Interview: Bronwyn Kemp CA(SA)

What do you do now? Why?

I’ve recently changed jobs, and I now lecture Auditing for Tabaldi Education.

I am here because after 20 years in the auditing profession, (you can see all the stuff I’ve been up to a little further down!), I realised that I must finally do what gives me the most joy and revitalises my energy most, and that’s really all about people – helping them to grow, seeing them succeed, sending them on their way to personal success. I’m really excited to be a part of this and help reach so many more students in different ways!

Both my parents were teachers too. I think it’s in my blood.

I have learned over these many years that it is really true that if you do what you love, it is not work. And if what you do energizes and inspires you, then you will pass that energy onto others.

A summary of your academic qualification journey

Accounting and I had a bit of a love-hate relationship for a while before I really ‘settled’ into this as my serious career. All the way up to the passing of my first Board exam (now ITC), I kinda ‘went with the flow’. Accounting seemed to ‘happen’ to me, rather than it being a very specific choice. I was good at it, which is probably why it stuck to me, but I certainly didn’t set out to become a Chartered Accountant.

My academic journey looks like this (quite summarised, of course!):

[expand title=”High School“] I started Accounting six months into high school, and only because I was frustrated with not learning enough in Art (the subject I had chosen instead). Against the advice of the accounting teacher, who thought I’d missed too much, I made the move, caught everything up, and passed the next class test with the best mark in the class. My destiny was set!

I’m still not sure if I made the move because the subject made sense to me, or because I wanted to prove the accounting teacher wrong. Either way, it was the first time I felt the power of my choice and developed the self-belief I’d need later.

I excelled at it and  worked really hard, even with changing high schools. I had straight A’s up to Matric, and for my final, I only got a C.  I was devastated, and after my re-mark came back with the same result,  I threw my toys as far as I could, and decided that I would NEVER be an accountant.[/expand]

[expand title=”BCom“]

I studied a General BCom at Rhodes University I started as a  full time student, paid for with a bank loan my dad took out. We didn’t have money for studies. I wasn’t impressed when I learnt that I HAD to do Accounts 1. I argued, A LOT, but to no avail. This taught me to swallow my pride and do what needed to be done, even if I didn’t want to. It was a blessing in disguise though, because I aced the first test, and my faith in my Accounting ability was restored. I didn’t change my degree though. As I said before, I just ‘went with the flow’

During an internet browsing session (all the way in the Computer Lab… internet access was limited and very new!) after first year, I found a quote which really spoke to me. I wrote it out and stuck it on my wall. I still have that piece of paper. It became my single biggest most consistent self-motivator:

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours”

I decided to study part time from my second year. Student life was too much of a party, and I felt I took my studies more seriously than those around me. I also needed to find a better way to pay for my studies. I was confident it would all work out in the end, but I still wasn’t sure what that ‘end’ was!

My majors were Accounting and Commercial Law. I also took Auditing 1 in my third year.

My degree took six years. I repeated Statistics three times, and Economics twice. I blamed the lecturers. Looking at it now, the only common denominator was me! Failing Economics meant that I had to write that subject on it’s own. I fell pregnant with my first child in that year, so I decided to take time off studying after graduating. I was very young, wasn’t sure about the future, and my training contract was finished by then (more on that later!). [/expand]

[expand title=”CTA“]

I was prodded to study further by the CA at the small firm I was working for after Articles. So, I registered at the University of Natal for the bridging course, part time (of course!), and then CTA after that.

That was all really daunting. There was a part of me that believed that I would never make it. Luckily, there was another part which said that was rubbish and I had every chance of making it. It was the same voice I’d discovered in high school that told me I had the power to do this. I am so grateful that, when faced with two conflicting voices in my head, I tend to go with the positive one – the internal cheerleader voice, and not the self-doubt voice. It is something that has keep me afloat through many years of personal and career difficulty.

I worked really hard. I was a new, young, inexperienced mom, trying to figure out how to run a household, a life outside work and studies and lonely study sessions before my little one woke up and after she went to sleep. I was the first in my family to pursue Accounting as a career; My mom and sister had passed away during my undergrad degree, so only my dad was left, and he was far away.. No one at home with me understood what I was doing or what it took. This all made me feel very alone.

I got judged a lot by the people around me. They questioned my commitment to my husband and child; whether I was placing more priority on studying than them; and what kind of mother I was. It took an immense amount of self-motivation to guard my heart against those hurtful words and to keep going.

When I wrote my CTA finals, I was pregnant with my second child. So – mildly exhausted and generally ill, I wrote my honours papers – (Back then, it was 4 subjects, each with 5 hour papers, all in one week) I passed.

At the time, I did not know how, and although I didn’t want to question fate in case someone woke up and realized they had given me someone else’s marks or something – I really did honestly wonder how I had made it through – I had believed that I had not put in the right amount of time. I now realise that it was because I put in the right QUALITY of studies with the little time I’d had. [/expand]

What got me through all this?

I don’t believe I passed because I was a genius and everything was easy. I believe it’s because I was very specific about my habits and the way I approached my studies:

  • Staying positive and motivated

I didn’t allow the small failures to make me feel like I was going backwards. I always kept going forward. It’s tough to develop this habit, but it was the most worthwhile thing ever.

  • Time management

I KNEW I had very little time. Instead of just ‘being aware’ of it, I factored this into my decisions and actions to address it properly. I made sure I understood the underlying concepts so that I didn’t just keep making the same mistakes over and over; I made sure I was actively learning (ie: questions, practicing, rather than pure reading and theory studies); and I assessed my performance constantly to make sure I was focussing on the areas I struggled with, instead of hiding away with the stuff I could do. If I hadn’t managed what I did with my time so well, there’s NO way I would’ve finished everything and passed.

[expand title=”QE1 – Board 1 (Now ITC)“]

I didn’t ‘study’ for QE1 – I practiced. I took the view that I had studied everything in honours, and now I really needed to get on top of the application issues. I got so many old board papers and I kept on practicing until I was happy, not so much with my answers, more with my approach to questions, my ability to read and dissect case studies, my ability to focus on what I DID know and not let what I did not know by that stage get in the way of getting the good marks I deserved to earn for what I DID know easily enough.

I was 8 months pregnant with my second child while when I wrote. (I couldn’t even sit at the desk properly!) Once I was done, I resigned myself to failure and got back to the business of becoming a mom to two. Imagine my absolute shock and disbelief when I passed!

I was stumped. Grateful, weary, but stumped. For the first time since the revelation of my self-belief in early high school, I slowly came to the realization that something really big was developing here for me. Up to this point I was honestly going with the flow (like a dead fish – only dead fish go with the flow). There hadn’t a bigger picture or a CA(SA) goal. I was just taking each year and life event one at a time, tackling things in bite-sized chunks, and not on purpose.

For me,  vision and goals were a luxury available to people who had money and time, I didn’t have either. It was only after I received my QE1 results that finally, the picture started coming together and I allowed myself to start dreaming of something much bigger than my circumstances. I had a long and serious talk to myself about it, and for the first time I decided on a plan for my future.

The outcome was something along the lines of this:  “You can actually do this, you can actually achieve something that many people can’t, you can actually be a CA, the odds are in your favour. Imagine what you can do with your life once you have that CA. Who do you want to be? What do you want to stand for? What legacy will you leave? There were so many questions I asked myself. [/expand]

[expand title=”PPE- Board 2 (Now APC)“]

This time, I had a planned approach. When I went in to write the PPE paper, I was full of confidence in myself and the paper. I KNEW I had it in the bag before I even picked up a pen. That was how much belief I had in myself and in the prep that I had done for it, that was the belief I had in my revelation about what being a CA meant to me. Nothing could have derailed me that day – my confidence was bullet-proof. Even spilling water on my script and having to rewrite a whole answer didn’t phase me! I finished way before everyone else, having completed all the questions with nothing left to add to any of them. It was a euphoric exam experience – I really had saved the best for last.

Waiting for my results for the PPE was super lonely though, and it came to represent my CA journey to me. The whole way through my academic journey, I was alone. I was the only one in our group of friends that was studying, the only one at home. After articles, I was the only one still studying at work. And when results came out, I was the only one sitting in that office at work on that Friday afternoon, the only one waiting for 4pm and for my results to be released. I was the only one who saw, and checked again, and again, and then rebooted and checked again, so make sure that the “PASS” I saw on the screen was really real. It was the end of a lonely journey, and I celebrated it alone. My husband and friends said congrats – of course, what else do you say when someone passes an exam – but they didn’t understand the enormity of what I had just achieved, by myself, with no study or moral support, quietly in the background. To his credit, my dad was my devoted cheerleader all the way through everything! It was his job to believe in me and he did it at 200% – did I believe him? Nope, not until the very end when I allowed myself that, that was my stuff, not his. But I was happy to accept a quiet high five to myself. I also  made a promise to myself then and there that I would strive to give back to the profession in any way I could, to make sure that other people could travel the same journey and achieve success that they hadn’t dreamed possible.[/expand]

A summary of your work journey until you qualified?

[expand title=”Price Waterhouse Coopers“]

Because they would take me I guess! I was 18 at the time – I knew nothing about business, employers, companies, recruitment… so I was winging it! (Remember I had started the second year of my degree)

I didn’t know much about SAICA articles or the CA(SA) route yet, and I initially applied for a job at FNB – I didn’t even know what I wanted to do there, just that I wanted to work. Looking back, I’m amazed at how naïve I was; how little I knew, and I’m amazed that I actually found any direction at all!

Someone suggested to me that I apply to work at an accounting firm – I had already eliminated that option in my mind, because I thought I wouldn’t be good enough. I didn’t have a degree; I wasn’t even doing the CA stream B.Com! I didn’t think I’d make the cut, so I hadn’t bothered with accounting firms.

After the suggestion, I took a chance, and sent my CV and a covering letter to Coopers & Lybrand in East London (They merged with Price Waterhouse during my articles, and became PWC). Amazingly, I got a call for an interview for a trainee accountant position (I wasn’t even looking for a training contract, I thought I would be a bookkeeper or something – BONUS!).

I went for my first real job interview with NO prep, no idea what to expect, no qualification, a matric which I thought wasn’t good enough, and I totally messed up the interview. I was so nervous that I got every answer the wrong way around and became tongue-tied. The partner must have liked me (or they really just needed warm bodies!), so I was offered a job as a trainee accountant in the accounting division in King William’s Town. (And they would pay my varsity tuition fees, if I passed!). This was great for me!

I soon realised, though, that as a trainee accountants, we were seen by the rest of the firm as ‘not good enough’ to be REAL trainees on the big audit side of the firm. It wasn’t firm policy, but certainly the perception we dealt with. Again, I faced the message that I wasn’t good enough for any important type of recognition.

For the rest of my degree, which took longer because of working and studying, I travelled 120kms a day to work and back using lift clubs and car pools. My starting salary was R1600 per month (before deductions!). I went to the University campus after work and attended lectures until ten every night;  went home and studied more. [/expand]

[expand title=”After my training contract“]

PWC didn’t keep me on after my articles were complete. (More rejection messages!). One of the partners referred me to a very small accounting practice in East London who were looking for an accountant. I went for the interview and got that position, and off I went – thinking that my B.Com and articles was enough for me. I was just exhausted from life in general, (remember, I was expecting my first baby at the time). So I went off to be a B.Com-articles grandiose bookkeeper. Life sorted. (Or so I thought!)

I did the rest of my studies here, and only left this practice after I qualified. [/expand]

What did you get out of your articles?

So much! It was my first job, so along with it came all the skills I never ever knew existed in the world! At the time, SAICA didn’t have the same training programme, just a bit of basic paperwork. But even now, with the very indepth knowledge I have of the SAICA training programme (considering I helped to design it later on!), I got far more out of my articles than the basic competencies in the current programme, and SO much that I would never learn in my degree! All the stuff around how to run an office, admin and logistics, and ACTUALLY creating the WHOLE AFS from start to finish, rather than just parts of them the way you do in exams. I learnt how to deal with, manage and assess people and present information.

You know what else I got out of it? Humility. I learned how to answer the switchboard, how the partners liked their coffee. What pies they wanted from Spar. How to fill their cars up with fuel, put money in parking metres for them, how to be a secretary. There was so much that I know a lot of people would see as ‘beneath them’, or ‘not part of their job description’.

Every single day, I am grateful for the experience, grateful for the springboard it gave me into adult life – I use these things every single day. That was perhaps the steepest learning curve I have ever been on.

A summary of your work experience after you qualified?

[expand title=”Associate at an audit firm“]

When I qualified, I was already a manager at the small accounting practice I had moved to after articles. After qualifying I was made a partner at that firm. It was a GREAT experience to sign audit reports!

Also, it was seriously nerve-wracking! It was a huge responsibility, so I made 1000% sure that my audit work was compliant with the auditing standards. We had no auditing software, so I had to comb through every single ISA and make up my own working papers in Excel to ensure that every requirement of every standard had been addressed. It was the best experience EVER!

The partnership then sold the auditing division and clients to a medium-sized firm and I went with it, along with some of my staff. I became an associate of that firm and a director of one of their auditing firms.

In that time, I came to do quite a lot of work for the Auditor-General of South Africa. It was then that I realised the experience I had had so far in my career was not enough yet, so when I was approached by the AGSA to join them as a manager, I accepted. It was only a year’s contract, but I knew the experience would be worthwhile. In that year, I had the most incredible experience in the public sector, but more importantly, in training. The training structures in a big auditing firm are very intense, and I naturally gravitated towards them. By the end of that year, I was lecturing internal training for the audit trainees, and it was a natural move from there to lecturing, once my contract with the AGSA ended. [/expand]

[expand title=”Auditing lecturer – Fort Hare University“]

After the year at the AGSA, I joined the University of Fort Hare in East London as a full-time Auditing lecturer. It was an amazing and humbling experience. You have to realise that It doesn’t matter how much you as a lecturer know. What counts is how much your students know once you’re done with them! It makes you feel like you actually don’t know anything at all – very humbling, but very motivating! [/expand]

[expand title=”Auditor General South Africa“]

The AGSA approached me again. They wanted me to return, and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, which included technical and trainee work. I had always wanted to be a training officer! I therefore accepted the re-appointment, as a manager, with a view to climbing the ladder to a senior manager so that I could become a training officer. And that’s exactly what happened! I spent a further 3 years after that as a training officer looking after 120 trainees, most of whom were studying CTA.

I left the AGSA to join Tabaldi. [/expand]

What did you struggle with the most through your journey?

To be honest, it is hard to recall particular struggles. I think this is because the many, very tough, life lessons that I’ve experienced, (also those totally unrelated to my qualification or work) have taught me to embrace challenges and struggles and see the path through them. It is a natural instinct.

What I struggled most with was work-life balance. When you love what you do, it’s a slippery slope to letting it become an obsession and forget that there is life and love around you which is really far more important than any career. Time management, work-life balance and inner peace – these are tricky things to master, can be your undoing if you don’t!

Do you feel that your experiences were different, because you’re a woman?

In my opinion, absolutely. As a woman, NO ONE gives you permission to drop the ball on your responsibilities as a woman. You don’t get a break from home, from housework, from being a mom and a wife. And you are scrutinized and judged, not only by men, but other women too.

Make one mistake and other men will say “women aren’t cut out for this”. Do well, and the men would say “oh don’t mess with her – she’s got a red-head temper, just let her have her way (trying to take AWAY your success by implying that it was given or ‘allowed’, rather than earned). If you do well, women will say “What kind of a mother studies at night and doesn’t spend time with her kids?”.

I became the breadwinner during my qualification, so I had to go back to work very soon after my second baby was born, otherwise we wouldn’t have coped financially. I had a lot of guilt about not being there for the baby, but at the same time accepting that I had to provide as well. It’s a difficult choice to make – one that many career moms, and single moms are faced with. (Little did I know that being a single mom would shortly be in my future as well). They get harshly judged about, regardless of the choice that they make. I got plenty of judgement for it too – but you brush yourself off and carry on – sometimes the bigger picture is only in your head, no one else shares it, and so no one else supports it and you have to just have faith in yourself that it will all be worthwhile in the end.

It’s a lose-lose situation if you ever allow yourself to take on board anyone else’s opinion. So yes, I feel I had to develop a much thicker skin. I had to learn things about myself and find strength that I don’t think is ordinarily called for.

[expand title=”Will these experiences impact your career in the future?“]

Absolutely!! Firstly, for my own journey, it has set me on a path of self-discovery and self-love that I would never have been on otherwise, an empowered “I can do this” life – so incredibly powerful.

Secondly, the ability and the motivation to use the lessons I have learned, the empathy, and the drive to see people succeed, means that it has become one of my strongest desires to uplift the people around me in every way I can. This desire is so strong that I plan my projects and my interactions around it. It’s always there, underlying every thought I have and every plan I make – at home, for work, for family, for friends, for my country and for the world. [/expand]

What other projects are you working on?

I’ve started lecturing at Tabaldi, but I’m always busy busy busy! I absolutely love what I do, and therefore it never feels like work, and I always find the time – it’s never a chore and never gets in the way.

I sit on two professional body committees. From the moment I qualified as a CA(SA) I made it my next mission to get involved in the profession and give back to the profession. Both these appointments are dear to my heart and my love for our profession and what we really stand for.

[expand title=”SAICA – Training Requirements Committee (TRECO)“]

This is the committee that looks after the professional training programme at SAICA (training contracts or articles), and I’m a long-standing member. It has been immensely rewarding, being able to give tangible direction and inputs into the way CA(SA)s are trained in our country, and how to monitor and improve that. What a journey it has been, along with transformation of our profession. It is exciting, it is trainee-centred, it is about understanding what makes a great CA, and what makes CAs great, and then understanding the trainee, and ensuring that these two forms of greatness meet. [/expand]

[expand title=”IRBA- Audit Development Committee“]

I am also newly appointed as a member of this Committee. I now have the opportunity to do the same as we do with TRECO for the additional professional training requirements before a person can register as a registered auditor. This includes professional development and competencies and a life-long learning approach – another opportunity to shape the way we develop people and make them stronger, more competent and world class. People are truly my passion! [/expand]

I have a third amazing project on the cards, but it is a work in progress. It is designed to bring the power of self-belief to our youth. Watch this space!

Final word to students who are on the CA qualification path?

Steve Jobs’ Stanford speech included a section about connecting the dots – and about how you have to trust that the dots will connect up in the future. That you can’t connect them looking forward, but looking back, you can see how it all comes together. That is precisely how my qualification journey went.

Looking back, would I have made different choices, knowing what I know now and having the experience I have now? Absolutely not – everything that happened and the way it happened led me to where I am now, and how I got here shaped me. I wouldn’t change that for anything.

There is no “one path”. You have to find your own way. Don’t judge yourself on the achievement of others.

You HAVE to have your head, your attitude, your self-belief, your patience, all in the right place for this to work – you CANNOT drop the ball on those. They are the foundation of all you can be – YOU define your qualification, it does not define you.

Lastly, find a friend and find a mentor.

 
 
Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn

3 Comments

  1. Bronny this piece you have written is inspiring beyond words – thank you for your contribution to my life – and many other lives you will change with your wisdom!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment