Finding good financial people is a world-wide issue. To find young graduates who take deadlines seriously, think for themselves, are astute and intelligent, have integrity and exceptional work ethic, stand forward with confidence and sureness, manage staff, meet budgets and liaise effectively with C-Suite executives and important clients seems impossible.

Not so with the CA(SA).

CA(SA) stands for Chartered Accountant (South Africa).

Now let us be frank here. It would be quite a stretch of the imagination to try and convince a business executive in the USA that a graduate CA(SA) holds a powerful financial qualification possible even superior to the homegrown CPA. Or a British accountant who’s a qualified ACA. Try telling a streetwise executive that a youngster from somewhere near the South Pole, at the bottom end of Africa, is better than the local New Yorker or Londoner and you can be sure to evoke a response ranging from a snigger to a full-blown “laugh-out-loud”.

The thing is that it just might have some serious merit.

Here are some pertinent facts about this superb qualification and you can draw your own conclusions:

  • The CA(SA) is a 7 year intense degree which is under the jurisdiction of The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA). This institute controls the process and is renowned for its extremely vigorous and difficult qualifying requirements. 
  • Firstly a 4 year full time university degree is required. The degree is tightly focused around financial accounting, auditing and business management. Only the best universities are permitted to host this course, all of which work closely with the SAICA to keep the program current and relevant.
  • Once the university stage is complete, two very difficult entrance exams have to be completed. These exams are controlled by SAICA who set the standard, appoint the examiners and invigilators and control the marking of papers. To give you some idea of the difficulty of the exams, more than 40% of students fail on their first attempt. You would think that after doing 4 years of university preparation, the final entrance exam should be well in excess of 85%. Not in the case of the CA(SA). Why would this be the case?
  • Unlike other disciplines, SAICA effectively creates a very important criteria to assess the competency of an emerging Chartered Accountancy.The final exams is designed to get students to de-silo their thinking. All the various subjects that are studied in the undergraduate program are merged into one. In the lead up to the qualifying exams students need to prepare themselves to think laterally. Any question encountered in the exam require drawing information from all subjects. Accordingly all the student needs to enter the exam prepared to answer questions on any of the subjects studied. When the student turns over the exam paper he/she can expect questions on anything learnt in their 4 years at university! To anybody who has not experienced this let me assure you the pressure is intense. The CA(SA) course content is enormous and you do not have the luxury of breaking your exams down into manageable subject boxes. Furthermore the exams are 5 hours in duration. Exhausting and stressful. And interestingly enough it is this pressure that is also being tested.
  • But it does not end here. An additional 3 years on-the-job training (referred to as ‘articles of clerkship”) is required to be completed under the supervision of a elected principal who usually is a experienced CA(SA) operation in the auditing profession.

The thing is that accountancy and its subsidiary disciplines are international. With the recent advent of IFRS this has made this globalisation even more relevant.

Of course there are issues like tax and corporate law that will differ from place to place but it is the underlying principles that is relevant. The CA(SA) is a finely turned lateral thinker that is able to see a problem holistically. The de-silo approach has introduced into a young graduate a perspective that only years of practical experience can formulate.

A few other prime attributes need to be noted:

  • Being articled at a Big 4 firm creates other advantages. Because the qualification is so technically extensive, articled-CA’s-in-waiting gets exposed to higher level work much quicker. Accordingly an assistant manager at SA level is far more qualified than an assistant manager in London. They have carried far more responsibility and accountability.
  • Most young emerging CA’s work directly with the client and often manage the client relationship. This gives added maturity to a newly qualified.
  • Training at the Big 4 is pegged at much higher level and follows the de-silo approach mentioned above. Accordingly the ongoing training of a young CA keeps them abreast on a plethora of issues from tax matters, IFRS, governance, integrated thinking and even disruptive technology. Because of the strong academic base they are able to assimilate this information effectively and efficiently.

In short the CA(SA) is an interesting quality product that remains significantly under-marketed on the world stage.

The only to chance you have as a CA(SA) is to do your own marketing. And that is a lengthy topic on its own!

Clive Kaplan is a top-rated Author/Executive/Leadership/Career Coach and is an expert on these topics.