To be, or not to be... a CA?

Liezl Berry considers: If you knew then what you know now, would you become a CA?

Recently, I was speaking to an old friend about going back in time and what we would do differently. Specifically, would we choose the same career path of becoming chartered accountants. We discussed the fact that the current accounting field is considerably different from what it was 10 or 20 years ago.
 
The optimistic materialistic in me
I remember paging though the financial mail in 2001 at age 17 trying to find the highest paying job and noticing that a qualified CA(SA) could earn R400 000 per year. My thoughts, based only on my pocket money experience to date up to that point, was that this could probably satisfy all my materialistic needs, so a CA(SA) is what I should become.

I also remember the proud moment in December 2009, just as I completed my articles, reading the headline “Recruitment research reveals CA(SA) is, overwhelmingly, SA’s most sought-after business designation”. “Result!” I thought.

Fast forward another 10 years and what was once seen as a goldmine career path, now looks much more like a minefield.

The chartered accountancy profession in South Africa is facing significant condemnation following the scandals around many high-profile CA’s (SA) involved in unethical business activity in the past year.

Machine learning and AI systems improving quickly, threatening to replace some of our tasks, with accounting being predicted to be in the top five impacted professions (Google believes that robots will achieve human intelligence levels by 2029, and Gartner estimates that 33 percent of all occupations will be performed by smart robots by 2025).

Our pay scale is struggling to keep up with my own Audi TT index. (Pay in 2001 being R350k tR400k for a newly qualified CA with the Audi TT coming in at R280k and in 2019 with the pay being only R500k to R600k for a newly qualified, and the car now costing more than R650k it is best to opt for a used Audi now…)

This made me wonder if I would make the same decision again.

Desktop analysis
The salary is still good-ish and accountants rarely have to get their hands dirty with body fluids and also don’t get hurt at work (physically anyway – but working in downtown Joburg could still be dangerous). So, if you are looking for reasonably safe and comfortable environment, then being an accountant could be a wonderful career. But then, so can being a web developer or actuary.

According to PayScale, graduates with a Bachelor of Accounting in South Africa start out being the highest paid (accountants earn 5 percent better salaries at first), but by the time you’ve settled into your career (after 10 years), engineering jobs are shown to have the longer-term salary growth (engineers earn 25 percent more after 10 years than accountants).

The same study shows 16 of the top 25 highest earning degree types are in engineering, with the rest of the top earners coming from mathematical and scientific fields – all too technical. CAs come in at 7th.  We’re still top 10 and we do have earning potential with top CFO’s making a Hollywood-style living…
 
Think about sex!
If you are a woman, it seems that the accounting field could favour you for now. Research shows that these three finance positions has seen women take over from men in the last 20 years:

Accountants: Accounting positions now skew noticeably towards a female bias. Recent studies have cited females as making up a significant portion of the sectors within the finance industry.

percentage female accountants: 60 percent

 

Financial Managers: We are seeing a greater representation of women in the financial services field. However, there is still a long way to go before equality between male and female is reached. Although women pursuing careers in finance are more likely to make more money than in traditionally women-dominated industries, they still earn less than their male counterparts.

percentage female financial managers: 52 percent

 

Tax Managers:  Intriguing research has suggested that in order for companies to be ethical and law abiding, they need to place more women in top financial and leadership roles. Perhaps this could be the reason why more women are enjoying successful careers as tax managers?

percentage female tax managers: 64%

 

So, given my desktop analysis and after thinking about sex: Would I still choose to become a CA as a 17-year-old in 2019?

Yes, I would.

Even with the bad reputation we get when a few accountants do something wrong or unethical, I would want to be part of the designation that has so much power it can cripple or enrich a country or a generation.

Regardless of it not being the highest paying job in SA – it is still one of the coolest designations around.  And who doesn’t like being cool?
Lastly, despite AI threatening to take our jobs and make us redundant, the positive here is the very nature of machine learning techniques lends itself to substantial improvements across all areas of accounting, and can equip accountants with powerful new capabilities (and hopefully less time spent on manual casting…)

All of this makes it even more exciting to be able to get involved in projects to help frame the problems and integrate results into business processes.