Chartered Accountants – future-proof and agile?

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Bhavna Gounder CA(SA) | Senior Director | Financial Services | Canada | BMO Commercial Bank | mail me


Having recently moved from Johannesburg to Toronto I have fielded a flurry of questions from colleagues and if I’m being honest, around the weight of our qualification. Can we have both global mobility and success? Are we future-proofed? Do we need to reinvent ourselves to remain agile?

The definition of an accountant is a person whose job is to keep, inspect, and analyse financial accounts − truly uninspiring to believe that we are considered mere record keepers. Thankfully, as history unfolded, accountancy and more specifically chartered accountancy has become an integral part of doing responsible business.

Talking from personal experience

If you are cynical, the word ‘responsible’ may be perturbing. I am not conveniently ignoring that the industry has had its share of tidal waves. However, on the balance of things, we are a necessary part of doing responsible business.

Having witnessed the better part of the last two decades as a CA(SA), my view on the profession is one of pride (for the most part) but moreover muted. You begin to take for granted your designation and its weight. Much like a shiny new toy when the novelty fades. You are grateful, but not overly generous with praise.

To provide you with additional context, let me rewind this story. I was heavily persuaded by my mother (aka an accountant) to pursue accountancy as a career. Her rationale was it provided a stable and respectable income. Moreover, your services will always be in demand. There was no appreciation for careers that provided cyclical income in my family! Her theory made sense, so I boarded the CA(SA) train.

I achieved good grades in school, creating a comfortable springboard to my university years. As a friendly reminder, this route, much like any professional qualification, is an arduous journey! Four years of undergraduate and postgraduate studies. Four majors, which must all be passed simultaneously. Then three years of traineeship and two board exams. This is assuming you make it through all these hurdles in record time – seven years!

Hurdles overcome, I was four letters heavier, elated and beaming with pride, yet relatively naive about the working world ahead. That was when the real work began. My experience in investment banking has taught me a few things, which I took for granted up until recently.

  • Lesson 1 − Do not underestimate the weight of CA(SA)

Post-university, many doors opened for me; you could argue it was my work ethic, attitude, and even enthusiasm. However, I’m convinced that my designation of CA(SA) played a material part in these welcoming doors. Your attitude and commitment come through in an interview, but you must have a ticket to the game – that is, credibility in the form of a professional qualification.

  • Lesson 2 − Preparation is everything

Doors being opened is wonderful, but what now? Proof in the pudding, earning your stripes, etc. Those seven years of training, even though arguably theoretical, prepared me with two key tools: confidence and critical thinking. I often did not have answers to questions or problems, but I did have the confidence to ask the right questions and analyse data critically. I owe much of this to the way I learnt to think as a CA. You constantly probe for detail whilst never losing sight of the big picture. Case in point – your board exam.

  • Lesson 3 − The designation is relevant

Having recently moved to Canada, I was again surprised by the power of my qualification. I knew that part of this excursion would be reinventing my career. To create Canadian credibility, I researched our relationship with reciprocal accounting bodies. I then commenced the process of CPA registration. It’s not ideal in terms of paperwork, but I expected this. Administration aside, it’s truly seamless! It felt too easy to get another designation. However, at a closer more intentional look, it is well deserved.

I was being rewarded for being part of a professional, well-respected worldwide body, the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA). Furthermore, I maintained my CPD, and of course, did the yards to qualify as a CA(SA).

Future-proofing

The general idea, which no doubt you have picked up by now, is that our profession and the designation of CA(SA) are both relevant and future-proofed.

Having brought the future-proofing elephant in the room, I maintain we are somewhat future-proofed: 100% future-proofing is not possible. This would assume you know exactly what the future holds and therefore you can pivot accordingly. Our skills are sought after, fortified for global mobility (I can attest to this) and completely relevant in this ever-changing landscape. Sure, you must adapt to remain agile, but your designation and community within SAICA will connect, enable and support you! I reckon this is part of future-proofing.

During my trans-Atlantic migration, I found many of my coaching sessions with South African clients inevitably ended up being Q&A sessions regarding the weight of our qualification internationally. The good news is we stack up; even better, we can compete to win. Don’t let the South African imposter syndrome take over, we are well-placed!

Whether in South Africa or abroad, my advice is to try to make a difference in your immediate society. You can create value through your objectives.

In conclusion

The notion that the future of our profession could be specialisation or focused work is one I support. Each of us will bring our nuanced value to the workplace, and ultimately the world, through our varied experiences and differing paradigms. Moreover, the world needs imaginative and pioneering ways to tackle business and economic problems.

Maybe this is a glass-half-full opinion, but I believe that as accountants we have the knowledge and importantly access to financial data that can help shape views for ourselves, employers, industries and ultimately economies. This influence can assist in creating unique solutions for business and economic problems.


 



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