Bintou Jalloh’s father was clear — education was a priority. “Your first husband is your degree,” he told her. “You get your degree first.” He wanted Bintou to have the educational opportunity of America, so she left her home in Bamako, Mali’s capital, to study accounting at Temple University, in Philadelphia.
“It was tough,” said Bintou, who is Senior Accountant, Financial Reporting and Analysis at the Board of Pensions. “The culture was so different. Everything was so different.” A native speaker of Bambara and French, she also faced the challenge of becoming fluent in English.
At one point, after graduating from Temple, Bintou returned to Mali for almost three years, working as a budget officer with the United Nations. But after spending most of her adulthood in the U.S., “home really is here or Mali,” she said. “When I’m in Mali, there are things that I miss here and vice versa.”
Bintou made a second cultural shift two years ago when she joined the Board from the international accounting firm Ernst & Young. She was traveling widely to meet with EY auditing clients, away from home at least a dozen times a year. When son Samba, now 5, began to feel her absence, she looked for better work-life balance.
“At the Board, I get this family vibe,” Bintou said. “At EY, I learned a lot, but I don’t think we actually talked much about our lives outside of work. In public accounting it’s just go-go. At the end of the day, it’s ‘how many chargeable hours did you have without blowing the budget.’”
The EY experience makes Bintou particularly valuable to the Board and the employers and Benefits Plan members it serves. “It definitely helps coming from the Big 4, from public accounting,” she said. “Having a tax and an audit background helps in my work at the Board. As a consultant, I worked with different clients; I saw each client do things differently.”
Bintou applies the skills gained working for EY clients to her assignments with the Board’s Finance team, including ensuring that all administrative expenses are precisely recorded during the year and that all gifts received for the Board’s Assistance Program are classified and reported accurately. She also works with colleagues to prepare the monthly and yearly financial statements as well as financial information for the Board of Directors meetings.
Most of Bintou’s work, like that of so many serving the Board, is behind the scenes, but she has one responsibility that has her on the phone with employers.
“Within my team, I’m responsible for making sure that the death benefit dues calculator, on pensions.org, is updated every year. This involves working with the Director of Financial Reporting, IT, and Plan Operations,” Bintou said. “I also address churches’ and organizations’ questions on the mechanics of the calculator. Sometimes, some of them ask for us to do their imputed income calculations, which I do.”
These days, Bintou does everything remotely, whether speaking with an employer or a coworker, as COVID-19 has shuttered Philadelphia and sent Board employees home to work. Her latest challenge is working with a preschooler close by. “At that age, the concentration level is not there,” she said.
“I try to be positive every day,” Bintou said. “I start with gratitude and I end the day with gratitude.” She recalled her mother’s wisdom: “Most people live in the middle. We don’t have it the best or the worst, but rather, somewhere in between — and there are countless blessings in the middle.”
As a youngster, Bintou played soccer with children living on the streets of Bamako. “I would always bring someone home,” she said, for a meal or a bath. That experience led her to ACFA (A Child for All), founded by an American Malian woman to care for vulnerable Malian children. Bintou has served on its Board and raised funds for ACFA.
“It feels wonderful to be able to support the children of my home — even from here,” Bintou said. “That’s very dear to me.”