Around the world, chartered accountants are respected and sought after for their business acumen. For as long as global economies are powered by sophisticated fiscal systems, CAs(SA) will remain an indispensable part of business due to their rigorous training. However, it is crucial for chartered accountants worldwide to stay relevant in a world increasingly driven by technology and uncertainty.
‘The possibilities of billions of people connected by mobile devices, with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity, and access to knowledge, are unlimited,’ wrote Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum in an article about the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
For professionals focused on absolute accuracy, this is more than a little unsettling. The main change agent is technology − besides other disrupters such as rising geopolitical volatility, institutional changes and changing societal values.
What does the future hold for chartered accounting? The profession has evolved significantly over the last few years, but the world continues to change at breakneck speed.
Some CAs(SA) decided years ago to veer off the beaten track, the stereotypical CA route, and to use their knowledge and qualifications to catapult themselves into exciting and even futuristic career opportunities.
They prove that although no one can say with certainty what the future will hold, for chartered accountants to continue contributing value to society, the profession needs to re-imagine itself.
Mandi Olivier CA(SA)
Mandi Olivier is Senior Executive: Professional Development at SAICA and is responsible for all aspects of the qualification process (education, exams and training) for CAs(SA), AGAs(SA) and ATs(SA).
Mandi was inspired to follow this route when she failed the postgraduate programme and had to repeat this not once, but twice! ‘I had never failed anything, and this was a huge blow to my self-confidence. In hindsight, this was one of the best things that happened to me as it shaped my future career.’ The support she received from Deloitte while completing her studies during her training contract encouraged her to think about learning and development through a different lens. ‘I also wanted to give back and support and inspire others to follow the CA(SA) route.’
Having worked on the CA2025 project for the last four years, the only thing Mandi knows for certain is that there will be change and it will be significant. ‘There will be no such thing as “business as usual”; it’s no longer just about change but about transformation − this will need to take place from the inside out starting by each member embracing these changes.’
She further believes that many CAs(SA) will no longer be employed in typical ‘financial’ or ‘assurance’ roles. While there will always be a need for CAs(SA) to have a strong technical base, the ‘non-technical skills’ used to apply the technical skills are going to be equally important. This includes demonstrating a strong ethical reasoning process, being a lifelong learner, and demonstrating an understanding of the role a CA(SA) plays within society as a value creator. ‘It’s no longer just about the money, but about being a responsible citizen and leader and creating sustainable value for a much wider range of stakeholders.’
According to Mandi, CAs(SA) should see remaining relevant through the lens of opportunity by embracing change, being agile and adaptable, and looking for ways – both formal and informal – to reskill themselves for their specific roles.
Kevin Ssemwogerere CA(SA)
As digital innovation intrapreneur lead in the Standard Bank Group’s CIB Digital, Kevin Ssemwogerere’s role requires a combination of business and digital acumen to identify and execute new opportunities for digital innovation. ‘I have to build new digital businesses in order to address the needs of clients in the 4IR,’ he explains.
In 2017 Kevin was selected for a digital business innovation secondment to Silicon Valley which shaped his aptitude for digital innovation. ‘I was exposed to design thinking and new customer discovery methodologies which unlocked my innovation mindset. I was also exposed to cutting-edge technologies which broadened my knowledge about technology and its applications.’
After this secondment, Kevin was given the opportunity to become a full-time digital intrapreneur. In his personal capacity he also built a tech start-up in the social-eventing space.
Kevin believes the CA(SA) profession will adapt to a new world in which change is frequent and rapid. ‘Skills, knowledge and expertise may require more dynamism to keep CAs(SA) relevant in a future where information is more accessible and the workspace is more competitive.’
It is therefore a necessity, according to Kevin, for new CAs(SA) to understand technology and its applications. ‘They should familiarise themselves with data analytics and data science to synthesise financial performance information and influence business strategy more effectively. They should also educate themselves about other technologies like artificial intelligence, blockchain and cloud computing in order to proactively ideate on business processes for improved business performance and growth.’
He further believes current and older CAs(SA) have the experience needed to bridge the gap between the status quo and future state of digitisation and digitalisation and that they should use their business acumen to identify new business opportunities in the 4IR.
Dr Gideon Botha CA(SA)
Not only is Dr Gideon Botha CA(SA) currently employed as senior financial manager at Nedbank Home Loan Division, but he is also a thought leader in private health care and an emerging futurist economist.
‘I work across various disciplines that provide me with a unique world view and skill set. My team is organised around a common purpose and my role as their leader is to enable them to optimise value by organising them into various learning units to create safe space whilst empowering them.’
Gideon is also involved in two pilot studies based on his PhD research to determine price tariffs in the private healthcare systems in South Africa and Namibia.
His fascination with the future and the ability of the world economy to bring about change has led him to embark on the path of an emerging futurist economist who seeks to provide preferred economic futures for the greater good of society.
‘My curiosity, thirst for knowledge and desire for excellence have inspired me to follow this different route. Another key moment and my life’s inspiration came about when Duncan Stewart, an artist friend, told me that my lifework will always be to “to keep opening strategic tangents”.’
Gideon believes the future of the profession will be largely formed and influenced by the contextual intelligence of the chartered accountant members.
‘Upcoming CAs(SA) need to realise that humility will become one of the most important characteristics to respond to the numerous future challenges and the speed of change associated with these challenges,’ says Gideon.
He feels older CAs(SA) can be just as relevant as younger CAs(SA), if not more so. ‘I think it all comes down to their ability to learn and unlearn skills and knowledge as the CA of the future will need to be a lifelong learner, as well as their ability to develop contextual intelligence.’
Stuart van der Veen CA(SA)
‘The talent arbitrage in South Africa right now is a generational opportunity. We need South African entrepreneurs to develop businesses and products that serve global markets, earn hard currency and create jobs in South Africa,’ says Stuart van der Veen, Chief Platform Officer at Aerobotics & Platform Investment Partners in Los Angeles, United States.
Stuart is no stranger to hard work and took every opportunity that his traineeship at Deloitte in Durban had to offer. ‘I sought out mentors like Ruwayda Redfearn, Willem van der Post and Malusi Cwele. I spent as much time as possible with clients. I learnt about the intricacies of their businesses. At night, I completed my working papers and documented my learnings. One opportunity I did skip though, was JIT (international secondment). I did this with much inner turmoil to start Paper Plane Ventures that later merged with Platform Investment Partners.’
He quickly realised that the earlier he started an entrepreneurial journey, the easier it would be in the long run. ‘Becoming a CA(SA) equipped me with the tools to analyse things from a completely different perspective. After my traineeship, I wanted to use those skills to focus on my passions of people, technology and art.’
For Stuart, CAs(SA) need to be the custodians of systemic integrity. ‘With that said, I’d like to see the profession focus on abstract thought and the development of technical skills to keep up with the changes we are seeing in industries.’
Stuart believes young CAs(SA) should decide on what success means to them, visualise it, and work towards it. ‘It doesn’t matter if it changes. Success is a mindset, not a destination. If I were a trainee now, I’d be paying off as much debt as possible, learning as much about business as possible, trying to start new businesses, saving and planning for the business I’d like to start.’
Professor Mbalenhle Zulu CA(SA)
‘Chartered accountants have always been associated with providing financial advice, audits and credible financial records. As an associate professor, I’m tasked with teaching and mentoring future CAs(SA), conducting research on various aspects to improve the research profile of the university, and last but not least, providing service to the community life of the university,’ explains Mbalenhle Zulu, associate professor at Unisa’s College of Accounting Sciences.
Mbalenhle knows having a mother who strongly believes in the power of education has been a blessing in her life. ‘After qualifying as a CA(SA), I enrolled for an MCom to upskill myself. A year later, I was headhunted to join academia and thus took advantage of that opportunity and presented my work at international conferences. I also published my work in peer-reviewed journals. Furthermore, I took an opportunity to supervise MCom students. All these efforts have led me to where I am today.’
During her first year at UKZN in 2005, Mbalenhle did not have any black CAs(SA) lecturers. ‘That led me to believe that the profession was not for people like me. I joined academia so that I can show a black child who had never met a black CA(SA) that it is possible.’
For Mbalenhle, the future of the profession still revolves around safeguarding the interests of stakeholders as well as maintaining the highest ethical standards. ‘The only thing which should change is the method of achieving this. In future, CA(SA) academics will embrace digitals platforms where they no longer need to stand in front of the classroom to teach and assess students’ competencies. Academics should also focus on non-technical competencies. Auditors will likely use robotics to perform repetitive tasks and sample testing.
Accountants in business will no longer only focus on debits and credits but also data analytics to bridge the gap between operations and finance.’
Dr Juan Swartz CA(SA)
As the CEO of Fourth Talent, Dr Juan Swartz CA(SA) specialises in the integration of scientific discoveries into intelligent solutions. ‘I oversee a team of developers, senior scientists and data scientists who develop artificial intelligence solutions that integrate theoretical concepts into taxonomies that are analysed to build predictive models,’ he explains.
Juan took a non-conventional career route by approaching it as a sequence of learning opportunities, prioritising experience above other rewards. ‘I chose to do my training contract at a medium-size firm to get exposure to a broader range of disciplines. I then joined Accenture as a strategic consultant to gain experience in the transformation and conceptualisation of business models. A corporate executive role afforded me the opportunity to understand the impact of institutional practices on performance. Completing a doctorate gave me insight into how an understanding of theoretical concepts could be utilised to effect change.’ Being able to integrate these varied experiences gave Juan the background needed to start his own company.
For him change in some areas of the profession will be exponential, while others will remain remarkably stable. ‘The key is to plan your career accordingly. For example, tasks that are rule-based or have a predictable cause-effect relationship will become automated.
However, the role of trusted advisors will grow in importance as business decisions become more complex and uncertain.’
Juan’s advice to upcoming CAs(SA) is to adapt to change and reinvent how they add value. ‘This requires critical thinking, inquisitiveness and a willingness to be innovative. Emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills will also become more important as the gig economy requires more collaboration in fluid and dynamic work environments.’
According to him, established CAs(SA) should focus on lasting aspects of their vast knowledge and experience. ‘Combining the lasting aspects of your wisdom with the latest tools of the trade is a powerful combination.’
Divyesh Joshi CA(SA)
‘It is important to find a balance between the shiny new car and a sturdy old one. One car may be able to read your thoughts and predict your destination, but the other is still able to go 500 000 km without a breakdown. In the pursuit of all that glistens, it is important not to forget the fundamentals which are at the heart of decision science. These are working towards a common purpose, understanding people and building relationships,’ says Divyesh Joshi CA(SA), acting CFO at MTN South Africa.
For Divyesh, the first challenge with stepping out of the typical CA(SA) role is that chartered accountants are seen first and foremost as accountants, auditors, or tax specialists. ‘Even though many CAs(SA) land up in atypical roles, it’s not a “go-to” for most people to afford CAs(SA) opportunities outside the norm.’ This means you have to actively look for these opportunities, volunteer to help in this space, or create these opportunities in your own area.
According to him, older CAs(SA) have a lot of value to add from the perspective of relationships, fundamentals and institutional knowledge. ‘However, it’s important to remain current with the technology and at least make the time to understand the new concepts which are being thrown around in the discussion.’
Looking at the rate of evolution of the field, many of the skills which are scarce at the moment are likely to be replaced by AI, automation and machine learning, according to Divyesh. ‘The most important skill to develop is the ability to understand the problem, test the solution from all angles (something which many CAs(SA) are naturally geared towards) and be able to communicate it succinctly. Communication will be key!’
Willem van der Post CA(SA)
Willem van der Post is the CEO and founder of xTech.Capital, an exponential technology investment and management firm, and of xTech.Institute, a micro-school for corporate leaders and children.
Technology has always been a part of Willem’s life – from the early days of his childhood when the household got a Commodore 64 and some code books. As a youngster, Willem and his friends would take their skateboards and get together at a friend’s house to connect computers to one another and have LAN parties.
Today, xTech.Capital focuses on investment and entrepreneurial opportunities that tackle global social issues through the use of technology. ‘We look for large-scale issues which then inherently represent scalable opportunities. If you are able to solve them, you are serving society whilst doing so on an economically sustainable model. Think of something like closing the wealth gap. There are approximately 3 billion people on the wrong side of the earnings Rubicon: if you are able to contribute to solving that issue on an economically sustainable basis, then you’re helping humanity while creating a very scalable business.’
Willem believes that understanding technology and its applications is very much a part of everyone’s future. ‘The first applications of automation and AI are helping to eradicate the repetitive and boring part of people’s jobs, allowing them to focus on the more challenging parts of their work that require creativity and judgement (and humanness!). Misunderstanding that application may lead to a fearful response of resisting change, which ultimately could result in too big a gap to catch up, causing displacement or obsolescence. The same principles apply to all of the other exponential technologies. The scope of this argument then also increases exponentially, as you consider convergence permutations,’ says van der Post. ‘This does not necessarily mean that everyone needs to become a software engineer – I think the first beachhead in self-digital-transformation revolves around incorporating technology advancements into your CPD and daily reading. Garner a grasp of the landscape and familiarise yourself with these trends even if they seem not to directly apply to your job or industry. More often than not you will find that there is an application to a link in your value chain (hence the consultants’ favourite word: “disruption”), if not to your organisation or job directly. Then you can dip below the colloquial understanding of the trend and look for the business cases beyond the use cases.’
Although the pandemic forced millions of people to work from home, Willem does not believe it will be the ‘new normal’. ‘I think it’ll be work from anywhere. Not only work from home, and not only back to the office. My sense is that it will be a blend of locations rooted in health and wellness considerations – where do I find clarity of mind, calmness of demeanour, less stress and more fulfilment? Let me work (on something that I love!) from there because now I can − and COVID actually helped the world to realise (and accept!) that.’
He adds: ‘To add to that principle then, consider that working from anywhere extends beyond borders: nomad visas are popping up in various jurisdictions that allow people to be physically present in one country while working digitally in another – this opens so many opportunities to enjoy the planet and different life experiences while not compromising on earnings. Of course, it also allows you to source talent from anywhere to help meet your organisational goals, and those goals may also commercially apply in other jurisdictions. To wit, I think that as CAs we should start to think of ourselves as CAs(global) and not just CAs(SA) …’