Pat Semenya leaves ACCA South Africa in good shape

In Pat’s tenure, ACCA has seen a growth in membership, accredited universities and approved employers.

Pat Semenya, who has been the country head of ACCA South Africa for six years, is moving on. The ACCA she is leaving has a great deal of momentum to carry it forward. CFO South Africa chatted to the outgoing Pat, to reflect on her journey with the global professional accounting body.

“When I started in August 2015, the two biggest focal points for me were boosting ACCA’s brand perception in the South African market, and increasing the member satisfaction rate,” she recalls. “Essentially, a strong brand is a foundation for growth. In a market like South Africa with numerous solid accountancy professional bodies, our growth strategies needed to be robust to ensure ACCA is positioned as a strong professional accounting body in the market and be perceived as such by future members, employers and regulators.”

Some of the strategies Pat and her team focused on were building a value proposition that demonstrates the rigour and complexity of the qualification. Over the past few years there have been a raft of changes to the way the ACCA qualification is taught and assessed to ensure that their graduating professional accountants are prepared for the real world.

“These changes continue to ensure that the ACCA qualification’s reputation for rigour and relevance is protected and enhanced, helping to ensure all our members remain in demand with employers, and continue to be recognised for their progressive and adaptable approach, expertise, strong ethical values and good judgment,” says Pat.

Engaging Universities
This stakeholder engagement, and in particular the work that has been done to get accreditation through various universities, has been crucial to the growth of ACCA in South Africa.

“When I started the process of engagement, ACCA was accredited at 12 out of South Africa’s 21 universities. There were very few programmes aligned to ACCA qualification. Today, however, there are 20 universities accredited with the ACCA, offering 44 programmes aligned to the ACCA qualification”.

Specifically, Pat mentions the University of the Witwatersrand ACCA postgraduate diploma in Specialised Accountancy that is aligned to the professional level syllabus of the ACCA, and the ACCA Master of Commerce degree in Accountancy at the North-West University, as “filling her heart with pride”. “The North-West University Master’s degree is a first in the country – the only postgraduate degree specifically aligned to an accountancy professional body.”

As part of this process, Pat has been engaging with both public and private tertiary education providers. It is apparent that there are not enough seats at the public institutions at entry level to accommodate everyone who has the ability and wants to pursue a career in accountancy; there are also artificial barriers that exist for entering the accountancy stream and for professionalisation at postgraduate level.

“I believe that the ACCA model provides an effective articulation in syllabuses from entry level to professional level qualifications which allows individuals from all backgrounds to commence training and studying at a level which reflects their prior learning and experience. In this way, trainees have a clear aspiration as to how they can achieve professional status, and there is complete transparency for those entering the profession at different points – such as post-graduate – to reassure employers and the public that appropriate standards are in place.”

Pat believes accountancy firms and professional bodies should do more to break the “not for me” stigma attached to the profession from those less advantaged social backgrounds, including individuals that have been in the field of accountancy over years.

Internships and Certifications
Another challenge for ACCA in South Africa has been to get its affiliates internships. Pat says she realised that there is enough space in the auditing field to accommodate these, so she shifted ACCA’s strategy to focus on small and medium practices, to create a pipeline for students to do apprenticeships. “We’ve appointed 42 small and medium practices across the country, so now we have a vehicle where our affiliates can go to complete their studies.”

This has helped to rectify a situation from the past, which saw students registering but not necessarily progressing through their qualifications. Pat also engaged the SETAs, which now provide funding for tuition support. Along with identifying candidates for the ACCA Accelerate programme, which reduces fees and recognises prior learning, this has had the positive outcome that many more students are progressing through and passing the ACCA programme.

But perhaps one of the greatest testimonies to the growth of ACCA in South Africa is the fact that they are currently going through an accreditation process with the Independent Regulator Board for Auditors (IRBA), which will allow them to submit their qualifications for review by the auditor’s board. “This will provide an alternative for certifying registered auditors, which will have a positive impact on the accounting and audit profession,” says Pat.

Taking stock of growth
Six years on, Pat is leaving an ACCA that looks positively different from the one she joined. Even the greatest challenge that arose in her final year with the organisation has yielded opportunities. During the first stages of the Covid-19 lockdown, ACCA was at the forefront of institutions in the country that went online with exams. Pat says that they have received feedback as to how well this worked for their students, so they will continue with this practice. “We maintained our targets and our pass rates, so it shows that we are doing something right.”

“I am quite confident that ACCA is literally going higher and higher,” Pat says.

From a personal perspective, Pat says she has grown enormously in her time with ACCA. “Prior to joining ACCA, I was at a Multinational FMCG firm and it was quite a transition to be in this space, where the mandate is vested in representing, promoting and enhancing a respective profession.”

Reflecting on her time with the organisation, she says: “Looking back, I appreciate how my members rallied and supported my efforts, and appreciated the passion with which I delivered by mandate to bring the ACCA brand into the spotlight.”

The ACCA have put together a transition process to ensure that the ACCA team, members and all our stakeholders are not affected adversely during the transition. In the next few months, members and stakeholders will be kept appraised of the appointment of the new Head of the ACCA South Africa.