You know, there a quite a few things that you can do when you qualify as a CA(SA) – and I’m not talking about climbing Killi or diving in Lake Malawi!
There are a number of routes you can take and each has its rewards and its consequences.
The route you take early in your career will, to a large extent, determine your destiny.
So let’s see what is available.
There are seven broad categories:
- Financial management
- Operational management (including special projects)
- Banking (in all its forms)
- Investment/fund management
- Internal audit
Let’s put them down under their various headings and examine each one individually.
This is simply a continuation of your auditing career. You might move out of traditional auditing into tax compliance, system analysis, risk assurance but essentially you are operating in the the Big 4 space and whichever way you look at it, they will always be your competitors.
A career in this space is quite predictable. You will move from your standard on-the-job exposure to a more remote role (office-bound) with a list of multiple clients and a plethora of on site managers reporting to you. Deadline stresses remain and 3.00 am knock-off/starting times do not go away.
Thereafter the next level is about finding new clients. Networking, strategic relationships and even marketing become a major focus. This has its own stresses – if you do not deliver the new business you start to smell.
Some of the advantages of staying in this space is that you might get close enough to a client who begins to like you enough to take you on board as the CFO. This is a delightfully comfortable transition in that, instead of having to start from ground level, you walk in with all the important relationships intact and you don’t have to prove yourself. And of course the financial rewards. coming in at that level, are usually substantial.
One of the significant disadvantages is that their is a lot to keep up with. Not only are the laws and compliance constantly changing , there are a number of high-end egos to deal with. In this sector it is important to make a name for yourself. It is a space of expertise and you will be up against the best. If you are technically inclined, it is a great space to be. But it is highly competitive and if you don’t make it, could face a career of mediocrity.
As far as employers are concerned, this is the most popular and sought after CA role.
The requirements are relatively basic and on-the-job training is usually available to guide you through the process relatively painlessly.
Big company experience is advisable as it enhances your technical skills as well as giving you the opportunity to grow yourself as a team player and manager.
Your functions will include:
- Getting the monthly accounts out on time.
- Preparing reports on major budget-to-actual variances.
- Authorizing creditor payments by reviewing supporting documentation.
- Ensuring that the ledgers are tidy. Checking (not doing) the monthly recons is part of this and usually you will be required to sign off on this process.
- Becoming involved in improving the control systems. This might arise as a result of shoddy system maintenance, too rapid a growth or following up on internal or external audit reports,
- Dealing with day-to-day staff issues and queries.
- Reviewing critical monthly reports including stock and debtors aging analysis’.
- Liaising with the external auditors and fulfilling their requirements to get to a clean and efficient audit.
- Assisting with the budgeting process, mainly collating the detail.
- Preparing various financial reports to be included in the monthly manco/exco packs.
- Verifying VAT, PAYE payments and other tax queries.
- Application of IFRS where applicable both existing as well as expected implementations.
The benefit of taking on such a role is that you get to understand the business from the bottom up.
Your progress will depend on how you handle yourself especially around your boss and more specifically how you deal with your staff.
Remember that you are under continuous scrutiny – if you feel you are not getting anywhere you probably aren’t.
What I mean is that you are not cutting it.
Get help! A good coach will help you get to the next level quite quickly. Leave it to fester and you will become more despondent and depressed especially if you receiving no mentoring from your boss.
The big advantage of this job is that you will start to learn how to manage people.
The financial manager is a person who deals with the historical aspects of the business – presenting the results for the month/year. The operational CA will be dealing largely with predictive accounting. What’s going to happen to the business going forward?
Usually this type of position is termed “Special Projects” and involves working with a number of issues:
- Assessing new strategies – for example should the company outsource its distribution function or should it put its staff on a pension scheme and if so which one. Assessing a new IT system could also be part of this process. The most common at the moment is centralizing financial functions into one single shared services division.
- Reviewing existing contacts with the intention of reducing costs. This might include reviewing the Company’s insurance policies or obtaining quotes for a new auditor.
- Due diligence reviews on possible acquisitions
- Looking at new forms of finance.
- Forecasting projected profits and cash flows. This would include developing complex financial models with built in stress tests.
- Investigating possible income tax opportunities.
- Developing restructuring models which might include closing divisions/factories. This would include the execution of the final decisions meaning partaking in the disposal process, retrenchments and vacating properties.
- Review legal
- Developing governance processes including the application and maintenance of King III.
- Dealing with treasury issues and bankers including forex, FEC’s and interest rate swaps.
It does sound rather exciting but it has one significant drawback – usually you do not have a team of people reporting to you and you miss out on the invaluable management experience that is part of the financial managers role.
It is important to note that one of the most important aspects of personal growth within the organization is developing relationships. This role gives you a wider spread of contact and you gain invaluable experience in building connections with a variety of stakeholders. You are also exposed to a lot more aspects of the business than the vanilla financial manager as you are ‘out there’ a lot more.
This is a broad heading and it ranges from investment banking and business development to credit assessment to forex and treasury. The main problem with this career path is that once you are in it you are usually stuck. You become a career banking person.
Furthermore it is normally a position with a large multinational organization employing thousands of people and there is a lot of CA’s to compete with. Not that competition s bad – it’s just political and has all the complexities of a mega organization that takes much time to change – very much a small fish in a big pond!
On my view you either love it or hate it.
Usually the reporting structures are very flat and management experience is largely absent. But you will get the opportunity to network a lot and if you like that sort of thing then this could be the place for you.
Fund managers are a new breed of professionals that have emerged in the more recent past. Investment instruments like unit trusts and hedge funds have become lucrative financial products.
CA’s particularly suited to this industry because of the analytical financial skills. There is even an advanced post graduate course that you can take to enhance your skills. Known as the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), this qualification is the jewel in the crown of academic achievement. Considered to be extremely difficult it is highly regarded especially when coupled with a CA(SA) qualification.
This is a highly specialized field. You are either in or out although you could veer off into private equity or venture capital as you mature.
Again management experience is limited as reporting structures are flat.
Although internal audit has been around for many years it has not been particularly favoured by CA’s. One of the reasons is that it is too similar to auditing. It is usually considered to be technically uninspiring.
This is changing as companies are being challenged to assess their risks more carefully and supply the Board (via the Risk Comm) with assurance that material risks are covered.
Traditionally internal audit has been nothing more than the extension of the compliance auditing of the external auditors. This is illustrated by its accountability to the Audit Comm. This is changing and with the advent of Integrated Thinking the internal audit role could emerge as one of the most critical roles in the business.
If you have courage, energy and few responsibilities this is the way to go. This is especially true if you have a passionate vision for changing the world.
But beware! This move is not for sissies.
Be prepared for a bumpy ride and double all your estimations of your forecast capital requirements. It’s lonely at the top especially if you are a one-man operation.
Most CA’s will say they ultimately want to go into their own business. It’s not that easy and there is very little that you are taught at varsity that will help you be an entrepreneur. It is a whole new set of skills, the most important ones being stay-power, positive expectation and a cheeky forward attitude.
It is also quite sobering to note that entrepreneurship is all about marketing and sales. Everything else pales into insignificance. Now that is something we are definitely not trained for!
The advantage of this route is that you are your own boss from the outset. This is extremely liberating. But do not make the mistake of thinking that it is easy. It most certainly is not and the hardest part is working with yourself, your despondency and your tenacity.
But the one thing is that no-one will ever retrench you and you will always have the last say.
And, if you are lucky, you will create wealth!
So there are some insights on what to expect.
I usually advise my clients to take the financial management role as it gives the best grounding and the best management experience.