what it takes to become a good ca

Shadi Chauke of Standardbank posing for photographs at her home in Lindhurst Johannesburg. PICTURE: SYDNEY SESHIBEDI 31/05/2009.© SUNDAY TIMES
Shadi Chauke of Standardbank posing for photographs at her home in Lindhurst Johannesburg. PICTURE: SYDNEY SESHIBEDI 31/05/2009.© SUNDAY TIMES

What does a day in the life of a chartered accountant entail?

What does a day in the life of a chartered accountant entail?

A day in the life of a CA in the capacity of an audit manager is: You generally have one or two audit assignments you're managing at a time. This involves managing staff varying anything from two to 20 or more people. Each team member has to perform certain audit procedures and to deliver their findings within deadlines you have communicated.

You supervise, coach or guide your staff to ensure they meet those set deadlines. Outside of this you need to maintain relations with executive management at your client and ensure that you communicate findings and recommendations timeously to the head of finance as well as the audit committee.

There is always an opportunity to learn in the auditing environment because we are never in the same place. We meet different people in different sectors of commerce and industry, and it is due to this extensive exposure that we can become a "jack of all trades".

In the morning you may spend time at a company that manufactures plastic products. At midday you could be attending a fee negotiation meeting with a listed fleet management company, and in the afternoon you could be in a heated argument with the management of a listed BEE company whose asset values have deteriorated to the extent that they risk having a qualified audit opinion due to their company having breached its loan covenants. It's exciting!

How did you get into this career?

I had good grades in high school so I knew that I could get into any career I chose. I chose to be a CA because I received a bursary to study towards a Bachelor of Commerce degree, after which I obtained a CA (SA) qualification and applied for a further bursary to do an honours degree. After my tertiary education I signed a three-year training contract with one of the big four audit firms.

What's challenging about being a chartered accountant?

Once you have qualified as a CA you need to understand that you are a professional and therefore there's no such thing as working only during "office hours".

Because the roles you generally fill are at a managerial level, if you're in a delivery-driven environment you have to accept that sometimes you will work a 15-hour day or you may even work on a public holiday in order to get your job done.

To keep such instances to a minimum, you have to master the art of time management by prioritising and delegating. People call this "working smartly".

But it's an ongoing learning process - it's a challenge for all professionals.

What do you enjoy the most about your job?

Never being at one place all the time, learning how to work with diverse groups of people, getting exposure to various types of businesses. One day you could be learning about the risks facing a manufacturer in the steel industry, a private equity fund and an IT services company and what measures they put in place to mitigate these risks. I love this exposure because it also gives you insight into the types of companies you would one day like to build your career in.

What type of person will make it in the financial services industry?

I'd say you need a good combination of being technically sound (i.e. excel in your knowledge of the technical aspects and principles that you need to apply to your job) as well as being able to work well with people. It all depends on the environment and role you're in.

As in any career, you need to believe in yourself. You need to know where your strengths lie and capitalise on these to give you the edge in order for you to move up in your career.

What subjects do you need to pass in high school to be able to study towards this career?

Each university has its own criteria and scoring system, but as a minimum, you need top marks in maths. All other school subjects are secondary.

Excelling in maths means you will be able to think analytically and solve complex problems.

What does one study at tertiary level to be able to get into this career?

A bachelors degree in commerce or business sciences and an honours degree majoring in accounting, auditing, taxation and management accounting.

What are the growth prospects in this career?

The sky is the limit. You are equipped to climb the corporate ladder to being a financial director, a managing director or even a chief executive , or if you're entrepreneurial, the qualification adds to your credentials when raising funds to start your own business.

What career opportunities exist for a chartered accountant?

There are many options in terms of career opportunities as a CA. Companies employ CAs as financial controllers, financial directors, financial advisers/consultants and even operational roles such as divisional managers.