"Accounting is the language of business." - Warren Buffet
Accountants and accounting support staff work across most industries worldwide and there are a number of different career paths available to you, should you decide to follow this course of study.
Careers in Accounting include being employed by a bank, higher education institution, JSE listed company or a professional services firm - and there are many more opportunities across a wide variety of industries.
If you've decided to pursue Accounting, your choice of qualification is the only limit to your Accounting career.
You could decide to train as an Accounting Technician and offer a support service such as being a debtors or creditors clerk at a large organisation or you could dedicate yourself to becoming a Chartered Accountant and perform audits or be employed as a Financial Manager - but you will not be limited to only performing these roles. There are many diverse accounting careers available.
You may choose to work independently and contract to small firms, or work for an accounting firm or for the government.
Accountants working in commerce and industry often play an important part in the management of the institution, whether in the role of Chief Executive Officer, Management Accountant or Director, for example.
You can join a firm in an entry level position and then, by completing additional qualifications and gaining practical experience, advance your career.
For instance, you may join a firm as a Cost Accountant and then advance to Chief Cost Accountant, Budget Director, Internal Audit Manager and eventually becoming a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) is one of the possibilities.
The CFO is the senior executive in an organisation that is responsible for managing the finances of the company. This includes financial planning, as well as analysing the company's strengths and weaknesses and managing a team of finance staff members.
Banking and Financial Institutions
An accounting qualification means that the possible opportunity exists for you to work at any bank in the country, as your training and financial acumen are sought-after skills.
Within the banking sector are a number of roles that you could possibly fill, such as:
- Branch Manager: It would be advantageous to have secured a BCom degree in accounting, business administration or finance and you would have to demonstrate a number of years of industry experience, in order to become a Branch Manager. As a Branch Manager some of your duties would be overseeing the daily operations of the bank, retention of existing and acquisition of new clients as well as managing the branch budget.
- Financial Analysts are also needed by major banks to study trends in the marketplace, understand the impact investments have on the institution and provide analysis on financial reports, as well as advise customers on the best investments available to them.
- Financial Managers produce financial reports, develop strategies and build accounting processes, among other tasks assigned to them. Generally, institutions are interested in candidates with a Bachelor's degree, CA(SA) or CIMA qualification, to fill the role of Financial Manager.
- As a Treasury Analyst your role would involve overseeing financial activities, regulatory reporting to the SA Reserve Bank and managing the financial assets owned by the bank or institution. You would also ensure compliance to banking industry standards and prepare cash flow budgets. It would be advantageous to hold a Bachelor's degree and you should have a working knowledge of the South African Reserve Bank Exchange Control reporting requirements.
- The South African Reserve Bank (SARB) is another option to consider: The Reserve Bank implements monetary policy, issues currency, oversees the banking system and administers exchange controls. Although the South African Reserve Bank acts as banker to the South African government, it is not owned by the government. The SARB offers bursaries to Accounting students who are South African citizens. Jobs such as Assistant Treasury Accountant, Analyst: Accounting and Auditing Technical Support or IT Audit Specialist are some of the roles that await you at SARB.
Accounting and Auditing Firms
There are a number of accounting and auditing firms in South Africa, but the the four biggest Accounting Firms in the world, who collectively employ more than a million staff members worldwide and who also have offices across South Africa, are nicknamed the Big Four.
These firms operate as professional services networks; each firm is managed independently, but shares the same name, branding, methodology and quality standards of other members of the network.
A wide range of services are offered by these firms, including but not limited to, auditing, taxation, risk advisory services and forensic accounting.
A career at a professional services firm is very rewarding and you can join one as a trainee accountant, complete your articles there and then apply for a permanent position once you’ve completed your articles and qualified as a CA(SA). Once you are employed as an Assistant Manager, you can work your way through the ranks by becoming a Manager, Senior Manager, Associate Director and finally, a Partner, over the space of a number of years.
A trainee accountant usually joins a firm for a three year period as they work toward the CA(SA) designation. You will be exposed to a variety of industries and clients, with on-the-job training and will report to the Audit Manager. In order to pass the Assessment of Professional Competence exam and become a CA(SA), you need to demonstrate certain competencies and you will learn all of these competencies during your three year contract.
As an Audit Manager you will coach and supervise the trainees that report to you. Some of your responsibilities would include supporting the execution of the audit, compilation of audit plans and reports, risk assessment and testing of controls.
As you progress to the role of Senior Audit Manager, you will be responsible and for growing the client portfolio, managing the client relationship and managing the audit budget and billings.
The Associate Director role is the last stepping stone to becoming a Partner. As an Audit Partner you will sign-off financial statements and will need strong technical knowledge and the ability to manage a relatively large team.
If you feel that the corporate world is not for you, a lecturing post at an educational institution may be what you’re looking for. In most cases you would have to have completed a Master’s degree in order to apply for a role as a Lecturer at a University or higher education institution.
In addition to lecturing, you may also be expected to assist with curriculum development, conduct tutorials, marking of assessments, conduct research that leads to peer-reviewed publications and act as a mentor to students.
An accounting qualification means you could also consider working for a government agency such as the South African Revenue Service (SARS).
SARS is the revenue (tax collecting) agency of the South African government. Income tax forms the South African government's main source of income . SARS collects and administers national taxes, facilitates trade and regulates the importation and exportation of products. Income Tax is used to help ensure the efficient running of schools, hospitals and other services provided by the government.
SARS offers bursaries, internships and apprenticeships as well as a Chartered Accounting Training Programme. In order to join the SARS CA training programme, you need to possess a BCom Honours in Accounting, along with ether a Post Graduate Diploma in Accounting (PGDA) or a Certificate of Theory of Accounting (CTA).
Additional roles of interest at SARS are that of tax specialist, forensic auditor, project accountant or revenue admin officer.
SARS prides itself on being an employer of choice and cultivating a culture of integrity and was in the top 5 of Universum's 'Most Attractive Employers' Business and Commerce ranking for 2019.
You could also consider joining other branches of government, working as a Financial Accountant, maintaining internal controls and liaising with both internal and external auditors.
The National Treasury, which is responsible for managing the South African government's finances, runs a Chartered Accountants Academy Programme that is directed at students who have completed or are in the process of completing their studies. This programme offers students an alternative to completing their trainee contracts at a professional services firm. At the end of the training programme successful trainees will qualify as Chartered Accountants.
Potential job opportunities in the office of the Accountant General include roles in Technical Support Services, Specialised Audit Services , Risk Management and Internal Audit Support.
If you're considering self-employment, it would serve you well to pursue a professional qualification and to decide on an area of specialisation, whether it be bookkeeping services, taxation accounting or auditing services you wish to offer.
The best investment you can make, is an investment in yourself...the more you learn, the more you'll earn - Warren Buffet
These job options are only a few of the many opportunities available to Accounting graduates, but whatever sector you work in and whichever job title you wish to secure, there are usually numerous options at your disposal.
Take the time to research careers and the qualifications needed to pursue them and equip yourself with everything you need to put you on the road to success!