My Journey From Becoming a CA(SA) to Starting My Own Business

The Finance Story

  • We all must overcome fears of failure and rejection to be successful and achieve what we want.
  • Hi, I am Xoliswa Hlongwane a proud Chartered Accountant and entrepreneur.
  • Here is my journey from being an average learner at school to qualifying as a CA(SA) to starting her own clothing manufacturing business while still working full time.

Back Story: Why I decided to become a Chartered Accountant?

During primary schooling, I was an average learner who got just enough marks to progress to the next grade. I was too playful and didn’t focus much on studies.

When I was younger we moved around quite a lot. Growing up in different communities and cities made me streetwise and aware of the world out there, which was different from most of my school mates or even peers in the community.

Also, my dad whom I moved to the province to live with died at the beginning of the year. So I had to finish that year at school and then move to my relative’s place. Life was definitely not easy for me.

Whilst studying in grade 12, I applied for tertiary studies. I remember ticking a box asking me whether I required financial aid. I ticked that I needed financial aid. Little did I know that was one of the most important ticks I have ever made in my life, next to voting :-).

Having seen the entrance requirements for the targeted Universities which were based in my province, I knew I had to work hard. Amidst all difficulties, I gave my best and God being great I did well in grade 12.

I went to the University of KwaZulu-Natal knowing only the fact that I will be studying B.Com Accounting - Nothing beyond that.

Luckily the friends I made during my orientation week helped to shed some light on the various career opportunities. It was then that I got to know about CA from SAICA (The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants) and I chose the CA route.

And that's how I started pursuing CA(SA).

Working and Studying full time: My Journey Becoming a CA(SA)

To become a CA in South Africa, SAICA has a standard path:

  • You can study full time and obtain a B.Com Accounting degree or an equivalent CA(SA) undergraduate qualification at a SAICA accredited university. Once you have completed your B.Com Accounting degree you will be required to obtain an Honours degree. After this, you have to do 3 years of internship and write two board exams to become a qualified Chartered Accountant.
  • If you want to work part-time while pursuing a B.Com Accounting degree you will have to do five years of articles upon which you must complete a B.Com Accounting degree or equivalent CA (SA) undergraduate qualification and then obtain your Honors degree (CTA). Post this give two board exams to become a qualified CA (SA).
  • If you study full time while pursuing a B.Com Accounting degree but study part-time during Honors degree you have to do 4 years of articles and give two board exams to become a qualified Chartered Accountant from SAICA.

My CA journey was a very clueless, I really moved with the flow. I did not even apply for any bursaries during my undergrad, instead, I relied on financial aid.

A bursary is financial study assistance offered by institutions towards a course of their choice, mostly comes with a condition of service after graduating. Financial aid is provided by the government for needy students, which is payable back to the govt once the graduate is employed.

To become a Chartered Accountant from SAICA  upon graduation, you have to do post-graduation in order to obtain an Honours Degree. Now at the end of my third year at university, I knew I had to find a job as government financial aid did not fund my Honours studies. So in order to save money for my post-graduation, I started working part-time at a medium-sized firm while pursuing my last year of  B.Com Accounting degree.

Normally you start articles after post-graduation however some firms, especially small ones accept people with undergrad to start articles and study postgrad part-time. That is what I did.

I wanted to be a star performer at work and neglected my studies during the year, hoping to catch up at the end of the year. I soon realized it doesn’t work like that.

Consistency is key to succeeding in part-time studies. This lack of focus resulted in me repeating my Honours degree a couple of times. I only passed my Honours after my CA articles.

When I think of it now, I don’t know how I did not give up. I am happy that it worked out but it was difficult studying part-time whilst serving articles.

Articles gave me amazing work experience and taught me a couple of life lessons. I learned new skills and faced new challenges. It made me a mature professional.

My Advice to Future Accountants from SAICA

  • If possible finish all your studies full time before starting your articles. That means getting all the qualification requirements on a full-time basis and only write board exams during your articles and not study part-time as it is very difficult.
  • Once you start working and you are still studying or writing exams, ensure consistency in your studies. Study the whole year, not only in preparation for exams or tests.
  • Draw up a vision board of your future career and draw a connection to your current state. That will help make choices that contribute towards your vision.
  • Once established, start thinking about how you can expand and be an all-rounded professional.
  • Once you qualify as a Chartered Accountant you soon realize that the qualification only gives you a golden ticket and opens the door for you. How you use it and which subsequent doors you enter is based on your drive and aspirations.
  • Identify what elements make up the professional you are and service them all.
  • Give back, contribute to your country’s social needs, spend time with family, discover yourself. Do it all.

Starting my Own Business while still working full time

I started XO Collection in March 2017. I never knew I would start a business, it all happened and I just followed my gut.

When I decided to start my own business I was still working as a Chief Audit Executive. I wanted to go ahead with my business idea without quitting my job. It wasn’t easy but I had to make it work. I had my own share of struggles when I decided to work full time and start my own self-funded business.

This journey is been tough but very fulfilling. Through my clothing manufacturing business, XO Collection, I seek to contribute towards reducing unemployment.

Xoliswa Hlongwane is a Chartered Accountant and founder of XO Collection. In 2017, she was awarded the KZN Regional Business Women Association Award for the women in the Government category.

In 2018, she was a finalist in the Top 35 Under 35 CAs competition. She was also honoured by the Destiny Woman magazine in their November 2018 issue (40 powerful women under 40 years).

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