Hamman Schoonwinkel (29) is a chartered accountant and a lecturer in digital and leadership acumen at Stellenbosch University with a passion for both finance and the performing arts. He is also the chair of the SAICA Community of Best Practice for Digital Acumen.
As an avid saxophone player, Hamman Schoonwinkel initially faced a tough decision between studying music and accounting. Eventually he chose to pursue accounting with the goal of becoming a lecturer in order to combine both his interests.
After completing his BAcc Honours at Stellenbosch University in 2015, Hamman started his academic traineeship at the same institution, where he lectured in first-year financial accounting and presented postgraduate tutorials in auditing. He believes this year allowed him to experience the best of both worlds: While lecturing for large groups provided him with the traditional ‘lecturing’ experience, tutorials allowed him to engage with students one on one and to understand students’ learning experience. Lecturing in financial accounting gave him an appreciation for having a good understanding of fundamental principles, while presenting tutorials allowed him to upskill his theory in auditing and gain a better understanding of the ISAs.
With hindsight, he would recommend that students consider pursuing an academic traineeship even if they’re not interested in a career in academia. He was initially hesitant about going the academic traineeship route, as he would have had to complete his articles at a firm in two years instead of the usual three, requiring a fast-track approach through articles. The prospect of having to jump in at the audit deep end as a second-year trainee without experience was daunting.
He discovered that first-year audit trainees typically perform menial tasks and audit basic balances, and that he would develop the same crucial skills if he entered the profession as a second year – albeit at an accelerated rate. Upon joining Moore Stellenbosch in 2017, his suspicions were confirmed when he was assimilated into the firm with relative ease. It had its challenges, but he believes that when faced with adversity, people tend to ‘exceed’. He also found that the academic traineeship provided him with valuable experience and helped him to develop skills that would have been difficult to acquire had he not spent a year in academia.
Both academia and auditing are about people. As for a career in academia, academic traineeship allows trainees to become members of staff and gain exposure to another perspective of academia. Students at university believe they know, but being a lecturer gives you a different perspective and shows you that you do not know what you thought you knew (as a student).
Joining Moore Stellenbosch provided Hamman with an opportunity to improve his relational acumen. During this time, he discovered his passion for digital-related activities and became fascinated with building templates in MS Excel and programming to automate tasks. His journey took a turn in 2019 when he was appointed as a lecturer at Stellenbosch University to teach then-called ‘information systems’. In the same year he decided to register for a computer programming course at the Engineering faculty to develop his programming skills, where he was taught the ‘C’ programming language. His interest in automation and its potential led him to complete a course in Visual Basic for Applications, a programming language applied to Microsoft products.
Hamman discovered many unknown capabilities of Excel that could greatly assist accountants in automating tasks usually performed manually. In 2020, he started his master’s in blockchain technology at Zigurat Innovation & Technology Business School in Spain. During this period, he was invited to be part of the working group responsible for the development of the new SAICA competency framework (CA2021), specifically relating to digital acumen. He was also appointed as a member of the Global Accounting Alliance Technology and Data Analytics in Accounting working group, later becoming the chair of the SAICA Community of Best Practice for Digital Acumen with the goal of academic providers sharing ideas on implementing the new competency framework in the accounting curriculum.
Hamman’s passion for digital acumen has led him to develop new modules at Stellenbosch University that address the new competency framework. These modules focus on computational thinking and automation, using Excel VBA to solve business problems, and automate tasks typically performed by accountants periodically.
Hamman believes being a member of academia affords him the opportunity to influence public discourse in the profession and the direction of the profession through both teaching and research. Currently pursuing a PhD in blockchain technologies at the Technical University of Munich, his research focuses on financial reporting issues relating to decentralised autonomous organisations. Being a chartered accountant provides him unique insights into blockchain topics that are currently mostly studied by computer scientists.
Looking into the future, Hamman hopes to obtain his PhD and successfully incorporate new digital acumen modules into the accounting curriculum at Stellenbosch University, while at the same time influencing how the profession views digital acumen.
His curiosity and passion for knowledge, particularly applying technologies in the accounting curriculum, have led him to develop a recent fascination with AI. He believes that the biggest challenge facing society in the far future will be how to deal with brain-computer interfaces to enhance learning or cognitive performance. Being in academia affords him the opportunity to better understand this blue-sky thinking. Despite the uncertainties surrounding the nature of the profession and the job of a lecturer in the future, Hamman hopes to continue to play a role in preparing his students for success in the digital environment, since he believes that digital acumen in accounting is crucial to keeping up with the ever-changing digital landscape.
In his spare time, Hamman still plays saxophone, makes a bit of extra cash as online commentator for international tennis matches, and enjoys playing with all kinds of new technology.
He has one semi-regret about his year as academic trainee, though. He encourages current and future academic trainees to make use of all the opportunities that a university has to offer … attend short courses, do research, attend public presentations and talks, learn a new skill. Aspirant academic trainees must make sure that at the end of their year they have developed skills that others in the profession do not have. They should also remember to make time to enjoy pass-time activities, as it might develop other skills that can be transferred to the accounting domain. Hamman believes that music composition, for example, developed his creativity, which he applies to creating engaging content for his students, while tennis commentating improved his communication skills through engaging with a live audience.
As technology continues to evolve, the development of such enabling skills becomes increasingly important, as they are transferable across domains and can be applied to new and rapidly changing situations.
Professor Riaan Rudman CA(SA), Divisional head: Auditing: School of Accountancy, Stellenbosch University