There is a vast Chartered Accountant undersupply in the market, and the bad news is its only going to get worse. The number of finance graduates writing the initial test of competency (ITC) exam has dropped significantly in 2022.
The ITC is the first of two board exams that need to be passed in order to qualify as a Chartered Accountant (SA).
According to figures released by the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA), 2 946 candidates wrote the exam in 2022, compared to 3 887 in 2021. This represents a drop of 24%!
Graeme Marais, director of specialist finance recruitment company Blue Recruiting, says the reduction in the number of ITC examinees is alarming, especially as it comes in the midst of a boom in global demand for South African qualified chartered accountants.
“The view from the coal face of CA employment in South Africa is concerning,” says Marais.
“This year’s ITC intake fell by around a quarter, which means the system will be producing fewer chartered accountants in three or four years’ time. In an environment where unemployment is rife, and with the world begging for more CAs, our hope would be for the number of CAs to grow at that rate and not reduce, while keeping the high standards that currently exist.
“The fact that the potential number of CAs who will graduate in 2025 in South Africa has dropped by such a large number is a worry for me and should be for the entire market.”
Marais says this is compounded by the ‘brain drain’ of qualified South African professionals leaving the country to work, particularly in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. This is not to say that our CAs are necessarily leaving, though.
“The world, suffering from the Great Resignation, is now waking up to the fact that our brilliant South African CAs can fill vacated jobs at a fraction of the price, while they remain in South Africa. A large number of CA(SA)s are already being employed to work remotely.”
Before 2022, the number of ITC candidates was on the rise.
“The numbers grew by 19% in 2020, then by 6% in 2021,” says Marais.
Professor Nico van der Merwe, outgoing CA programme coordinator at North-West University, says the drop could be as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as poor matric maths results.
“In my opinion, the main reason for the drop in numbers was the impact of emergency remote teaching and learning (ERT) that was necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic and government’s related regulations,” he says.
“The drop in numbers is nothing the universities could have avoided.
“SAICA is maintaining a high standard of qualification and has not dropped the standard of the ITC or changed the competency framework. There were simply fewer students that could complete the CA university qualification successfully in an ERT environment, despite our best efforts as a university.
“We have also seen a steady drop in students qualifying to study CA with the poorer grade 12 mathematics marks the country has seen over some time. Intakes are generally down and this has now spilled over to postgraduate level.”
Robert Zwane, SAICA Executive: Learning, Development and National Imperatives, says that when looking at the decline in numbers, there are various factors that must be considered.
These include the challenges university students have faced with regards to adapting to blended teaching and learning methodologies during the Covid-19 restrictions over the past two years.
“This, of course, is not limited to students pursuing the CA(SA) designation,” he says.
“The global consensus is that students have been negatively affected by the challenges of studying remotely and that these effects will be evident in the outcomes of these challenges on education and training for years to come.”
Marais says the dip in CA intake numbers has the potential to harm the economy.
“Chartered accountants are the lifeblood of the financial sector,” he says.
“A reduction in their numbers could have a serious impact on the sector, and the economy in general. The reality is, however, that this anomaly can be rectified in future years by greater intakes, while maintaining the high CA standards of SAICA. The effects of Covid are temporary, but we need to work on our matric results.”
For more information on Blue Recruiting, visit www.bluerecruiting.co.za.