Although he came from humble beginnings, Imran Vanker CA(SA) made the most of every opportunity that came his way and today he is a governance, audit, and management specialist with broad experience in private practice and public sector auditing in South Africa and at the United Nations and has forged a path to an illustrious career – an inspiration for all who come after him.
Today, Imran is the chairman of the Audit Committee of the United Nations and the director of standards at the Independent Regulatory Board for Auditors (IRBA) in South Africa and convenes both the Audit and Ethics Committee and the Committee for Auditing Standards in South Africa. He recently completed a six-year term as a public member of the International Auditing and Assurance Standards Board (IAASB).
Imran, who was born in a small village in KwaZulu-Natal called Manderston, is a worldwide expert in financial reporting, auditing standards and ethics, governance of international institutions, and emerging forms of corporate reporting.
‘My parents were the hardest-working people I know, who, despite their lack of access to education, made every effort to give my three brothers and me all the opportunities we had,’ says Imran about his early years. ‘They instilled in me the importance of education and pursuing one’s passions.’
Growing up, Imran was always curious about the world around him, the world beyond his borders. He always had a love for numbers and problem-solving.
Discipline, curiosity and diligence lead to success
Imran describes himself as always being an avid reader. ‘Business books and biographies of successful people always went alongside my other reading tastes. I read and reread Akio Morita’s autobiography Made in Japan, many books by Lee lacocca, as well as George S Clason’s The Richest Man in Babylon.’ He describes these people as ‘pre-tech boom entrepreneurs’ who built large industries and businesses like Sony and Chrysler.
‘How I wish reading was a gateway to encourage future accountants. My father told me the success stories of the doyens of South African business in the ’70s and ’80s (Sir Donald Gordon of Liberty, Raymond Ackerman of Pick n Pay, and Sol Kerzner of the hotel and leisure industry) and their success in creating entire industries and building successful businesses. They were all CAs(SA).’
So, even though there were few role models in Imran’s community at the time, he made his career choice based on his interest in business. ‘My parents were both small-business people – my mother the best salesperson ever and my father the judicious administrator, buyer and record keeper. My father explained that in the world of numbers, accountants are the storytellers.’
Imran was exposed to the discipline of business and the sacrifices of entrepreneurship from a young age. ‘I was drawn to the challenge of accounting, the logical thinking required, and the potential to make a real impact in the business world, and on our country. Accounting is the language of business.’
Becoming a CA(SA) was a natural choice for him. ‘I am grateful for the opportunities that this profession has given me. I have lost count of the number of times I have counted my blessings that my father introduced me to this career choice.’
At his school, which had a robust accounting programme, Imran learned the value of discipline and interest in the business world. ‘Discipline is a pre-requisite in accounting,’ he explains.
After school, Imran won a partial academic scholarship as one of the top matriculants in the country and studied accounting at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. ‘I should add, I did apply to study medicine. I had a big interest in physical science, but access to medicine had some restrictions, and so I settled happily for a career in accounting instead.’
‘My articles at KPMG provided a competitive and supportive environment in the early 90s, with big opportunities if you were successful in the board exams,’ he explains. ’I landed up in the audit space through a combination of factors, including my early exposure to the profession through my parents, my interest in numbers and problem-solving, and the opportunities that came my way during my career journey.’
Grab each opportunity with both hands
Within ten years, Imran was admitted as a KPMG partner in the assurance business.
‘Not being white, being successful at my academics and at work, being a team player, and being supported by a very good culture of development and promotion in KPMG created massive opportunities in those post-1994 days for someone with an interest in auditing to have an impact and to achieve leadership roles.’
During his early years as a CA(SA), Imran also became involved with SAICA through his appointment to the council of the Eastern Region, and has served in some capacity ever since.
’I have enjoyed the greatest international opportunities while living mostly in South Africa,’ says Imran. ’I chair the audit committee of the United Nations where we oversee some oversight functions of the United Nations; he explains.
In addition, Imran has addressed committees of the UN’s general assembly many times. He also served as treasurer and is on the board of various local charities and is the chairman of the nominations committee of the board of Birdlife South Africa.
Furthermore, Imran chaired the global group that developed ISQM 2, the new quality management standard for the audit profession. ‘I recently completed six years as an independent and public member of the IAASB where I chaired the global project to develop the new standard on quality management, ISQM 2.’
Not stopping there, Imran represented the IRBA and Auditor-General as a member of the King Committee, is a member of the Council for Medical Schemes, was the Gauteng provincial auditor-general, and was the national leader in the Auditor-General South Africa, amongst others.
‘I really enjoy my jobs, and often don’t see them as jobs but rather as privileges. Every day brings diverse opportunities and the opportunity to work with like-minded professionals. I am passionate about audit because of the critical role that it plays in ensuring the integrity of financial reporting and the soundness of business operations. I believe that a robust and effective audit process can help to prevent fraud, corruption, and other unethical practices.’
As Director of Standards at the IRBA, Imran and his team and the committees that support them have been instrumental in many groundbreaking contributions to auditing standards and kept South Africa very closely aligned with all global developments in audit and ethics.
‘I am committed to promoting ethical and quality auditing practices through my work in standard-setting, as well as through working with SAICA and my involvement in various professional organisations. I believe that by holding ourselves to higher standards of professional conduct we can help to restore trust and confidence in the audit profession.’
Live a balanced life
In addition to Imran’s passion for accounting and audit, he is also an avid runner, birdwatcher and nature lover. Searching for a Pel’s fishing owl in the Okavango Delta, or running through Jozie’s suburbs looking for the next new coffee spot, are pursuits that are not incompatible with the discipline of accounting. ‘I believe that taking time to appreciate the natural world can help to bring balance and perspective to our lives and work. There is massive interest and a need to address ESG issues professionally. There are many opportunities to do the same and to start today in our personal lives,’ says Imran.
‘I emphasise the importance of family and community in achieving a successful career. My parents and mentors have been instrumental in shaping my career journey, and I am grateful for their guidance and support.
‘These are just examples of balance and citizenship. Whether it is your faith or your many contacts with institutions in our community, CAs(SA) must actively seek to impact the world around us, with the amazing qualities our qualifications gave us.
‘Whether you start with your body corporate, your children’s school, the staff committees where you work, boards and committees of the government, residents’ associations or local neighbourhood initiatives to improve service delivery, does not matter. There are many places within reach, that you can start having an impact as soon as this week!’
As a SAICA member for almost three decades, Imran believes that in many areas, particularly in education and transformation, despite the challenges posed by basic education, the Institute, the Regulator, and the profession in South Africa have been very successful.
‘It is very satisfying to see the number of accredited universities where one can study, the number of pathways to qualification as a CA(SA), and the record number of proud young South Africans of every race qualifying as CAs(SA)every year. While we aim and encourage even more progress, we must appreciate the efforts of everyone who made these massive successes possible.’
Imran’s thoughts on combating corruption in South Africa
Imran feels while corruption has been growing in scale, it has also grown in sophistication. ‘Combating corruption requires a multi-faceted approach, including strong ethical leadership, robust regulatory frameworks, and effective enforcement mechanisms. As auditors, we have a critical role to play within the standards and the law, and we must remain vigilant and diligent in our efforts to maintain the integrity of financial reporting.’
A wealth of excellent investigative reports and audits are produced by professionals and bodies in South Africa. ‘Those reports, like the performance audit reports of the Auditor-General, need to be interrogated by those in authority, and where necessary appropriate and swift steps should be taken to recover losses and improve controls.’
That, however, according to Imran, will not be enough to root out corruption. ‘We also need a cultural shift to responsibility versus negligence, to accountability versus disregard, and to service from plunder.’