I spent quite a lot of time thinking before I started writing this article. It’s a direct response to a question I was asked on my Facebook support group (Yvonne’s Auditing Support), but it’s also extremely relevant to pretty much anyone on the CA(SA) journey.
Let me start by saying that this is a HUGE topic, very subjective, and can’t be answered in one article or discussion… but we have to start the conversation… so let me start at the very beginning.
I also recorded a video about the way you think of your studies in terms of your career:
Why is the CA(SA) qualification so popular anyway?
Students see it as the magic four letters that will solve all their financial and career problems once they can put them behind their names. Understandable. It’s extremely well ‘marketed’ in South Africa as a very exclusive, high-quality qualification that’s easily recognised and commands respect from those around them, even if they have NO idea what the difference between a debit and credit is. You may know NOTHING about Accounting, but EVERYONE know’s being a Chartered Accountant is impressive.
As good as this ‘publicity’ is for those who hold the qualification, it also means that a lot of students flock to study this qualification without knowing what it actually is, or what they can do with it. Whether it’s pressure from parents who want the best career opportunities for their children, schools who channel students with good Maths marks to the career, or exposure from society to the sought-after designation for it’s high salaries… there are a LOT of students I’ve come across who are in third year already, without understanding why they’re there.
Think about any brand… Apple, for example… when you think of it, you think of money, success, popularity, ‘coolness’, new technology, perhaps even a symbol of success… why? Marketing. Simple as that. Yes, they have a high quality product to back up their marketing… they’re not ‘lying’ about what their stuff can do… but what they’re REALLY good at is controlling the message around their products, making sure that you connect their products with all these good things. The CA qualification is the same.
SAICA has worked very hard over many years to make sure that business in South Africa (and even the rest of the world) sees their members as high-quality professionals. In order to ensure that this is a long-term vision, and remains true and adds value… they set the bar for qualification extremely high. (Remember that every country has accounting designations, with different qualification criteria… so it’s not a global requirement). By making sure that people who carry the CA(SA) qualification have pretty much the same educational background and levels, and a standardised practical element… they prescribe very specific requirements to qualify as CA’s.
This is so beneficial to those who do qualify, because they have an institution (ie: SAICA) who’s basically doing their personal marketing for them! You don’t have to ‘prove’ to future employees that you can perform… SAICA has stamped their approval on you… and that’s good enough for most employees.
(As an aside… you know the Code of Professional Conduct that you HATE studying in Auditing because it’s so tedious and boring and not as impressive as Deferred Tax? Well… that Code is FAR more important than Deferred Tax, because THAT’S what SAICA is relying on to continue convincing the professional community that you’re worth employing. The Code that you’re bound by as a CA, REQUIRES you to be ethical, to keep your knowledge up-to-date, to be professional etc… if you don’t uphold those principles… you could lose your designation…the workplace KNOWS that, so they have more reason to believe that you’ll be a good employee… it’s like Quality Control!)
The CA(SA) qualification is about skills, not jobs
Here’s what a lot of students don’t really understand. When SAICA allows you to use those four magic letters, they’re stamping their approval on the SKILLS that you’ve proven you have… NOT the jobs you’ve done. They don’t care what audit you were on, or which firm you worked for… they just require proof that your firm has evidence that you’ve met the skill competencies they’ve formally laid down for the electives you’ve chosen. Your electives are like majors that you’ve chosen for your practical experience.
Go look at them… follow this link… and look for the Assessment Needs Analysis. LOOK at it! It includes all the competencies you’re required to evidence before qualifying. I want you to notice how they’re written…
Example: (Pretty much the first item on the list)
“Based on the entity’s financial reporting needs and the stakeholders identified, evaluates the appropriateness of the accounting framework”
Notice how it’s phrased… basically, it’s asking whether your firm can prove that you would be able to identify the appropriate framework for any company you come across. That’s a skill. Sure, you need technical knowledge as well… but you need to able to apply that knowledge and know when and how to use your technical knowledge
What job would you need that skill for? I’d say, pretty much any job, in any industry, where you’re at all involved in the Financial information. Auditing, of course. Internal Auditing too. Accountant, Financial Manager, Financial Director, CFO, CIO, even the CEO should know that. Why? Because different reporting frameworks have different requirements in terms of measuring transactions, recording them, disclosing them etc… your financials could look very different, using the same information and different reporting frameworks. Even if you own your own business (in any industry) you’d need to make sure your financial information is appropriately measured and disclosed. Banking? Corporate Finance? Dealing with mergers, buying companies? Oh yes! If you’re required to make any kind of decision about anyone else’s financial information, you’d best know whether what you’re looking at is based on the right framework.
Ok… why did I go on so much about that one competency? Because I want you to see and understand that it’s the SKILL that’s crucial. When SAICA stamps their approval on you because you’ve proven that you have that skill (whereever you got it from), they’re telling the business world that you’re able to perform that skill in any job, anywhere, industry, situation etc.
Can you see the difference between that, and the idea that SAICA telling the world that you’re qualified to be a banker, or accountant? You HAVE to understand this distinction in order to get the most value out of your studies and your articles (wherever you might do them!)
What does this mean for you?
That’s all fantastic… but what does it mean for you?
What it means is that your qualification prepares you to be capable of pretty much anything related to your skills. Finance, audit, tax, entrepreneurship, banking, investments, running businesses… because you’re able to learn information, apply it, and you have a great insight into finance and related knowledge. You don’t have to know right now exactly what you’ll be doing later… it would be nice… but it’s not always going to happen!
What will you DO with your qualification?
Who knows?! I didn’t! I thought I was going to be an audit partner once I qualified… because that was pretty much all I was exposed to. It’s all I really knew about. Then I stumbled (pretty accidentally!) into lecturing… and all that changed! Now we’re running our own business, and I use those skills all the time, through all the jobs I’ve had (and not just for the lecturing!) I never expected to be doing what I’m doing now… and yet I still use those skills and thought processes I learnt. My work looks NOTHING like my Articles… but I will never regret learning those skills! (If you haven’t read about my journey, and want to know where I’m coming from… you can read about it here.)
What’s the benefit of the CA(SA) qualification?
For me, the answer to this is not ‘money’, as most students think! Yes, the opportunities generally come with great salaries. But for me, I’ve realised the greatest benefit is… CHOICE! In a country where employment is such a critical issue, I have far more choices in terms of jobs and opportunities than most will ever have.
Conclusion (for now!)
This is the start of a conversation… by no means the end. 🙂 It may not be a direct answer to all your queries at the moment… but we’ll get there! Keep in mind that no one can give you your answers, you can only gather as much information as you can, and continue to ask how it might apply to you, and what speaks to you.
If you can relate, or have a query...
Yvonne Starkey CA(SA)
I coach accounting students who are struggling with their study habits and mindset, and want their studies to be as effective as they used to be. See more on my about page
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Wow Yvonne this is by far the best insight into the career I’ve read and you’ve pretty much concluded it by one word, “choice”. I recently posted on most trainee & aspiring CAs platforms on Facebook & LinkedIn a similar question “why a career in CA(SA)” and of the few responses that I got I realised how that most students are sure they want the qualification but not so sure why. To be fair, the only answer I found when I questioned my career choice, years after studying for it, was that ” it offers me a platform to endless possibilities in any industry, any economy & in any of its sector And also guarantees me a key management position globally”. So thank you Yvonne, I find this article reassuring!
Thanks Yvonne, you have put in words what I have been struggling with whilst studying for CTA final exams (well tonight more gaining motivation from your blog than studying, wish I’d have seen the MAC blogs before yesterday’s exam!). The current student protests emphasizes the dilligence CTA students have – to gain the freedom of choice. I have now realised that that truly is the reason I am doing this. Keep on inspiring!
Being a CA (SA) myself , I have to admit that It’s been a while since I’ve read such a genuine, sincere and REAL article.