Samantha tells how she failed undergrad and CTA, and then fell pregnant during articles, but eventually became a CA (SA)
- Hello! My name is Samantha Wildt, a Johannesburg-based single mother of a 5-year-old boy.
- After completing a 3-year BCom(Accounting) degree over 4 years and a 1-year CTA over 2 years, I fell pregnant during my articles and relocated to a bigger city with a new born baby!
- Having experienced all these challenges, I cleared both SAICA board exams at the first attempt and eventually qualified as a Chartered Accountant of South Africa – CA (SA) in 2017.
- For this and many other reasons, I believe the failures and challenges we encounter in life prepare us for the moments ahead where failing is not an option.
- This is my journey to CA (SA).
Deciding to pursue CA(SA) against all odds
I grew up in the dusty streets of a town called Douglas, in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa. Here entertainment and sufficient information are almost non-existent for children, while teenage pregnancy and drug abuse are the silent pandemics.
Sadly, I could have easily fallen into the trap, but I had a grounded mother who ensured that I was exposed to reading and guidance, my siblings (I am the youngest of four children) also played a pivotal role in guiding and financially providing for my needs.
Growing up, I was an avid reader and I stumbled upon the CA profession when I was reading an article in grade 6 or 7.
Being a businesswoman excited me. The world of business and finance, and understanding financial jargon inspired me.
After thorough research, I discovered that CAs are equipped for many industries and that the qualification can be used broadly. This won me over. As a result, I chose Accounting and Science in high school, so I could have better options should I change my mind about being a CA.
Even though my mother dropped out of school in her early teenage years, she always enforced the importance of education at an early age and CA was also my answer to her call for education.
The start of my challenges: Getting through university
In 2008, I started a 3-year Bachelor of Commerce in Accounting at the University of the Free State. Unfortunately, it took me 4 years to complete as I needed to repeat 3 of my 4 modules in order to qualify for admission to CTA.
4 years later, I thought I was ready to sit for CTA and finish it at a single mouthful. Unfortunately, another detour. It took me 2 years to complete the rigorous CTA programme.
(Certificate in the Theory of Accounting is a 1-year SAICA-accredited Honour’s programme, the successful completion of which grants admission to the first of two board exams by the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants.)
Instead of 4, I spent 6 years at university and I had already seen enough of failure. It was at that point that I told myself that if I failed again, I would quit CA but what kept me going were these words, “If at first, you do not succeed, try again and then quit. There’s no use being a damn fool about it.” As dark as these words are, they inspired me to invest my all in the second attempt as, in my mind, it was the last.
In short, my university years were tough. Financially it wasn’t easy as I studied using NSFAS and other loans. I am blessed to have siblings that provided me with both financial and emotional support.
Articles, board exams and...falling pregnant!
After obtaining CTA, I started articles at EY’s Bloemfontein office. Bloemfontein was a small office, so my challenges ranged from tighter budgets to earlier deadlines, and a whole lot more. Around the same time, I wrote the Initial Test of Competence (ITC), the first of two SAICA board exams. Surprisingly, I passed at the first attempt.
By now I was in my second year of articles and life seemed great as I knew I was going to make it to becoming a Chartered Accountant just when I discovered that I was pregnant!
I was initially filled with lots of fear - fear of what my mother would say, my siblings and my friends. I thought to myself I might just end up being a pregnant trainee who "almost made it".
To add to the stress, around the same time, I needed to enroll for a 5-month board course, a prerequisite of SAICA’s Assessment of Professional Competence (APC), the last professional exam before qualifying as a CA (SA).
Fortunately, my Mother’s response was very assuring and comforting and so were my siblings.
Being the first and only pregnant trainee in my office, my colleagues were surprised but also quite supportive. In fact, when I told them, it actually helped to calm me down further and take stock of how I will navigate through the new journey.
I also knew that some of my managers might be disappointed and might probably also think that I won't be able to make it - with the workload and writing final board exams, but everyone was mostly quite supportive especially my counsellor.
Once I made peace with the situation (probably after a month) and got over the fear of being "the pregnant trainee" I mapped out how to take care of myself and my baby. I changed my diet to incorporate lots of fruits and veggies, I drank my vitamins (to make sure I had enough energy), I exercised and made sure that I push as hard as I could with my exams and articles - after all I had so much to prove!
What next now?
Raising a child with a trainee accountant salary...was not easy!
Every parent would know that raising a baby is expensive and raising one on a trainees salary was no easy feat!
Luckily, both board exams were paid for by the audit firm (this is standard practice for all CA training offices in South Africa) but my biggest worry was failing any of the exams as it meant I would have to pay for my subsequent attempts. I knew that I could never afford that while raising a baby.
So from day one, my survival tool was simplicity, the best sophistication. I made sure that all our basics were covered and I was never extravagant. The father of my child and I moved in together, and this helped a lot as we shared expenses.
On the career front, I moved to EY's Johannesburg office. Bloemfontein and Johannesburg are significantly incomparable in size and culture. Adapting to a completely new place was yet another challenge in addition to my already existing ones.
I had a helper who looked after my baby, she stayed with us (myself, my son and his father) in our flat. Also, I worked out a schedule of how to get around things in terms of bonding with my son and making sure I do my articles work.
Despite everything, I was able to pass APC on the first attempt and was qualified to register as a CA in 2017 when I finished my articles in the middle of 2017. I owe all this to my friends and family for being with me throughout the journey.
No turning back
I knew from the start of my articles that I did not want to stay in external audit, so I took a 3-month sabbatical after signing off.
During the sabbatical, I bonded with my child and thought of what exactly I wanted to do after qualifying.
I generally liked the auditing space – just not the external audit space, so I applied for internal audit vacancies and started after my sabbatical.
Before moving to a risk management position within the FMCG industry, I stayed in the internal audit position and in the same group of companies for almost three years.
My current role provides me with both the necessary challenge and time to be a present working mother, which is very important to me.
If I was not a CA and lessons learned
I am a firm believer in the saying, “Everything happens for a reason,” and it is for that reason that I believe my life would have been different if I was not a CA.
The friends and acquaintances I met, interactions I had, and lessons I learned would be different if I did not pursue the CA designation.
I do not think it would have necessarily been better or worse, but I know it would have been different.
The three things the CA journey has taught me is resilience, and the importance of regrouping and being adaptable (which I believe is one of my biggest strengths). How you start will not necessarily be how you finish – embrace the curveballs.
Now It's Your Turn...
Tell us your challenges and share them with others to inspire each other. Comment below.
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