Sarah Britten
Sarah Britten

What makes accountants so special anyway?

I wish I was an accountant. Really. If I were an accountant, I’d be like my cousin, who’s younger than me and drives a top-end Mercedes. He’s just bought a R3.5 million house, and that’s without having to sell the one he already owns. All because he did a BCom and became a CA.

Speaking of which, Alec Hogg has written an interesting and timely article about the magical lure of those two simple letters. Together they add up to a guaranteed ability to get the big jobs and haul in the big bucks. If you’re a CA, people assume that you know what you’re doing, much as people assumed that all those frightfully clever MBAs who orchestrated the global economic meltdown knew more than the rest of us.

I wonder how many CAs were duped by Barry Tannenbaum.

Why are accountants, especially chartered accountants, so highly valued in South Africa? What makes them so special? In other countries they are well paid, but hardly to the level they enjoy here. In July last year it was reported that entry-level CAs were enjoying significant pay increases of between 11% and 15%:

“Compared with their counterparts in London, Sydney and Edinburgh, South African chartered accountants are enjoying substantial annual increases,” said Anton Apps, director and founder of antonapps.

(Interestingly, salaries for chartered accountants in Ireland have fallen between 10% to 20% in 2009.)

Why do we idolise the people who count the money? After all, accountants are very seldom those who produce the actual work; they merely collate and track the revenue generated by others, people who usually earn a fraction of what they do. Nonetheless, it seems that becoming a chartered accountant is the most reliable way to get rich in South Africa — or, if not rich, then comfortably off at a relatively early age. R450 000 as an entry-level salary for someone who has just qualified is not bad, not bad at all.

So yes, I wish I’d become an accountant instead of running off to drama school to spend several years lying on the floor learning how to resonate. Sure, I’d probably chew off my hands at the wrists out of sheer misery. But at least I’d have a great Discovery plan to pay for the surgery, plenty of cash to put into the self-payment gap and a platinum card to pay for the holiday in the Seychelles to recover from all the stress.

  • Adam

    I could not agree more with the Lauren’s comment above. I am currently doing my first year of articles and managed to pass the Board exam first time in January this year. I can honestly tell you that studying for that Board exam was probably the most traumatizing time of my life. I did not sleep for days leading up to that exam due to the vast amount of pressure that was placed on me. I would not wish that experience on my worst enemy. I can understand why CA’s are paid so much, do go through that kind of hell…VERY, VERY few people are willing to put themselves through that. With the support of family, motivation and that “Never give up” attitude, its the only way to get through.

  • Andy

    I’m so glad I read this article. I’ve always been interested in chartered accountancy and I didn’t know it was worth so much!!! So univerisity I’m doing chartered accountancy one way!!

  • phaswana nkhumeleni shalock

    we deserve the recognition as well as the big bucks that we get, coz hell u don’t wanna be in my use right now. i am all stressed out by the work load, only whiskey gets me going. i love my job though :)

  • Gerhard

    I would just like to say this…

    I dear any one who question the pay CAs get to try it themselves… Not to take an accounting course, because there is so much more to being a CA than accounting.

    It truly is worth every bit.

    South African CAs are also rated as 2nd best in the WORLD!!!

    ps: did BAcc as my second degree, after Law, before going on to CA.