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INFLUENCE: A profession in transition

Mindset, rather than circumstances or situations, will propel clerks into positions where they can excel and shape their futures. Angella Makowe and Martin Mutonhora give their impressions of this year’s Young Chartered Accountants Network seminar.

There was a dull nervous murmur in the venue and the audience, eager with anticipation, rushed to their seats to settle down. In the red corner with an impressive rap sheet sat Mandi Olivier, livewire Senior Executive: Professional Development at SAICA, whose passion for trainees’ and young CAs(SA)’ professional development was a sight to behold. Rubbing shoulders with her was the distinguished and eloquent Robert Zwane, Senior Professional Manager: Professional Development Training and Professional Development Department for the IRBA, whose drive to see a change in the profession makes him a force to reckon with. In the blue corner sat Professor Ben Marx, a respected author and Faculty of Economic and Financial Sciences Vice-Chairperson Subject Head: Auditing Accountancy Department at the University of Johannesburg, with a long history and extensive experience in audit, who could barely contain himself in his seat. Heemal Bhaga Muljee, the newly appointed National Head of Audit at BDO South Africa, being cool, calm and collected, completed the panel.

This was the scene on Thursday 30 July, which saw the advent of a new way of thinking with regard to the auditing profession. The War Museum in Johannesburg came alive with the event, which was partially funded by BDO South Africa Inc and organised by the Young Chartered Accountants Network (YCAN). The seminar dubbed ‘A profession in transition’ saw industry heavyweights and audit clerks meet and discuss, quite heatedly, what it will mean to remain in public practice. A second discussion facilitated the start of bridging the ‘expectation gap’ between training officers and trainees. The seminar was the brainchild of Khayelihle Sithole (YCAN committee member) and was a resounding success in terms of realising its objectives.

The evening kicked off with introductions from the SAICA Northern Region executive panel, which included Kelly Masete, Azhar Panchbhai and Brett Godfrey. Panellists in the first discussion, ‘A profession in transition’, included Mandi Olivier, Robert Zwane, Heemal Bhaga Muljee and Professor Ben Marx. Robert and Mandi took us through the introduction of the Audit Development Programme (ADP) and the rationale behind the new and admittedly better system of registering auditors with the IRBA.

Mandi provided a background into the changes SAICA has implemented in the qualification framework, that is, the move from the two specialist exams – mainly the Public Practice Examination (PPE) set by IRBA and QE II Financial Management set by SAICA – to the APC model. She emphasised that the APC exam is going to be more relevant as it concentrates on both professional and technical competence of the trainees, thus ensuring that SAICA produces well-rounded CAs(SA) who can be dynamic and adapt to the ever-changing environment. Robert went on to reiterate that that the ADP is in place to ensure that the standard of registered auditors (RAs) is not lowered. He emphasised that this programme did add credibility and confidence in the profession as members in public practice have a responsibility to the public. Although the ADP is not a requirement to become a CA(SA), it is a requirement to become a RA, unlike before when upon completion of the PPE you were automatically eligible to become an RA. The requirements for the programme are set out on the IRBA website, www.irba.co.za.

Heemal added to the conversation by emphasising that audit firms will remain competitive. He truly believes that the new regime will assist in retaining staff that have completed their articles. The fact that the ADP is in place would rather complement an individual firm’s developmental processes than hinder it. Heemal believes that if potential candidates in the programme are fairly remunerated, as the candidates for the programme will be qualified CAs(SA), it could see a change in the way trainees perceive the entire audit profession.

When Angella Makowe (National Audit Learning and Development Facilitator at BDO and YCAN committee member), who was facilitating the discussion, queried whether academia would consider introducing professional skills modules in the CTA and honours function in order to better prepare learners for the working world, Prof Ben (as he is affectionately known) could not contain himself. He distinctly communicated that the current structure was sufficient as UJ had started incorporating a few professional skills courses at undergraduate level but that change was warranted within the learners and trainees themselves. He emphasised that professional skills are cultivated and a person becomes a creature of habit.

This automatically became the opening theme to the second discussion, which featured Ian Putter, Head Finance Projects and Training at Standard Bank; Joanett Pienaar, Associate Director Learning and Development at KPMG; Niresh Budhai, Manager: External Liaison Group Capital Integration and Assurance at Transnet SOC Ltd; Marlize Radjoo, Audit Operations Officer at BDO; and Neo Hlatshwayo, Learning and Development Manager at the Auditor-General of South Africa in Pretoria.
The discussion followed through to the perception that trainees seem to have  that articles are a necessary evil and a gateway to riches. Ian immediately launched into why an attitude shift is important as it won’t matter where you completed your articles but whether you have the right attitude when it comes to post-article employment. Ian was succinct in his recommendation and implored the trainees attending that when in doubt as to what they want to do post articles, they should rather remain in audit and acquire more experience, and particularly Internal Audit, as this is where one gains a true understanding of the systems behind a business.

Joanette and Marlize provided perspective in terms of the quality of candidates being irrelevant from both a Big 4 point of view and from a mid-tier point of view with both emphasising that although there were pros and cons to training in different sized firms, the end-result ideally, will be a well-rounded CA(SA). Neo and Niresh gave us more insight into public sector training and how the new programmes would assist as they deal with data and information that is outside the current curriculum such as the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA). Both seem to agree that while lots of trainees avoid the public sector, this is where CAs(SA) are needed the most. Neo pointed out that, given the current state of affairs in most public sector departments, it will soon filter into corporate industries as most people don’t seem to realise that the two industries are inter-linked.

The seminar addressed a lot of topical issues pertaining to the audit profession and raised a lot of questions in the young minds present. Niresh – who was a signal operator before being given a chance by Transnet to enter the then TOPP programme – is an example that it is about mindset as mentioned by Ian rather than circumstances or situations that will propel clerks into positions where they can excel and shape their futures. Generation Y, who are the future leaders of the profession, have different needs and ideas than the Baby Boomers. The profession is in transition and requires the new and old generation to embrace these changes as it will result in more dynamic and adaptive CAs(SA) who are able to transcend all spheres of industry which is becoming more tech savvy, a far cry from the days of bean-counters.

In the coming months YCAN, in collaboration with BDO South Africa Inc and SAICA, will be rolling out this seminar as a roadshow across the remaining regions, starting with Durban and Cape Town in the next few months. So please look out for it in your SAICA communications.

AUTHORS | Angella Makowe CA(SA) is  Facilitator Audit Learning and Development and Martin Mutonhora CA(SA) Corporate Finance Executive, both at BDO South Africa Inc.