How Many Accountants Are There in SA?
BYLINE: SARAH JANE bOSCH
Several articles have appeared in the media over the past few years about the shortage of professional skills in business in South Africa, and one of the categories frequently mentioned is qualified (chartered) accountants.
According to Geoffrey Allison, MD of specialist accounting recruiter Isilumko Accountants, the actual number of accountants working in South Africa could well be more than we realise. This is due to the anomaly of only those registered with the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) being taken into account in surveys.
"What about all the men and women who have studied for their CA(SA) qualification and written and passed the board exams, but have either decided not to join SAICA, or have let their membership lapse?" asks Allison.
"We have come across quite a number of candidates for accounting positions who are not recognised as chartered accountants because they have not paid their annual subscriptions.
"This brings the value of membership of any professional body into question. Are the fees justified? If people are chartered accountants in all but name, but are disqualified because they are not SAICA members, this does not prevent them from practising."
Allison's opinion is that membership of SAICA is more relevant to some businesses than others. For example, accountants employed by accounting firms clearly require the CA(SA) designation, as without it they are unable to sign off companies' financial statements.
Though it is important to be a member of a professional organisation such as SAICA, what happens to returning expatriates, whose memberships have lapsed and who have not bothered to renew them?
He acknowledges that there needs to be some sort of controlling body which sets standards and upholds ethics, but says that in some cases this is mere tokenism.
Allison cites the infamous Enron debacle and other instances closer to home, where registered professional accountants have been found guilty of malpractice and of bringing the profession into disrepute.
On the other hand there are many people who may be practising as accountants, without being included in any of the statistics that are compiled from time to time, because they are unregistered.
Allison quotes an unnamed source who says: "I am an entrepreneur with all the required training as a chartered accountant, having studied at university, graduated, and completed articles. However, I saw no benefit in being a SAICA member.
"This has in no way disadvantaged me in my business. …