The future Chartered Accountant [CA(SA)] will look a lot different from the CA(SA) of the past, according to Professor Gary Swartz, founder of the Institute of Accounting Science (IAS), but if numbers remain numbers, and formulas remain formulas, what must change for the evolution of the CA(SA)?
“We started the IAS in answer to a call for change in our sector,” says Prof Swartz. “Education has become fast paced, and often the larger institutions don’t have the agility to keep up with the speed required to respond to market changes. Today’s CAs(SA) require a specific focus on the business aspect of our profession.”
Having been in business and academia, Swartz and his wife Naomi have always been entrepreneurial. “I went from completing my articles, to business development at Deloitte; then to mergers and acquisitions and later into academia,” Prof Swartz says. “I then started a restaurant, became a technical audit partner, and then undertook corporate consulting before creating the IAS, turning education into business.”
Naomi, now Audit Quality Partner and Audit Partner at Mazars Gauteng, lectured and tutored on Financial Accounting III and IV at WITS University for six years after completing her articles. “The need for a more entrepreneurial spin on traditional learning is clear,” she says. “CAs(SA) need far more today than the knowledge and processes we traditionally applied to corporates. The best way to work with agile businesses is to be taught in an agile facility.”
Driving this philosophy is the IAS’s recent SAICA CTA accreditation, which offers it the ability to create more CA(SA)’s and a recognised programme that serves the future CA(SA).
“The pace of change in the CA(SA) environment will continue to demand even more rapid change, which needs a dynamic and speedy reaction,” Prof Swartz says. “The external benchmark that SAICA provides to institutions is invaluable. I think the SAICA model of managing the profession is probably the best one available, and should be seen as best practice for similar professional associations.”
SAICA accreditation provides credibility, he says, and it was a legal and practical entrance into what he wanted to create. The process took four years, but it was four years well spent: “The IAS degree is equivalent in every way to that of a university, also providing entrance to board,” Prof Swartz asserts, adding that students can rest assured that the IAS has been audited and assessed thoroughly by the various departments that manage the accreditations. “It is a quality endorsement at the highest level.”
Why quality matters in changing times
“The standard of a CA(SA) education is consistently high in every accredited programme”, says Swartz, but what sets the IAS apart is quality of thought. Our programme is highly focussed on creating a critical thinker and a work-ready employee.
IAS staff are practitioners as well as academics, not just teachers. Working on the philosophy that if you want to teach it, you must have done it, means students engage with the latest technology and grow at the same pace as technology. We invest constantly in what is new – with the caveat that it must not just be new, it must be better. The IAS is not a bells and whistles facility, but implements technology that is going to make a difference for future-ready students.”
Naomi wholly supports this, saying: “Critical thinking must be a way of life for CAs(SA), not a once-off definition. The learning, unlearning and relearning of skills means that CAs(SA) will be better equipped for the fast-changing pace of the business environment. In addition, both documentation – which may be deemed as factual – and the self must be constantly challenged in an arena where CAs(SA) are relied upon to do the right thing.”
Given the turbulence within the industry during 2017 in South Africa, both believe a greater focus on ethics is critical for companies.
The Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants and NOCLAR deals with ‘any act of omission or commission, intentional or unintentional, committed by a client or employer, by those charged with governance, by management or individuals working for or under direction of a client or employer which is contrary to the prevailing laws or regulations’.
“Non-compliance with laws and regulations has far-reaching effects on economies, society, and even individual CAs(SA) working for a firm found to be wanting in this area,” Naomi says. “Therefore, learning this is not enough. It’s absorbing it into your personal code of ethics that is required, which is one of the things the IAS delivers on.”
So, how does a tertiary educational facility ensure students are embodied with a sense of ethics, when the term means so many different things to individuals? “Ethics is pervasive to everything, and it is imbedded in all that we teach. No lecture passes without an ethical issue bearing its head. This happens organically to an extent, but we do push it in by introducing case studies and intense debate,” Prof Swartz says.
“As a teacher, I grappled with introduction on NOCLAR until I reached the realisation that it is a vital piece of a CA(SA). The core of these codes of ethics that guide our profession is leadership, and with leadership comes responsibility,” he says.
“The most important part of leadership is the individual asking themselves and their clients the difficult questions, and reporting irregularities. Our students are aware that signing or not signing just one document can follow them for the rest of their lives. We believe that the future CA(SA) and future business leaders in South Africa will take heed of 2017 as a year that challenged every level of accountability. As an educator, I would hope this provides a lesson for every student who comes through the IAS.”