How do we benchmark ourselves as CAs(SA) and what makes a good CA(SA)?

After being posed with this question by his newly qualified cousin, Ismaa’eel Van der Schaff ponders about the answer and shares his thoughts on the matter

When embarking upon the journey into adulthood, you arrive at a critical junction in Grade 11 or Grade 12 that is centred on the ‘What do I want to become?’ conundrum. You start a fact-finding mission that involves speaking to a variety of people ranging from your closest family members and friends to seasoned professionals such as doctors and engineers, as well teachers and guidance councillors. If you are still entirely uncertain, you may even perform an aptitude test.

Somewhere along the line, someone persuaded you to become a chartered accountant and I can guarantee you that two major ‘pros’ still stand out in your mind!

  • You can do and be anything
  • You will earn a lot of money

As a kid growing up with not much money, the two aforementioned ‘pros’ struck a chord deep inside me. Not only could I become successful, but I could also achieve one of my great dreams, which is to have the ability to provide for my future family. After consultation with everyone I knew, I decided to undergo my journey as a CA – even the doctors I spoke to pushed me down this path.

So with your mind made up at 18, your challenging path is laid before you, with the only real questions to answer being:

  • Where are you going to study?
  • Are you going to do a three- or four-year degree?
  • Which firm are you going to work for?

Upon completion of your degree, your next three years are predestined as you will complete your training contract to become a CA(SA). After completing the marathon of tests and exams throughout your undergraduate and postgraduate journey, passing the external exams set to prove your competence and achieving all your competencies and core hours throughout your three years of articles, you are finally able to qualify as a CA(SA).

Great! Fantastic! Well done!

You have finally achieved what you have set out to do as a teenager. Your goal has been reached and you think life is going to be a lot better from now on. But somewhere along the line, you start asking yourself a question … ‘What do I want out of life?’ This comes at various stages for each one of us. It might be during articles or it might only hit you later, as it did for me towards the backend of 2015. You start asking deeper, more intimate questions about yourself and what you really want out of life.

What prompted me to write this short piece, is a question my cousin (a newly qualified CA) asked me while I was on a train riding to Basingstoke: ‘How do you become a good CA?’, followed by ‘I’m not sure what this profession really expects or requires of me’.

This can be brought back to the question I asked myself in 2015.

As a CA you are trained to – among many other great qualities – work very long hours and to please your bosses and the client, but once you leave the comfort of an auditing environment there is a less rigid structure to follow. All of a sudden there aren’t set milestones for you to hit, title promotions tend to take longer/are harder to come by, and you have to find ways of delivering something unique and distinctive to make you stand out from your peers.

There is no set recipe, apart from putting in the hours and learning as much as possible about your business and industry. In short, I did not have an answer for her, but I did have this piece of advice; set aside some time and delve into what you really want out of life. Is it to become a CFO or CEO, is it developing the next generation of CAs or are your priorities more in line with starting a family and spending as much time as possible with your children? Once you have figured that out, then you can start narrowing down what you need to do and which avenues you should take in order to obtain the best advice out there. In other words, you are basically in the same position as the Grade 12 pupil you once were.

Life does not become easier once you are qualified; in fact, you are faced with more hurdles. It is true that the world is yours and being a CA opens a plethora of doors for you, but this is also the most challenging part. Because there are so many doors available to be opened, it makes your true life choices a more challenging. Granted, it is a great position to be in, but it is also a burden. One that a large majority of us have to bear, as is evidenced by the fact that a lot of my fellow 2012 article completers have changed employer at least twice already …

So I end with this: know yourself, know what you want out of life, and plan your life accordingly. Only then will you be able to start answering the question, ‘What makes a good CA(SA)?’

Author: Ismaa’eel Van der Schaff CA(SA) is Audit Manager, Deloitte London