item at a time

As soon as you start talking to Eli Tagi, you realise that he’s not your typical accountant. Samoan-born and South Auckland-bred, Eli is energetic, full of life, and brimming with passion for his work — accounting, but much more too. For Eli, accounting is part of a bigger story, a story of growing authentic sustainable small businesses, helping people out of poverty, and building a broader definition of wealth for people who can get overlooked.

“I’m a child of the migration,” Eli begins. “I was in about the second generation of Pacific Islanders to come here to the land of milk and honey,” he says with a laugh. Back in 1978, at three years old, he joined his parents, two brothers and a sister to start life in New Zealand. The family settled in South Auckland, first in Otahuhu, where he started primary school, and then Mangere. Eli loved sport growing up and loved hitting the rugby paddock with friends and schoolmates. “As much as I loved rugby, I always viewed it as a hobby. When it came to a career, I really wanted to do something that would help my family and the community.”

A strong student who loved school, Eli did his research when he graduated from Mangere College. “I saw the average salaries for accountants and thought, ‘Yep, that’s me!’ We didn’t have much growing up, but I really appreciated my parents and all the sacrifices they made, so I wanted to help their circumstances improve, and I saw accounting as a good way to do that.”

Although accounting was indeed where he’d eventually land, Eli’s path to get there took a few twists and turns, and several years, to get there. A love for physics prompted him to study electrical engineering when he started at MIT, later switching to business at the University of Auckland for two years after that. Life started happening fast, and Eli left uni, married young, became a father and began work in the sales and marketing industry.

His magnetic personality paired well with a strong work ethic and unsurprisingly, he thrived selling fast-moving consumer goods for the next seven years. Even as he found success in sales, Eli never lost the itch to get into accounting. “I had all the perks that came with being a good salesperson, but I knew it just wasn’t what I ultimately wanted to do.” He returned to MIT part-time, and after five years, graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Business, double majoring in Marketing and Accounting.

The time had come: “I quit my job in sales, moved to Wellington and started at the bottom again in accounting.” Eli bounced around a few finance firms before making the break into true accounting work with a role at IRD, finally beginning the career he’d been dreaming about for a decade. “I worked in auditing — and I loved it! My sales and marketing background gave me the skills I needed to connect with people. Auditing is about tax, but it’s really all about listening to people’s stories and helping them.”

Returning to Auckland, he pursued further qualifications while working as an auditor for RSM Prince, and after four years, became a qualified accountant. Knowing he was ready for a bigger challenge, Eli’s wife Wyndi encouraged him to go out on his own and form a new kind of accounting firm. “The thing I’ve learned as I read more about entrepreneurs is this: lots of people have good ideas,” Eli says. “But at some point, you have to make the leap!” Eli and Wyndi decided to take the leap together, and the husband and wife duo founded WE Accounting.

That was seven and a half years ago, and the pair haven’t looked back. At first, it was just Eli in the office, where once again, his sales background helped him to quickly build a strong client base. As one of the only Māori-Pacific owned accounting firms around, WE Accounting noticed a gap and has set out to fill it. He and Wyndi offered people a chance to de-mystify their finances: “We knew what it was like to run a small business, so we could jump in and bring our skills to help people out.”

From the beginning, Eli and Wyndi wanted WE Accounting to look different from other firms. “Our vision is to create authentic sustainable businesses worldwide. Here in New Zealand, small businesses are the backbone of the economy, accounting for 30% of GDP. This is amazing, but we want to grow this number, because it what it means in real terms is that wealth is distributed across a wider range of people. With poverty as a key indicator for things like domestic violence and lack of education, it’s our dream to grow people’s wealth and help reduce those side effects.”

In addition to their Auckland-based headquarters, where they now have nine staff, WE Accounting will open their first satellite office in Samoa early next year. “Samoa is close to my heart — it’s my motherland – so this is exciting. We’re building a business hub there and will outsource accounting and compliance work to be done there and reviewed here in New Zealand.” Starting to grow their brand in the Pacific is a win-win: it will increase efficiency for their business here and meanwhile grow jobs in the Samoan accounting industry.

The vision is big, but in Eli’s words, “I feel like we’re just getting started!” WE Accounting is about more than just tax returns and audits, it’s about changing people’s lives. To get there, their team stays deeply rooted in their community and fosters authentic relational connections with their clients and staff team. “Money can’t be the sole reason for what we do. Sure, the money is important, but we believe there should always be a stronger ‘why’ behind it. The money always comes when the ‘why’ is in place.”

Eli stays energised because his work is fueled by something deeper than the day to day numbers: WE Accounting is driven by a passion to make the world a better. “We truly love what we’re doing,” Eli says, “and we’re really excited to be growing our brand across the Pacific.” Eli’s is a case of truly putting his money where his mouth is, improving lives one line-item at a time.

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