The key for women who want to make it in the accountancy profession.
Some women often give up on their dream careers because of personal circumstances. Anneline Marais shares her story on how she decided to not give up on her vision of becoming a chartered accountant (CA(SA), even after an unplanned pregnancy. She also gives some advice for budding accountants – learn to play a musical instrument and it will turn you into a highly disciplined CA(SA). The piano virtuoso, who also happens to be a CA(SA) with ten years’ experience in accounting and auditing, is currently the CFO of Sol Plaatjie University in Kimberley – one of the country’s newest institutions of higher learning. It is a role she has been in since December 2018.
Her bubbly, human-centric personality infiltrates even the complex, mechanical workings of telecommunications devices as she narrates her beginnings in Upington. ‘I attended a small rural primary school, Wilgenhoudtsdrift, which had a total of just about 50 pupils between Grade 1 and Grade 7, and it’s also when I started taking piano lessons while in Grade 6,’ says Marais.
Adding weight to that opening statement, she says learning to play an instrument instilled discipline, broadened her horizons while changing her perspective, and taught her that beauty has many forms.
‘I believe that this has significantly contributed to my later success,’ she added. Graduating from high school with seven distinctions and named dux student of her school, she decided to pursue the CA(SA) route. She obtained a BCom Accounting degree cum laude and finished her honours degree (CTA) in 2006. Then, life as we all know it happened to Marais.
‘Soon after I started my first year of articles, I fell pregnant before finishing the board exams,’ she says. It was a defining moment that she describes as showing the challenges faced by many women.
‘During this time, many well-meaning friends and family advised me to accept the situation, give up on my vision to become a CA(SA) and just focus on being a good mother.’
She says she was shocked at the realisation that such a defeatist attitude still exists in the 21st century. ‘Of course, I did not follow their advice. I believe that a woman can, and should, have it all and make it work. It remains my goal to use my story to inspire many young and ambitious girls to believe this too,’ says the feisty mother.
She adds that one of her all-time favourite songs is Josh Groban’s ’You Raise Me Up’. Does this song mirror her attitude towards life somehow? You bet. ‘It’s about rising above life’s foibles and not to allow anything to detract you from reaching out to your goals,’ says Marais.
Like every other established finance professional today, she started her career as a trainee accountant and auditor where she worked on various entities in agriculture and mining. It was while working in the local and provincial government sector that she was drawn to her passions for the public sector, where she says she continues to feel her contribution is more tangible and satisfying.
By then she was also involved in education campaigns which, she says, led to her passion for education − not in the sense of traditional sense of lecturing but in educating the public on best practices for good outcomes.
She then got an opportunity to work for the university – this was perfectly in line with what she had been advocating. She currently works in the financial aid department that assists its students who do not have the financial means to further their education, and it’s a position she is happy and proud of as it impacts society positively.
In 2018 she was selected as one of the finalists in SAICA’s Top 35-under-35 CAs(SA) competition. She is also one of the youngest finance executives in the higher education sector.
She describes a good auditor or accountant as not necessarily the one with exceptional technical skills. ‘As I continue in my career, I’m starting to realise that a good accountant is the one who can understand their clients, being able to identify the gaps to assist their clients to achieve their goals. Emotional intelligence is gold,’ advises Marais, who also serves on various forums, including the Public Sector Accounting Forum (PSAF), the SAICA Kimberley District Committee where she is a member of the institution’s Central Region Council, and board member of the non-profit Chartered Institute of Finance, Audit and Risk officers (CIGFARO) since October 2018.
That’s an impressive heap of achievements for a young girl who walked barefoot to school and who envisioned life as a musician.
Thankfully for the citizens and students of the Northern Province, and the finance sector in general, her baker father managed to sway her towards the finance sector by promising that he would continue paying for her musical classes while she pursued accounting at university.
There is a Sesotho proverb that says mmago ngwana o tshwara thipa ka bogaleng meaning ‘the mother of a child holds the knife by the sharp end’. Anneline Marais is a perfect example of that in the CA profession.