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STRAIGHT SHOOTING: Quality is the cornerstone

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Here in this good journal I have emphasised the changes to the Chartered Accountant (CA(SA)) qualification model ad nauseam over the past few months. I continue to emphasise that quality has been and will remain, the cornerstone of this profession. Those who claim a lowering of standards have yet to demonstrate to me a tangible case outlining their argument. For many, it is an emotive issue – ‘I wrote four exams over two days, today you write a Part I and a Part II eighteen months later – given that argument, the standard cannot be the same’. Rather than discuss the rationale for the exam being structured the way it is, my gripe is that more around these kinds of comments is emanating from members, from fellow CAs(SA), rather than anyone else. As a proud CA(SA), I find it unacceptable that the first ones to talk down the designation are my fellow members. Promotion of the designation begins at home – there can be no better brand ambassador than one who has gone through the qualification process, has served the public interest in good stead and has seen the financial and other rewards associated with being a professional. As this issue celebrates the results of the Qualifying Examination (QE), I want to take this opportunity to congratulate all of those who have been successful. This heralds the beginning of a new, exciting road you will traverse as a professional. Being a professional brings with it many responsibilities including a commitment to excellence, a commitment to community upliftment and development, and a commitment to lifelong learning.

The quality of output that CAs(SA) continue to deliver across various disciplines both inside and outside of the country speaks volumes for the quality of individual that the qualification process continues to deliver. The demand for CAs(SA), even in the current global financial meltdown, is unparalleled, indeed, perhaps because of the current global financial meltdown. The reasons for this demand are complex and include the depth in technical knowledge acquired by the CA(SA) in the accounting discipline. Much of the demand is also to do with the work ethic and general ability possessed by those who hold the designation. Simplistically, much of this is attributable to the selection process inherent in the CA(SA) qualification process. Again, SAICA will stand by its insistence on quality through its commitment to the rigour and standard of the qualification process.

Quality on its own, though, is irrelevant unless it is supported by demonstable business value. CAs(SA) in practice, specifically, tend to downplay their contribution to the growth of their clients’ businesses. Whilst more often than not audit focused, the value of a practitioner to business lies in his/her ability to assist average businesses to achieve their potential and to help over-achieving businesses remain great. CAs(SA) are able to do so by helping businesses sustainably grow their bottom line through focus on effective governance and risk management processes, effective controls, continued statutory compliance with regulators and other related requirements and ultimately through the provision of sound financial and management advice and appropriate reporting.

The value of a CA(SA) to business is often underplayed and undersold. We tend to be masters of understatement. Yet, many CAs(SA) operate successful practices whose success is based on their understanding of and ability to create value for their clients. The world of the practising accountant is one that has been under siege for some time now. The changes to the Companies Act, the removal of the audit requirement for certain categories of companies and the onerous requirements of auditors of companies have served to lessen the appeal of practice. However, international experience, across much of Europe, tends to suggest that the introduction of similar legislation and requirements has only served to enhance the quality and quantity of work available to practitioners. The removal of the audit requirement has often been followed by an increased demand for management and financial consultancy services, forensic auditing, governance and control-related assignments, and a greater demand for other forms of regulatory and assurance-related work. There is no evidence to suggest that the South African experience will be any different. If anything, I anticipate an even greater recognition of the skill and value that a trained professional will bring to business, followed by an increased demand for specialised skills and competencies.

SAICA is in the process of introducing various tools that we believe will assist practitioners and other CAs(SA) better to position their services in the market. We recently launched a ‘Marketing Manual’ the sole purpose which is to assist CA(SA) to articulate and appropriately pitch their services. In addition, we will continue to provide a wide range of specialist events, ranging from seminars to publications in areas that support our members’ businesses regardless of where they operate. I am keen to engage with members on the appropriateness of these services and look to input from members further to enhance and develop appropriate services.

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