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LEAD: Global ambassador

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Theo Vermaak CA(SA), PKF International’s Regional Director – Africa, became chair of the Forum of Firms in January 2015. By Lynn Grala

Theo Vermaak grew up in Bergville, a small rural town situated in the foothills of the Drakensberg mountains of KwaZulu-Natal. With a great love for animals, and especially wildlife, he hoped to perhaps become a vet one day. However,  he excelled in maths and accountancy, and his accountancy teacher steered him in another direction. Bringing him an Accountancy SA magazine one day, she pointed out information on pursuing a CA(SA) career and  left him with the words, ‘I really think this is something you should explore.’ Today he holds no regret.

‘Follow your passion!’ he emphasises. ‘And I mean that. Being a CA(SA) opens so many doors; there’s so much that we can do, and it’s often very difficult to identify the right path, especially for a young CA(SA). I think it’s crucial to identify your passion and pursue that. Training turned out to be mine. It may take time, you may need to try a few things, but you’ll certainly get there. If you can follow your passion, your chances of success increase exponentially,’ he says.

’In terms of our role in a broader global accounting profession, the history of the Forum is quite important.’ Explains Theo: ‘It was established to provide a forum to allow interaction between the firms and the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC).’

The Forum was formally established in 2002 and Theo has been involved with it since 2005. The objective of the Forum is to promote consistent, high-quality standards of financial reporting and auditing practices worldwide. Another key objective when the Forum was started was to help strengthen IFAC and support its efforts to reform the profession and standard-setting process. The Forum continues to be critical to the provision of suitable candidates for the independent standard-setting boards.

The Forum brings together firms that perform transnational audits and involves them more closely with the activities of IFAC in audit and other assurance-related areas. Bringing the firms together gives them all an opportunity to engage with the standard-setting boards and as a body, collectively identify the best candidates for nomination to the standard-setting boards.

More recently the Forum has been assisting with a number of outreach projects in emerging economies. ‘The key driver there is to provide some global leadership and oversight in assisting local professionals dealing with challenges they are facing in their local markets,’ explains Theo. ‘Quality is important globally, but we realise that every country is different, and everyone has different challenges. If we don’t have strong accountancy professions in a particular country that is fast emerging on the global stage, we have challenges. Therefore, we are putting effort into assisting the developing of the accountancy profession in those areas.’

As chair, Theo provides insight into these key projects and ensures everything falls within the mandate of the Forum for audit quality. ‘The Forum is well established and well run. We have a very narrow mandate for audit quality. It is of course a platform where we bring a bunch of competitors together, so we have to be very clear on what it is we want to achieve. But within that framework, one of the things I would like to achieve as chair is to expand our focus on emerging economies. There is a focus, but I think there is still more we can achieve,’ he emphasises.

‘We focused initially on the BRICS countries but have expanded beyond that. We have a country focus at our meetings just learning about the profession in a selected country. We’ll have a presentation from someone from one of those countries where they’ll speak about the profession and economy generally and some of the challenges they are facing, the standards and regulations, etc. So that is really where it started; we identified from that the possibility of working with some of those countries and hosting events. We have a number of in-country events. We focused on Indonesia and India, and we are looking at expanding that now.’

Part of Theo’s vision as chair will be a focus on education initiatives, including symposia and in-country roundtables, formalising firm support for local professional bodies, ensuring that mid-tier and smaller firms are well represented, enhancing regulatory liaison, and improving communication and transparency.

Along with conducting training and seminars across the globe, Theo has worked and lived in Kenya, Slovenia, Slovakia and the US. This, he believes, has been instrumental in his candidature.
New York was a highlight in Theo’s career. ‘Being one of the key financial centres of the world, it truly is a very exciting place; a city that never sleeps. It was quite intimidating to go there because it’s such a big place. But it comes back to the CA(SA) question, I suppose; we do have tremendous skills, and I was able to work in that environment despite not being a CPA, which they regard highly. Working in an environment that speaks the same language but that is culturally more different than say Slovenia, was a highlight from a career perspective and one of the underlying reasons for where I am now.’

Theo believes that one of the challenges the accountancy profession will continue to face is not only attracting more people but attracting the right people to the profession. ‘Competing with many other professions and the increased regulation and increased risk make it a less attractive profession in some ways. And some people also still have this image of the typical grey accountant or an auditor and that it’s not the most exciting environment,’ he says.

‘None of which I’ve ever experienced in my life. I don’t think I’ve ever had a boring moment at work!’ he laughs.

AUTHOR | Lynn Grala is Editorial Administrator of Accountancy SA