Finance

Accounting for the best

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The South African Institute of Chartered Accountancy’s new final assessment will ensure that the new generation of CAs are fully geared for these changing times

Today’s world is facing numerous challenges like global warming, pandemic diseases and unpredictable working environments. International marathon forums are held yearly trying to resolve or forge a way for these crises to be resolved.

Renowned institutions such as the South Africa Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) are always on the frontline, aligning professional accountants with such changes. The new final assessment for chartered accountants, the Assessment of Professional Competence (APC), will be launched in 2014.

The SAICA was formed in 1980 with 9012 members and the vision to develop leaders in business, community and government. Since then, the board has been making changes to suit the international standards of chartered accountants.

To ensure that it remains a trainer of top quality accountants, the institute joined other accredited international accounting bodies such as the Global Accounting Alliance (GAA) and the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC). These bodies regulate the assessment of professional competence of accountants.

In South Africa, the SAICA is the leading accountancy body. It also ranks among the top institutes in the world, recognised for producing professionals and leaders of our time. Its presence has been felt locally and abroad since its establishment decades ago. This vision still stands today.

In a bid to keep abreast and maintain its ego, in the country and abroad, the institute went back to the drawing board, carefully considering how CAs could match and work in the current world, giving birth to the APC.

CAs all over the world occupy strategic positions in organisations and companies. It is their job to give expert advice on financial matters affecting the organisatons they represent.

A large number of them occupy top managerial positions and the level of their knowlegde and expertise is critical to the sustainability of organisations. To match international business trends, diversity in training these professionals is important.

It is the role of institutions like the SAICA to continue reviewing ways to equip these professionals in a manner that enables them to match ever changing environments. Regular reviewing of systems is integral to the sustainability of organisations.

Realising the critical role played by such professionals, Helen Bimbassis, project director for Education SAICA Professional Development, the institute carefully researched how South African chartered accountants could meet the ever changing environments and also to continue to raise the South African bar of this profession.

In addition, Bambassis says, “The shift is assessing the current market and international space and wanted to ensure we remain current and relevant.”

In what seems a testimony of what the SAICA could do, the project director explains, “The old final test before one is accepted as a chartered accountant has no shortfalls. We have produced excellent CAs. South Africa is ranked as number one in the world by the World Economic Forum and now it is about maintaining that ranking in the future.”

The introduction of the APC is to replace Auditing and Financial Management, currently the final assessment before qualifying as a chartered accountant.

The new APC system has an edge over the old one. “New generations learn more in blended format, utilising various mechanisms such as the internet, online and face to face lecturers,” she says.

Though there is not much difference in the systems, Bimbassis notes, “changes have been made to emulate the real world and assess aspiring CAs’ professional competence and their ability to apply important skills such as problem solving, judgement, research and communication to a real life case study”.

With the new system, emphasis is placed on non-technical skills, which forms part of a well groomed CA.

In her article The Journal of the Global Accounting Alliance, published in June 2013, Bimbassis outlines the importance of non-technical skills and attitudes, referring to these as soft skills, such as ethical behaviour and professionalism.

“These have been receiving little attention,” she says. Following rigorous research by the SAICA, these skills are embraced in this newly introduced system.

Keeping well in line with its mission statement, “to serve the interests of the chartered accountancy profession and society by holding professional standards and integrity, and the pre-eminence of South African CAs nationally and internationally,” the institution landed its feet on these soft skills, probing how adults learn, leading to the new approach of the APC. It is believed that adults learn in a different manner from children. Bimbassis quotes Malcolm Knowles, a pioneer in the study of adult learning, who believes that adults learn best when:

  • they understand why something is important to know or do
  • they have the freedom to learn in their own way
  • learning is experimental
  • the time is right for them to learn
  • the process is positive and encouraging

According to Bimbassis, an analysis of this system shows that adults retain only 5% of information they hear, while 90% is alleged to be retained when teaching others, say via job training. “The APC’s primary objective is ‘to assess professional competence developed during the academic, professional and training programmes,” says Bimbassis.

Although the objectives of the two systems do not differ, there has been a shift in how the APC is applied:

  • The APC will take the form of an integrated case study based on a real life scenario
  • The APC will take the form of an integrated multi-disciplinary case study, which will cover a broad range of competency areas
  • All candidates will use the same case study, irrespective of their training contract elective
  • Contextual material will be pre-released to all candidates five days before the assessment is to be written to allow candidates to undertake appropriate research and refresh the relevant  technical  knowledge related to the scenario provided
  • Additional information, as required, will be provided to the candidates on the day
  • Candidates will be assessed on their competence

“These changes have been made to align aspiring chartered accountants with the real working world, equipping them with necessary skills such as problem solving, judgement, research and communication,” she acknowledges.           

The SAICA is not  the only accountancy body in this search for new ways of grooming on-the-dot professionals. 

The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS), one of the accounting bodies that introduced the competence based approach in 1999, adopted this system by zooming in on the idea that, “purely theoretical knowledge-based learning does not meet the needs of the employers and means have to be found to deliver and assess relevant competencies and capabilities where and when they are needed.”

Although the competence approach is relevant to the evolving world, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland noted shortfalls in this system.

Candidates have to be assessed over a period of time, thereby drawing resources from the institution that could be needed elsewhere in the organisation.

On another note, to ensure justice is rendered to the aspiring chartered accountant, the assessor has to be impartial, calling for ultimate professionalism for the success and continuity of the system.

Lastly, candidates are recruited in different organisations with different operating systems. In this regard candidates have no control over the places they work, which may influence the end result.

Since this is a newly crafted scheme in South Africa, the SAICA is still to walk the path to dig into the merits or demerits of the system, however, much effort by the institute in honing and refining CAs will ensure a new generation of leaders geared for the challenges of the 21st century. 

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