Finishing one’s CA(SA) qualification presents new unpleasant challenges. Whereas before one had a definite and clear goal, the final attainment of this supreme qualification is one big anti-climax.

Where you think you’ve hit the top of the pile there is a big reality check – your career has only just begun. Step out of the profession and you find yourself right at the bottom. Stay on in the profession and it’s business as usual with a somewhat disappointing adjustment to the pay packet.

Like myself, you might find that the attainment of the CA qualification propels one to higher ambitions. It is not unusual to find yourself registering for the GMAT exam (the entrance exam for all MBA applicants) or investigating the requirements for the CFA course.

I did it.

As soon as I got my results, I immediately investigated entering the UCT business school to do the MBA program (at that time a world-renowned business school headed up by Andy Andrews, a highly respected pragmatist and academic).

I was impressed with myself for passing the GMAT exam.

But subsequently, after considering the cost implications, I abandoned the project and stayed in the profession for another 3 years before moving on.

Do I regret it?

I’m not actually sure.

There is, however, one thing I do know – it is the quality of the MBA that is the important issue. Unlike the CA(SA) qualification which is controlled by a highly respected centralised and internationally recognised institution, the MBA mnemonic affixed to a person’s title could carry a plethora of meanings.

Note the table below published recently in the Financial Mail:

This is critical information as, just because you have an MBA does not mean that it carries the weight you would expect it to. The business school you attend is the deciding factor and if you are not up in the top four, your qualification progressively loses its punch.

But even putting that aside, you might just find that the content of the courses tend to be high level and when you enter back into the real-world, you could find yourself operating at a level where you will be unable to apply the higher executive stuff. If anything you might initially find yourself saying stupid things that seemed appropriate in MBA case studies but are more than impractical in real-life scenarios.

The one distinct advantage of the course is that it adds in the peculiarities of marketing.Most of us CA’s have little exposure to the whole idea of sales and marketing. If anything we are highly suspicious of such thinking largely because we are used to blowing holes in sales forecasts and take out all the ‘blue sky’. We like realism and facts – marketing is an illusionary topic based on aspects which are foreign to conventional audit/accounting thinking.

Of course this is all nonsense – marketing and sales drives the business and creates most of the value. Understanding the processes and thinking definitely broadens the scope of ones perspectives and moves one closer to the CEO role and further from the conventional CFO mentality.

All well and good.

But, again, it is unlikely that you will be appointed CEO once you are qualified and you still have to take the experiential route, like all executives, to find your way up the line.

It seems, though, that the biggest advantage of the MBA course is the networking opportunities that are created. Rubbing shoulders with students from a variety of disciplines creates fertile ground for expansive thinking. Sometimes CA’s finish their MBA with a new mind-set and hive off to start their own businesses. Somehow the course material allows for a greater risk appetite which allows them to step out into the entrepreneurial space (which is a space that most CA’s find decidedly uncomfortable!).

The important thing to note, however, is that besides the financial cost of doing such a course, the distraction from your career could be far more expensive. Wandering through your existing job whilst trying to obtain your MBA will take your eye off the ball.

Your CA(SA) is a powerful business qualification that stands firmly on it’s feet – adding a MBA is not going to make a huge difference. It does if you’re a scientist or an engineer but, as a CA it has far less of an impact.

Unless you use your Master’s thesis to explore some ground-breaking topic, you might find that you have slipped behind your colleagues in your career development – they plugged away at their accounting careers and have elevated themselves to an executive level in any case.

The result?

They are at a place where they are partaking in the higher level stuff through practical experience. As a CA(SA), nothing compensates for experience!

This is my opinion. As a lot of you know, I believe that the CA(SA) qualification is the best qualification in the world, especially if you were articled at one of the bigger auditing firms.

I’m sure that opinion will create some controversy – this is healthy and allows others to obtain better clarity. Feel free to comment.