The tsunami-type advancement of the internet is a very real issue facing our profession. Experts are telling us about the 4th Industrial Revolution and describing it as humungous and mind-blowing.
Between the Internet Of Things (IoT), Virtual Reality (VR), Blockchain (Bitcoin), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and 3-D Printing, life as we know it is going to go through a massive transformation. As CA’s we need to understand the implications and applications. This is a bludgeoning field that offers many new unexplored opportunities. The CA is ideally suited to translating these disruptions into practical cost-saving applications.
Our current CA(SA) qualification has not prepared us for this and we will be disrupted by it!
It is very important to note that our roles as CA’s will change dramatically. Besides the disruptions mentioned above, the accounting profession is facing it’s own challenges. Integrated Thinking is emerging as the new financial reporting style. Historical reporting will be eclipsed by Sustainability Reporting. The Integrated Report will become to document that stakeholders will seek for their assessment purposes. Executive accountability will become more onerous. Unbeknown capitals like Human Capital, Social/Relationship Capital, Environmental Capital and the like will dominate the the reporting landscape.
Change is going to happen very quickly. And all these issues are threatening a plethora of historical employment opportunities.
The question is – are you preparing yourself?
Knowing that you have finally obtained your CA(SA) qualification, has got to be one of the greatest experiences imaginable! The sheer relief of knowing that you’ve actually made it, creates a joy that surpasses any other feeling yet experienced! The heart sings and the relief and excitement surges forward in waves of sheer bliss.
Seven long years (and often a few years more) are now over! The way forward seems lit with prosperity and riches! What a remarkable achievement!
It takes about a month for the felicity to wear off. And then reality seeps in!
The big question now needs to addressed – “I am a CA(SA) but what to I do now?” It is like finding out that what you thought was the top of the mountain was just the base of the next mountain. Not a great feeling.
As a qualified CA there a quite a few things that you can do – and I’m not talking about back-packing around Europe or climbing Mount Everest. 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 10 broad categories:
- Financial management
- Operational management (including special projects)
- Banking (in all its forms)/Financial Services
- Investment/fund management
- Internal audit
- ERP and IT (computers)
Let’s put them down under their various headings and examine each one individually. But let us not forget that the landscape is undergoing a dramatic change and you need to keep yourself informed.
Disruption can come surprisingly quickly. The result? A totally redefined playing field!
Again, whatever industry you are in, prepare yourself!
This is simply a continuation of your auditing career. You might move out of traditional auditing into something a little more exciting like tax compliance, system analysis, risk assurance. But you are still doing the same thing – selling hours. Budgets and overruns just become that more of your focus and the long hours persist.
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 clients and a platoon of on- site managers demanding your attention in order to keep to their weekly production targets. Time is money. And then there are those awful deadline stresses that could carry you into the early hours of the morning on a protracted basis depending how many of those urgent jobs land on your table.
Getting to the next level has its own box of spiders – finding new clients. Networking, strategic relationships and even marketing become a major focus. And this can be particularly difficult if you’ve defined yourself as an introvert and don’t particularly fancy midday lunches and cycling clubs. If you do not deliver on this one, 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.
- FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT
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.
- Authorising 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 ageing analysis’.
- Liaising with the external auditors and fulfilling their requirements in order deliver 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 and there is a good reason for it. 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 at all!
The big advantage of this job is that you will start to learn how to manage people.
- OPERATIONAL MANAGEMENT
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. Here the focus is on what is 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 centralising 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 and requiring you to partaking in the disposal process, retrenchments and vacating properties.
- Review legal documentation.
- 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.
- Risk identification and assurance (although the bulk of this will fall under internal audit).
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 your executive development.
It is important to note that one of the most important aspects of your growth 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 as you are ‘out there’ a lot more.
- BANKING/FINANCIAL SERVICES
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 organisation 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 organisation that takes much time to change – very much a small fish in a big pond!
In 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.
- INVESTMENT/FUND MANAGEMENT
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 are particularly suited to this industry because of the analytical and 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 specialised 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.
- INTERNAL AUDIT
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 carefullyand 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 Committee. 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.
Some CA’s really enjoy the university environment. Staying on to become a lecturer is a calling that, in my opinion, is driven by passion. Furthering your studies is one of the advantages but be sure that, if you want to leave and enter the commercial space, you have no practical experience.
The one part of the CA qualification that mixes well with academia is income tax. It is not unusual to find some of the top brains in this field in the academic environment. In my day we had Professor Silke and Professor Morris who collectively wrote the finest tax manual available.
Is teaching and study your passion? Academia is for you. But it’s a life long commitment.Escaping will not be easy.
- ERP AND OTHER IT FIELDS
I recently met with a bright young CA who had joined an IT company simply because he loved computers.
It’s a great and exciting profession. There is lots of new things happening and the industry is running ahead at an alarming rate.
The thing is IT is not accountancy – it’s completely different. People in IT speak a different language. They are not on the same page. I have another client who is a IT architect (whatever that means) and he talks in concepts and ideas that are foreign to me. Once you step into this world, it will swallow you up and you run the risk of losing your sharpness as a CA because you will never use it – you will be too busy with Agile (whatever that means) and other such wonders of modern day IT operation.
Referring back to the young CA. After we bashed it around for a bit, we both decided that the place for him was in an intermediary capacity, translating what commercial management wanted, into Computernese so that the computer guys could produce what was required. This is a most valuable function which is, in my opinion, often missing in the bigger installations and is probably the major cause of the huge overruns that the industry experiences.
The question here is do companies or IT consultants see this as a critical function? Not at the moment. Maybe in the future, but this middleman-function is an additional cost that is difficult to justify. This is notwithstanding that most computer installations fail because of poor communication.
(See further comment under the heading CONCLUSION below.)
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 in your CA(SA) qualification that will prepare you for entrepreneurship. It is a whole new set of skills, the most important ones being stay-power, persistence and willingness to fail.
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 stay around long enough and you persevere, you will create wealth!
This is a question that all CA’s ask themselves. Should I move overseas?
I think this is a question of vision not experience. If you believe that SA will be a viable economy in the future then stay. If you believe in political collapse then go.
Taking a secondment for 6 months is an absolute ‘must’, but moving overseas to get more experience is a misnomer. The experience you need is right here (unless you move into Africa). Why waste a few years gaining traction overseas and then having to go through the same process on your return?
The thing is you need to make up your mind. Uncertainty is decidedly unhealthy for your career – sitting a space of procrastination will get in the way of your current position and you will pay the price. So, avoid ambivalence.
If you are going to go, then go. Do not faff!
CONCLUSION (Don’t go before you read this!)
So there are some insights on what to expect.