This Chartered Accountant From South Africa Shares How CA Changed His Life & Finances

  • Can a qualification like CA have the Power to impact your future success?
  • Hi, I am Senele Mbatha a qualified Chartered Accountant from South Africa. I am a CFO running the Finance Department and life is good, however, this was not my story while growing up.
  • Life was hard back then. I had tough days however giving my studies importance and pursuing CA from SAICA changed my life forever.
  • Here is my story.

Growing Up With No Money

I grew up in a poor community (Osizweni just outside Newcastle). We had no proper infrastructure to support studies and our schools lacked basic infrastructures like libraries, computers, etc. Even today the situation is still the same although there is some improvement.

I grew up in a very big family (like very big). Like all boys growing up, I wanted to be cool, fit in and be relevant. I played a lot of sport. In fact, I started taking my academics seriously only in grade 12.

Since I started focusing in class 12 it wasn't easy for me as I had too much to catch up to do. I was just average in my previous years. So I wouldn’t say I was brilliant in studies but after I made a decision of taking my grades seriously (grade 12), I was very diligent.

I worked hard consistently and wanted to improve my performance. It is this formula that took me to where I am today. 

While growing up I did not know any Chartered Accountant. To be honest, I never dreamt to be a CA as I never thought I had it in me to be a CA so I never chased it.

My plan was to graduate and work at a bank may be as a teller. Yes, I wanted to be a teller.

Starting my CA journey

After my graduation in 2002, I wanted to start working and was fortunate enough to find work at EY, Durban. I started as a contractor in their Public Sector department. It was initially a 2-month contract and I guess they liked me and kept on renewing my contract.

It was after month 8 when one of the EY partners Mr. Sugan Palanee convinced me to go back to university to do my Honours, so I could start with my CA. I immediately applied and went back to University fulltime. And I never looked back since then. 

(Some prospective CAs decide to study full time while others opt to study part-time while completing their training contract with an accounting or audit firm)

By the end of 2004, I did my Honours in Management Accounting (CTA). So after clearing my CTA in 2004, I started my three-year articles again at EY, Durban from Jan'05-Dec'07.

I sacrificed a lot of my social life in order to be successful in CA. Can you believe that my then-girlfriend is one of them (because apparently, I didn’t have time for her Lol)? But I sacrificed lots, there are family functions that I didn’t attend because of exams. It was tough.

Luckily I qualified as a Chartered Accountant and all the hard work and sacrifice did pay off.

"How can I succeed and become a CA?"

You need a healthy body and mind strength, that is why I usually advise people to eat right and find at least 30 minutes to exercise.

Consistency and being strict with your demanding study timetable are steak on the dinner table.

Studying can be daunting and frustrating, but it also can be fun and definitely rewarding. It is a marathon, not a sprint. It needs patience and perseverance.

Try different things, try them again, change what doesn’t work but never give in. I worked on the timetable and allocated more time to unlocked complex topics/subjects. I didn’t give the subject the respect of “complex”, I worked hard to unlock their complexity.

Re: tip and advise – I read a quote from Thabo Mbeki that used the metaphor of the Comrades Marathon, which says: “Those who complete the course will do so only because they do not, as fatigue sets in, convince themselves that the road ahead is still too long, the inclines too steep, the loneliness impossible to bear and the prize itself of doubtful value.”

You’ll be surprised that even today, I still reflect on this phrase and help to self-motivate.

"Did I face failure while studying to be a CA(SA)?"

Many to care to remember and count. Some failure I thought were big and some I underestimated their impact.

I’m not scared to fail (but I hate the feeling of failing). I deal with failure by keeping an eye on the price and enjoy trying new tactics to unlock whatever I have failed on.

It’s like a game if you haven’t scored on the first minute, it doesn’t mean that the game is over, right?

"How much money needed to become a CA in South Africa?"

Fortunately, you do not need lots of money to be a CA(SA). I wouldn’t be one if you needed to be rich to study CA.

I had good grades when I left high school and was given a study loan. Some people were even luckier to get bursaries. However, for my CTA, I got a bursary (scholarship).

Looking back now, I didn’t even know how much University cost when I was in high school but had a belief that good marks will take me there, and they did.

"Who should pursue CA?"

The profession is too diverse and requires many diverse skills and personalities.

There is a need for everyone, everyone and a lot of us. The common attributes, is the willingness to be consistent, ethical, have empathy and be a leader (either of self or others)

"How much does a CA earn in South Africa?"

In my opinion, I have seen CA freshers earning anywhere between R500k to R650k depending on the industry and the interest after the qualification.

The salary increase is exponential though depending on the experience and what you have to offer.

I credit my good life because I decided to pursue CA. It is a big part of it, the qualification has opened many doors for me.

My advice to all young professionals: Always value experience, learning, and culture. Ethics are non-negotiable. The money will come eventually…and a lot of it.

"Scope of CA from SAICA?"

CA is a diverse stream and have a lot of opportunities in South Africa and worldwide.

Chartered Accountants are absolutely not restricted to just Finance, Audit or Tax. You can almost find a CA in every corner of the business.

One can be in Risk Management, Capital Management, Treasury, Product Head, Corporate Finance, Operations and many many more

You’re almost guaranteed to find your need in the industry you passionate about, either doing finance, running operations or running your own business. Its teaching encompasses different disciplines and enables independent learning.

CA(SA) can work outside South Africa as well. I have many friends and ex-colleagues who work in the UK, Middle East, US, and Australia.

To Conclude...

People are everything in your journey. Choose friends, colleagues, and your boss carefully.

You need to surround yourself with people who remind you every day why you started, people who believe in you when you even don’t.

During tough times, channel your mind to the end results and the rewards associated with it. It is easier to go through tough times when you know that in the end, it will all be worth it.

Now It's Your Turn!!!

What is your CA journey?

Have you also overcome a lot of struggles or was it super easy?

Do you have any questions for me?

Anyway, I could help/guide you?

Whatever it is let me know by leaving a comment below and I will get back to you. 

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