Mandi Olivier shares how the Institute’s CA2025 project is creating the accountants of the future.
‘It’s time to start thinking differently because if we don’t, our results and the product we deliver to the market (entry-level chartered accountants) will always stay the same.’ So says Mandi Olivier, SAICA Senior Executive and head of Pre-Qualification Professional Development, regarding CA2025, SAICA’s ambitious project to reimagine the chartered accountant qualification.
Relevance of the accounting profession
Olivier points out that the accounting profession always has and will continue to respond to the changing world around us by regularly reflecting on and making changes, sometimes in small increments, and sometimes through a complete review and overhaul of its qualification model. ‘The last time we initiated a complete review of the qualifying process was back in 2006,’ she says, referring to SAICA’s CA of the Future project which began in 2006 and came to an end in 2014. ‘SAICA’s policy of ongoing reflection on and evaluation of policies and practices which informs the qualification model of CAs(SA) has resulted in significant amendments to the education, training and assessment processes in the past 25 years.’
Among the changes made in the last 10 to 12 years was to the CA(SA) Professional Examinations. This resulted in the first exam – the Initial Test of Competence (ITC) − being amended in 2013 with a move to questions being developed based on the 2009 competency framework (and not just knowledge lists) and allowing for two sittings per year, while a completely new form of assessment was introduced for the final professional exam, the Assessment of Professional Competence (APC), which was introduced in 2014.
Another key outcome of CA of the Future was the introduction of a competency framework in 2009. The objective of the CA2025 project is to develop a new competency framework that describes the relevant competencies (knowledge, skills, attributes and values) required of chartered accountants of the future. ‘In this rapidly changing world, there is a need to prepare prospective accountants for jobs that don’t yet exist, and also a need for existing accountants to reskill themselves for future roles,’ says Olivier.
Qualification process – fundamental principles
An important document to emerge from the 2006 initiated CA of the Future project was the development of a document setting out the fundamental principles on which the qualification model is based. ‘This document sets out 19 key principles on which the qualification process is modelled but, more importantly, it takes into account the fact that we embrace a unique approach to the development and qualification of chartered accountants in South Africa,’ explains Olivier.
She goes on to explain that when comparing ourselves to our reciprocity partners, we look at the outcome of both a qualification process and set of competencies that are developed, and it is clear that we meet, if not exceed, these requirements. Routes to qualifying as a CA(SA) are unique to the South African context. For example, there is a requirement that the components of the SAICA qualification model must specifically complement the overall transformation objective of the profession. ‘More than half of the population in South Africa is extremely poor, resulting in poor education and development. As a result the country has a large skills shortage, particularly in the financial and business contexts,’ she explains. ‘We need to embrace that so we can contribute responsibly to the economic development of the country.’
CA2025 project rationale
There are many reasons why SAICA decided to embark on the CA2025 project. ‘Firstly, the world we live in is very different to how it was in 2006, when the last overhaul was envisaged. We need to make sure we are developing CAs(SA) that can work, adapt and live in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous (VUCA) world,’ says Olivier.
Secondly, there is a massive increase in the volume of technical knowledge available, which has led to syllabus overload within SAICA-accredited programmes. ‘It is unrealistic to expect a prospective CA(SA) to learn every aspect of the body of accounting knowledge in the four year academic programme, so our focus now is to try to create chartered accountants who know how and where to find new knowledge, and who can take responsibility for applying this themselves,’ says Olivier.
Factors such as the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the exponential rate of technological change mean that chartered accountants need to be agile and adaptable to remain relevant in the future. There are also a number of other factors that increasingly impact on the future role of chartered accountants, such as geopolitical influences and climate change.
‘The project addresses the imperative to change in order to remain relevant,’ says Olivier. With this in mind, there are five key changes in the new competency framework SAICA has developed:
- Increased emphasis on digital acumen
- Focus on creating sustainable value for a wide range of stakeholders
- The need to use and apply integrated thinking
- A much broader development of ethics and citizenship as key professional values and attitudes
- Balancing the development of technical and non-technical competencies in the learning and development process when developing prospective chartered accountants
‘The future is already here and we should stop referring to the future as if this is something we have time to respond to tomorrow,’ says Olivier, adding that many of these factors need to be embraced more wholeheartedly than ever before. ‘For example, there is currently a limited development on the digital acumen competencies in the SAICA-accredited academic programmes, and that has to change.”
CA2025 process followed
Having considered the future roles of CAs(SA), SAICA undertook formal research to develop a competency framework outlining expected proficiency levels for the competencies to be developed at point of entry to the profession.
The process began with identifying a world-class research team who conducted extensive desktop research, followed by stakeholder focus groups, member surveys and over 80 one-on-one interviews. ‘The draft framework was developed following this extensive and robust research process,’ explains Olivier.
SAICA would like to thank Professor Karin Barac and her team at the University of Pretoria who have provided us with a robust research process and outcome.
Top skills for the future
‘CA2025 is aimed at assisting our members and associates to prepare for their roles as they evolve (or completely change) in the future,’ explains Olivier. Studies from the World Economic Forum and Singularity University show that skills such as critical thinking, complex problem-solving, creativity and entrepreneurship, cognitive flexibility and people skills will become much more important.
But it is not just about learning new skills. ‘We want to create accountants who are responsible leaders, behave ethically and create sustainable value for a wide range of stakeholders within an organisation,’ says Olivier. ‘If everyone could focus on this when developing prospective CAs(SA), we will all be working towards the same common goal,’ she adds.
Components of the framework
Olivier emphasises that it is incredibly important that the following components of the framework are seen as integrated and are not developed in silos:
- Professional values and attitudes (ethics, lifelong learning and citizenship)
- Enabling competencies (defined as acumens such as decision-making, business, digital and relational acumen)
- Technical competencies in the value-creation process
‘We shouldn’t look at them as independent areas, as they all work together,’ says Olivier, explaining that it’s about balancing the non-technical (enabling and professional values) with the technical rather than focusing less on the technical. ‘Essentially, we are looking at the way teaching and learning takes place to ensure we are creating well-rounded students who can think critically and solve real-life problems, rather than students who can only memorise knowledge and dump information.’
CA2025: key changes
To sum up, CA2025 focuses on developing professionals who have the necessary digital acumen, who can create sustainable value for a broad range of stakeholders and use integrated thinking to do this, within a strong framework of ethics and citizenship. Development of skills is as important as the technical knowledge that is expected of entry-level CAs(SA).
‘Once qualified and with some further experience, CAs(SA) can be found doing everything from running their own business to investment analysts to you name it,’ says Olivier. For this reason, it is important for CAs(SA) to know how to continue to learn and reskill themselves in an ever-changing world. ‘We are not only creating a CA(SA) who will typically become financial managers; we are creating CAs(SA) for jobs that potentially do not yet exist,’ she concludes. ‘And that is the most important aspect of CA2025.’
AUTHOR | Roberta Coci