Accountants help to ensure that firms are run more efficiently, particularly from a financial point of view; that a country’s public records are kept accurately; and that taxes are paid properly and on time. An accountant’s job is to compile, analyze, and evaluate financial information. This includes the completion of entries into accounts, such as general ledger accounts used for documenting business transactions.
An accountant as a profession should not be confused with Chartered Accountant (CA). Whilst much of the work is the same during the initial study period but Chartered Accountants need to study further and register with the professional body for Chartered Accountants.
Accountants detail assets, liabilities, and capital in order to prepare a balance sheet, profit and loss statements, and other reports for the individual company employing them. The accountant’s pivotal role in business is the reason why they rise fairly quickly to senior management positions. Chartered accountants, because of their rigorous training, are most in demand. Accounting graduates with lower qualifications will probably work as accounting officers and will not usually rise to the same levels of seniority.
Computers are rapidly changing the nature of the work of most accountants. With the aid of special software packages, accountants summarize transactions in standard formats for financial records and organize data in special formats for financial analysis. These accounting packages greatly reduce the amount of tedious manual work associated with data and record-keeping. Personal and laptop computers enable accountants to be more mobile and to use their clients’ computer systems to extract information from large mainframe computers. As a result of these trends, a growing number of accountants have extensive computer skills and specialize in correcting problems with software or in developing software to meet unique data needs.
Accountants can either specialize (see below) or become generalists such as Financial Managers.
Fields of Specialization include:
Accounting: “Pure” accounting work comprises the preparation of financial statements, the giving of advice about accounting systems, budgets, cash flow and the improvement of profit margins.
Cost Accounting: This is the field of calculation of expenses and the implementation and development of cost-accounting measures.
Tax Specialist: A tax specialist gives advice concerning tax matters, such as the determination and legal saving of tax.
Computer Science: This field especially comprises the development and implementing of programs for electronic information processing, the planning of financial models and the giving of advice regarding hard- and software purchases.
Planning & Management: Planning is an important management function. Planning macro- and micro-level, long- and short-term forecasts, feasibility studies and the financial planning of new projects must be carried out continuously. Management also includes administration, secretarial, financial and various other facets of business management.
Accountants use the following types of equipment and materials: computers, telephones, fax machines, financial reports, accounts, stationery, e-mail and the Internet.
Accountants usually work in comfortable office environments. When self-employed, they could work from home and would only need to travel to clients’ business premises and offices.
How to Enter
National Senior Certificate meeting degree or diploma requirements depending on the route of study.
Each institution will have its own minimum entry requirements.
What to Study
The training is divided into academic and practical phases. Academic training comprises four to five years’ full-time study. During this time the following qualifications can be obtained: BCom (Acc) 3 years; BCom (Hons)(Acc) and CTA (Certificate Theory of Accounting) 1 – 2 years. During the following year, the qualifying examination of the Public Accountants board can be written. Practical training takes three years after obtaining a degree.
A Chartered Accountant (CA) is the highest professional qualification in accounting in South Africa and CA’s are most in demand in the job market. Accounting graduates with lower qualifications (associate general accountants and associate accounting technicians) usually work as accounting officers, often not rising to the same levels without further studies to become CA’s.
The Certified Accounting Technician (CAT) programme is available to persons aged 16 or over, regardless of academic qualifications. This may be studied through the ACCA’s tuition providers or by distance learning at their own pace. One year of practical experience in the workplace is required to obtain the qualification.
Degree: UNISA, UP, US, UKZN, RU, UL, Wits, UFS, Monash, NWU, UCT, NMMU, UJ, Fort Hare, UWC, UZ
Diploma: CUT, CPUT, DUT, MUT, TUT, VUT, Northlink, Cape Town TVET
- registered firms of practising chartered accountants
- in commerce and all kinds of industries
- universities and colleges as lecturers
Accountants can also start their own private practice firms. Because accountants also have a lot of business knowledge, many of them start their own businesses.
Independent Regulatory Board of Auditors
P O Box 751595
Garden View, 2047
Greenstone Hill Office Park
Tel: (087) 940-8800 Fax: (087) 940-8873
Institute of Commercial and Financial Accountants of Southern Africa (CFA)
P O Box 1791
Tel: (011) 486-0283 Fax: (011) 486-0632
South African Institute of Chartered Accountants
17 Fricker Place
Tel: (011) 621-6600 Fax: (011) 622-3321
Chartered Institute of Management Accountants
4th floor, 54 Melrose Boulevard
Johannesburg, South Africa
Tel: (0)11 788 8723 Fax: (0)11 788 8724
- arrange to speak to accountants in your area and ask permission to observe them at work
- if possible, try to get part-time work with a firm of accountants or auditors – even if only for a couple of days and even if unpaid