When I enrolled at the University of Cape Town in the 70s I was undecided about the direction I wished to pursue and registered for a science degree. At that stage it was uncommon for young women to do accounting. Approximately 5% of my CTA class was female, a far cry from the current 45 – 50%. I was not enthralled by my courses and was fortunate to befriend some commerce students whose lectures were far more interesting and offered far better career prospects.
Switching to a commerce degree at the end of my first year was one of my best decisions as it enabled me to have an extremely interesting and fulfilling career, which I have managed to mesh with my role as wife and mother.
After qualifying with a BCom (Hons) in Financial Accounting and a CTA, I joined Deloitte, Haskins and Sells (now Deloittes) as an articled clerk in Cape Town. After my articles I was invited back to join the lecturing staff of the accounting department at UCT, where I am still employed. I now co-ordinate the post-graduate programme for students entering the CA profession, provide academic leadership in financial accounting and lecture postgraduate students.
Over many years I have been significantly involved with SAICA. As the chairman of the Accounting Practices Committee (APC), the technical committee that advises the Accounting Practices Board, I need to be on top of new accounting developments that are happening and are expected to happen.
Interacting with the technical partners of the big four audit firms as well as preparers and users of financial statements has given me a good insight into the practical difficulties that can and do arise in the interpretation and application of accounting standards. It is an immensely rewarding role that, hopefully, enables me to provide insights to my students and colleagues.
My role has also enabled me to attend a number of international congresses where the major role players in standard setting debate the development of future standards. This gives me a rare insight into the thinking behind the standards and the anticipated way forward. Hopefully my enthusiasm and insights inspire students to contribute to the future of standard setting and have a better understanding of the process and challenges involved.
As an academic, it is important to have exposure to what is happening at the cutting edge as well as practical experience in the field. For a number of years I was an independent director of Coronation Investments & Trading Limited and recently was appointed as an independent director of Coronation Fund Managers, which is listed on the JSE. Chairing the audit committee taught me a great deal about the practical implementation of governance and audit issues. I hope my independence and background enabled me to make an appropriate contribution.
The pace of change in current and future accounting standards has significantly contributed to my workload as a result of the preparation required for APC meetings, the changes to the teaching material that I use and the updates required for numerous publications. I have co-authored Generally Accepted Accounting Practice – a South African Viewpoint with Geoff Everingham for the past 15 years. This has kept me on my toes, as the book has been updated 39 times. I have also been the content editor for two student textbooks: Accounting – an introduction and Accounting – GAAP Principles.
It is challenging to find the time to do all that is required and still assist my students. All the work I do is rewarding, particularly the directorship and my involvement in the APC. For me the challenge is finding the time to do everything I want to do as well as I would like to do it and often have to decline interesting proposals. A number of factors have contributed to making that possible – my tolerant, undemanding and supportive husband, John, is probably the most important factor!
Living close to where I work and where my children were at school has also made it easier to cope with the demands of my job while doing lifts and attending school events. Fortunately my work has got more challenging and time consuming as my children, Jane and Rob, have become more independent. Jane is now doing her accounting traineeship and Rob hopes to follow his father into law.
I cope with my commitments as I have a lot of energy and am at my most productive early in the morning when life is quieter on campus. We are privileged to have a weekend cottage an hour away, where the view of the coastline is spectacular and the surroundings quiet. Spending time there with family and friends and pottering around my fynbos garden relaxes me almost instantaneously. I also escape there when I need to work without interruption – such as marking papers or writing on complex issues.
I have a fantastic job and work with wonderful colleagues at the leading edge of our field. Although I got into accounting by default, I am fortunate to have a fulfilling career and also have the flexibility to arrange much of my schedule around family and friends.
Alex Watson CA(SA) is a lecturer in the faculty of Commerce at the University of Cape Town.