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STRAIGHT SHOOTING: A question of standards

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If you were to ask me what I view as SAICA’s prime priority, I’d identify it as the maintenance of the highest standards. Virtually all our activities are directed towards this end; it is, indeed, our “raison d’être”.

During the course of striving to meet this mandate, we regularly conduct reality checks; something akin to annual blood tests, designed to monitor one’s cholesterol readings. And, just as the need to undergo more frequent blood tests becomes more pressing with the passage of time, so the growing complexity of our profession and its exponential dynamism demands more recurrent, and considerably more searching, self-assessment.

The criticality of the self-evaluation process is heightened by a belief – fortunately a small minority perception – that training standards are dropping; that the quality of today’s Chartered Accountants [CA(SA)] falls short of the quality of those of yesteryear. I have little doubt that such concerns stem from a rapidly changing global environment in which today’s CAs(SA) must, of necessity, be familiar with a knowledge horizon that extends a great deal further than that of his/her predecessors.
Today’s CA(SA), faced as he/she is with almost countless regulations, hundreds of standards, sophisticated corporate governance procedures and an insistence on extensive business expertise, simply cannot be all things to all people. It was an awareness of this phenomenon that prompted SAICA to develop the CA 2010 Training Programme; a model that, you will realise aims to equip the future CA(SA) with a broad bouquet of business skills and competencies.

As most SAICA members are now aware, the competencies currently prescribed for the SAICA training programme have been redefined with a reduced emphasis on external auditing and a more equal weighting of auditing with other core technical areas – taxation, managerial accounting, financial management and financial accounting.

In addition to the traditional technical accountancy skills, the future CA(SA) will boast expertise in the varied spheres of corporate governance and ethics, business acumen, information technology, interpersonal communication skills, leadership skills and organisational management skills.

A vital cornerstone of standards’ maintenance is training – training of the trainers and the trainers’ training of our trainees. Directly relevant to the new training model is our recently developed Professional Skills Toolkit and the SAICA Trainee and Training Officer Satisfaction Survey 2009, the results of which were finalised early in January 2010. The full results of the survey may be viewed on the SAICA website.

Most encouragingly, overall satisfaction levels across all measured stakeholder groups increased between 2008 and 2009. Skills development of trainees was the most important driver of satisfaction among both the trainees and the training officers. Indeed, it is a factor that was considered to be extraordinarily important for our training officers.

Instructively, both trainees and training officers rated personal skills and communication skills training more poorly than other training areas, clearly indicating that these areas need to be strengthened. For SAICA this was, perversely, a gratifying result, given that a principal focus of the new training model is to enhance such skills.

The training officers responded that training itself was the most valuable benefit available to them – more important than financial assistance and advice – while, predictably, the trainees laid considerable store by financial assistance and advice.

Partly reflecting our Thuthuka commitment and drive, an increasing number of training officers suggest that previously disadvantaged trainees are likely to perform as well as other trainees. This augurs well for a future in which we are striving to alter the profession’s demographics to accord more closely with that of our nation as a whole.

A general observation to emerge from the survey is the belief among training officers that corporate law reforms will:

• affect them professionally;
• have an impact on the structure of the training programme; and
• influence the number of trainees they employ in the future.

All in all, the survey found that satisfaction levels had improved, while levels of dissatisfaction had declined across all groups, where greater service consistency was a feature.

Ultimately, the satisfaction survey’s findings were invaluable on two principal fronts – heightened satisfaction with SAICA’s untiring training crusade, and re-enforcement of our belief that the new training model is timely and accurately directed.

It is against such a background that I am able to assure all SAICA members that, far from declining, the profession’s standards are more than holding their ground in the face of the most daunting of challenges. I further venture to predict that a higher level of our South African standards will positively evolve with the roll-out of the new training model and your Institute’s ongoing intense vigilance as the jealous and untiring guardian of the profession.

Nazeer Wadee CA(SA), is Chief Operations Officer, SAICA.