[HR Talk] How this Financial Recruitment Firm in South Africa is helping Chartered Accountants find the right opportunity.

The Coronavirus pandemic has affected jobs globally, and South Africa is no exception. However, some industries are experiencing a spike in demand, with companies hiring aggressively.

The CA Story caught up with Brendon Lezar, Financial Talent Specialist and General Manager of Western Cape's leading Financial Recruitment Specialists - CA Financial Appointments, who have more than 20 years of experience in helping CAs and other financial professionals find the right opportunities.

Tell us about yourself and your experience in recruitment.

After working my way to management level in a 5-star luxury hotel in Cape Town, I felt my career growth prospects would be fast-tracked by adding international experience to my CV.  With this in mind, I moved to the UK.

Shortly after arriving in the UK, and moving into a house of accountants, I realized that I could earn more in the world of accounting.

I soon accepted a contract working in the credit control department of a listed entity only to realise I was far better with people than I was with numbers.

However, the money was good so I stuck it out for 2 years before deciding that I should rather look to recruit accounting-orientated personnel in London.

The following day I resigned from my job and opened a recruitment consultancy based in London’s West End, specialising in finance.

I ran the business for 5 years before returning home to South Africa with the idea of building and ultimately running a guesthouse.

Whilst waiting for my plans to be passed I was offered a job by Pete Whitehouse to join his recruitment business for a short, 6-month contract. That was 16 years ago and as they say, the rest is history!

Today I oversee a team of highly experienced financial recruitment consultants specialising in: Business Development, Interviewing, Client Interview Preparation, CV preparation, PSL’s, Deal Closing, Interview Preparation, Negotiating Advice, Resignation Advice, and Counter Offer Advice.

What industries do you cover at CA Financial Appointments?

Industries we thoroughly enjoy recruiting for include (but are not limited to): Financial Services, Manufacturing, Pharmaceuticals, Oil & Gas, Renewable Energy, Retail, FMCG, Sport, Ecommerce, Media and Technical.

At 'CA Financial Appointments' we cover the following Jobs / Positions / Vacancies:

  • Chief Financial Officers
  • Financial Directors
  • Head of Finance
  • Financial Managers
  • Financial Controllers
  • Chartered Accountants
  • Management Accountants
  • Project Managers
  • Business Analysts
  • Financial Analysts
  • Tax Advisors
  • Auditors
  • Balance Sheet Accountants
  • Risk & Compliance Accountants
  • Cost & Management Accountants

How should one go about the job search after qualifying as a CA(SA)? 

We would suggest they optimize their LinkedIn profile and ensure that it is as expansive as possible.

They should write a “bio” on their LI profile offering the reader insight into their career aspirations.

They should highlight what their ideal role would look like and list other career opportunities of interest too.

They should also incorporate the client sectors they focused on during their articles and again, highlight the ones which they have a definitive interest in pursuing.

Importantly, they should get in touch with 1 or 2 specialist financial recruitment consultancies.

A generalist recruitment company will often not possess the level of understanding required to best advise, inform and consult on a genuine value-adding level with the CA(SA).

Use a specialist. In not doing so, it’s akin to going to a seafood restaurant when you’re looking to enjoy a rump steak!

What are the opportunities beyond Audit and Finance?

A newly qualified CA must realise that the CA(SA) is the building block of their career in almost any 'business-orientated’ position.

The opportunities beyond audit and finance are plenty, be it that of an Investment Banker, Entrepreneurs, Analyst, Wealth Manager, General Manager, Commercial Manager, to name but a few.

From my experience, most newly qualified CAs will work in a sector in which they have audit exposure.

Often it is in their 'second position' that they are able to become more specific and get more clarity on what is next for them.

If you are thinking of moving away from audit or typical finance roles, consider attaining additional post-audit exposure or having completed a Masters in that area.

Opportunities without a CA qualification?

There are many opportunities to work in the financial industry without a CA qualification.

However, if a person has aspirations to reach the pinnacle of their career, a qualification such as a CA(SA) would be beneficial to them achieving this.

How should one negotiate their salary be it CA freshers to experienced professionals?

Many factors come into play around newly qualified CA remuneration.

Traditionally the Financial Services sector pays higher than Commerce, but this varies by region and by company size. A candidate needs to do their market research.

One good website to help you with your research is PayScale.com which takes into account multiple contributing factors.

If you have done your research and feel that a company’s offer is undercutting your worth, I encourage you to ask your recruiter to have a discussion with your prospective employer on your behalf. This avoids making it look like you are trying to squeeze the company for more money which can go horribly wrong.

Also, in countries where preference is given to candidates of a specific demographic, there can be a 15 - 20% remuneration premium given to candidates that fall into the preferential demographics.

When it comes to offers made to executive level candidates, we encourage the discussion and negotiation to take place directly between candidates and the company making the offer of employment.

These exec-level offers typically include complex long-term incentive options that are unique to the business hence the recruitment consultant is unlikely to have a full understanding of these retention tools.

Interview mistakes that candidates make? 

As the CA qualification ensures the candidates are 'technically' on par, the cultural fit to the business with whom they are applying becomes critical. In my opinion:

  • Research the company you are interviewing with. Understand and research as much as you can about the business, their industry, their competition, etc. Where possible, look at their financials online and google any recent media on the business. Be informed before you walk into that interview room.
  • Concerning the actual interview, the interviewee needs to read their audience. A good recruiter will be able to offer their candidate valuable insight into who they are meeting with and what that interviewer typically looks out for.
  • Finance people like to know the facts and stats. Don’t over-talk and deviate from the question they’ve asked. It's important to keep your answers short, relative and where possible, offer an example linking your experience to the question asked.
  • Finally, an interview forum is not a “1-way traffic highway.” The interviewee needs to ask their own questions. Make it clear that you have prepared and researched for this interview.

If you were a candidate, how would you prepare for the interview?

I would never go into an interview without having researched the company.

I would find out who will be interviewing me and would look up their LinkedIn profile. Their LinkedIn profile would give me an understanding of their career path. That will facilitate a 2-way discussion between us.

By understanding the typical career progression within the company, I would be able to determine if this is in line with my own career aspirations.

How long should one work in the organization before moving on?

In my opinion, if a candidate gets stuck in a particular role they should look to either move roles in the same company or seek employment in another company.

In a large corporate, the candidate should ensure they progress within the different structures.

In a smaller organization, where this is not possible, the general feeling is that the candidate will hit the glass ceiling within 2-3 years.

Over the years how have you seen the role of a CA evolve?

As the world economy changes, the nature of work changes.

The CA qualification ensures the candidate has the technical ability however companies today are looking for the 'additional value' the CA will bring.

Earlier it was more technical knowledge that was expected of a CA, now it is more "Strategic" along with technical skills.

Automation and AI are entering the market more and more.

We have not come across specific requests for experience in the latest AI or Blockchain technologies in South Africa as yet, but it certainly does give the CA an extra tick if they are already versed in a company’s chosen technology such as Sage Pastel, SAP, etc.

The CAs of tomorrow should be able to harness these tools to take care of the technical work quickly so they can focus on big-picture strategy.

However, the differentiating factors are generally either specific experience in a particular sector or further studies in that area that align with a company’s sector.

Also, the ability to think strategically (with good leadership skills) as well as handling technical accounting tends to set them apart too.

What if a candidate has no leadership experience how should they build on it?

Within an organization, leadership will come with time.

However, a young CA could get involved in leadership activities outside their working environment to supplement their leadership skills.

In short, their natural personality, professional drive and leadership ability are what determines how far they go in the management structure.

What sectors are hiring in COVID Times? 

The fundamental reasons to move jobs remain the same. COVID has added the dimension that some companies are struggling and thus the opportunities for a CA have changed.

Companies doing well are obviously more attractive than others that are going through a hard time. Initially, it was just businesses deemed “essential services” who were still able to recruit.

And rather, fortunately, 'Financial Services' was seen to be an essential services industry so the majority of opportunities were being presented by the Banking and Insurance sectors.

With the country now being moved to Level 2, other businesses are beginning to once again start considering their staffing plans and this will see increase inactivity.

In terms of when to make the move, it remains exactly the same as pre-COVID times. Make the move when the right opportunity presents itself, irrespective of where the business world or employment markets are at that time.

Concluding message

The CA(SA) qualification will get you a foot in the door but what you do with that depends on your individual aspirations.

The 4 years of study and 3 years of articles are insignificant when compared to what you can achieve in a 35-year career.

Where you end up with your CA(SA) will be because of a combination of your - Ambition, Desire, Diligence, Leadership and EQ (cannot emphasize enough on EQ)!

CA Financial Appointments is a specialist financial recruitment agency that has become a trusted name during its 25 years of operation. Based in Cape Town, we operate nationally in both the Financial Services and Commercial Finance sectors. We have 10 specialist consultants who have over 150 years of recruiting experience between them. We understand the abilities of the newly qualified CA and are correctly positioned to match their career aspirations to what is on offer from our select corporate clients with whom we have had relationships for many years.

Contact us at info@ca.co.za, alternatively, find everything you need at www.ca.co.za. We look forward to working with you on the all-important first step as you embark on arguably the most important journey of your life.

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