Accountants can be labelled “conservative” and “boring”. While that may be changing, let’s face it, there are still no cool TV shows about accountants. Sure there are plenty about doctors, lawyers and now even IT guys, but accountants? No. Although the accountant stereotype may be slowly fading, there will always be the old school among us who still believe in the labels. This is important because when your studies become challenging, you need to remember why all the hard effort is worth it!
Let’s look at where it all began: school. Studying accounting at high school can sadly give the wrong impression about the profession. Although still a relevant subject, poor teaching can turn a lot of people off accounting as they are only ever exposed to the important but less exciting bookkeeping aspects at this level. Unlike law, medicine and engineering, which aren’t taught at school level, accounting can give a negative impression quite early on. What gets done at school is really only the mechanics – a five-year syllabus that most universities are able to cover in 3 months. However, becoming a CA(SA) involves the far more interesting, but often unknown, tasks of analysis and decision making rather than simply preparing the numbers.
So what is becoming a CA(SA) really about?
You could’ve been told to study it because it is something you can always “fall back on”. Maybe someone you know is a financial manager, accountant, financial analyst, entrepreneur and they are telling you that becoming a CA is the way to go – but you’re still unsure. Let’s consider some points that may help you make a decision:
Accounting is the language of business:
i) Business is exciting and learning accounting is in many ways, like learning the language of business. Accounting is used to keep “the score” in the game of business and as such can give you the ability to read financial numbers and get a feel for how well a business is doing. When I was at school, I was the First Team cricket scorer (nerdy I know – but how else could a C-Team player live the dream?). Just like the cricket score captures what happened on the pitch, accounting gives you an idea of what happened in the business.
ii) Business is always changing and because accounting is the language of business, it too, is always changing. If you want a boring job where nothing changes, becoming a CA(SA) is not a good option! When SAA introduced “free” air miles or Clicks gave you “free” clubcard points or Football clubs started paying millions for players – the accountants formed their own huddle, their job was to apply their minds and think about how these transactions should be recorded.
iii) The rules of accounting are becoming globalised. In the past, each country had its own rules but that has since changed. Now there are the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) that are used by most countries (barring the USA who have their own set of rules). Learning IFRS at university equips you to work in almost any country in the world!
iv) In the past accounting might have involved pouring over loads of paper and adding up numbers, but computers have changed that dynamic completely. The man in the grey suit is no longer required (the computer software will add the numbers). What is now required are people who are thoughtful and able to adapt to the dynamic world of business.
Three years of articles isn’t actually that bad:
i) Auditing is different to accounting. Once you have obtained your university degree, you are required to do three years of practical training before you qualify as a CA(SA) (you can work and study at the same time, but I will not speak about that option here). Those three years are typically spent auditing and you get paid to do so.
ii) What is auditing? The Financial Manager of a company prepares the financial statements. They need to be kept honest as they clearly have a vested interest – good profits mean that they keep their jobs and get paid fat bonuses. For this reason they are required, by law, to be audited (i.e. the “score” that they present needs to be checked by an independent group of people – the auditors). This independent group of auditors will arrive at the company and will check that the financial statements prepared by management accurately represent the performance of the company. So your three years of articles with an audit firm is three years of working as an auditor – visiting different companies and checking that what they did was correct. You can choose to not spend those three years auditing but rather working for other accredited firms involved in retail, banking and government. There are a wide variety of options here and if you explore the SAICA website you will find out all the latest information.
iii) You don’t actually perform all the grunt work of processing debits and credits (the client staff would do that). As a trainee you must simply understand what is being done so that you can check that it is being done properly, but not so that you can actually spend all day doing it yourself. That is why bookkeeping at school can give you the wrong impression!
iv) If you use your three years wisely, you will be granted access to a diverse array of businesses and learn how they operate. Management has to explain their performance to you and in doing so, you can acquire a fantastic business education. How many people straight out of university can gain three years of solid experience like this?
As a CA, the world is your field of dreams:
i) IFRS makes you hot property all over the world. Few other qualifications can launch you as a valuable global employee.
ii) You’ve shown an ability to stick it out (the CA(SA) journey is 7/8 years!) so you gain people’s respect once you’ve made it.
iii) If you don’t believe me, look at the advertisements in the newspapers and see how many of them require a CA(SA) qualification.
The decision to become an accountant must be made for the right reasons. The cash can only motivate to a certain extent and while we may not have a TV show, we are certainly not a boring bunch!