CA(SA) was my ticket out of poverty: How this Auditor made his way into a Big 4 firm in the UK.
Pursuing Chartered Accountancy in South Africa can be expensive and time-consuming. But never lose hope. See how this CA from a small village in South Africa landed a job in a Big 4 firm in the UK.
- Hi, I am Eric Sibisi, a Chartered Accountant from South Africa and an Audit Professional.
- At a very young age, I realised that the CA qualification could help me turn my life around.
- Through perseverance, I rose from poverty, took 11 years to qualify as a CA and got a job in a Big 4 firm in the UK.
Becoming a CA… An 11-year journey
Growing up in a small village, I experienced what it’s like living in poverty.
My granny raised me and nine of my siblings. She did her level best to provide for all of us.
We didn’t have much information regarding the available educational and career opportunities. But when I was in 11th grade I got to know from a booklet that there is something called Chartered Accountancy.
When I understood what CA is and what opportunities it may provide I said to myself, “CA is a ticket out of poverty, and a means to take care of my family and siblings.”
That’s how it started.
Studying in college is very expensive in South Africa. And to become a CA I had to complete my Graduation with Honours.
You have to pay over 30,000 Rand per year, for a B. Com degree alone (takes three years to complete). Additionally, there are tuition fees, books, examination fees and so on.
It was obvious my granny could not fund my expensive college education. I knew I had to get a job. This was in 2002.
Fortunately, within a year I managed to raise enough money to register with the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
I personally struggled with spoken English before starting university. This caused some difficulties as lectures were conducted in English. I remember going to the library after attending the lectures to improve my English-speaking skills.
My first year in university was full of struggles, as I didn’t have enough funds. I managed to gather some help in the second year, thanks to some generous people I met on the way.
I completed my degree in 2005. But, since I was not working, the accumulated funds ran dry and I couldn’t apply for my CTA - (Honors) right away.
It took me two years to gather the funds, but I got back and registered with the University of South Africa (UNISA) for my Post Graduate Diploma in Accounting Science, Accounting and Finance.
By then I had gotten married so to take care of my family I opted to work and study simultaneously. I was teaching accounting.
I completed my mandatory 20 months internship with The Auditor-General of South Africa in 2011. Thankfully my company offered to contribute 70% bursary. (If you choose to work while pursuing your diploma, ask your firm/company to support you by providing a loan.)
After 11 long years, in 2014 I finally qualified as a Chartered Accountant from SAICA.
Did you know what kept me motivated? This line; “Remember why you started your CA journey in the first place.”
Finding a job opportunity in the UK... A dream come true
Getting a job after qualifying as a CA wasn’t difficult.
The Auditor-General of South Africa, (an office established by the 1996 Constitution of South Africa) appointed me as an Assistant Audit Manager in 2014.
Years went by and I grew up the ladder.
In 2015 they promoted me to Audit Manager. I acquired extensive experience in auditing, during my time with Auditor General.
Suddenly in 2022, a recruiter from the UK contacted me on LinkedIn; “My client is looking for an Audit Manager, specializing in the Public Sector and your profile matches perfectly with the job role. Would you be willing to join?”
The job was at a Big 4 firm in the United Kingdom.
From my high school days, I had a dream to go out there and live a good life.
I visited KPMG’s website and checked out the job description and their clientele base to get a complete idea. I even asked some of my acquaintances in the UK about the work culture, environment, and what to expect overall.
The UK job market is huge and more open compared to South Africa.
I discovered that accountants, particularly CAs are in high demand in the UK right now. Everything seemed perfect and I asked the recruiter for an interview.
The interviewer was very friendly and made me feel comfortable throughout the interview. They responded quickly offering me a job.
But I told them that I will come to the UK with my family. KPMG UK offered to sponsor the relocation of my family as well.
That was the bonus point for me.
Pros and cons of moving to the UK from South Africa
Making a transition from South Africa to the UK is anything but easy.
- High cost of living: Finding a place to stay in the UK is both expensive and difficult. The moment you see a property on the listing site, the next minute it will be gone. That is why I highly suggest you act quickly.
- Cultural difference: Adapting to the new culture, both local and office was a bit hard for me.
- Friendly work culture: I approached some of my colleagues on LinkedIn that came from other parts of South Africa. We met up and they helped a lot. I am grateful to them.
- Environment: The people of the country in general are nice and friendly. It is also safe.
- Infrastructure: The transport system is very efficient in the UK. Public transportation networks, such as buses, trains, and tubes (subway), are extensively developed and cost-effective in larger cities.
- Location of the country: The UK is located at such an optimum point in the world that it is easier to travel around the world.
- Fair salary compensation
Currently, I live in Southampton, England. I am happy with everything so far.
How to become a Chartered Accountant in South Africa
CA (SA) is an expensive qualification, but don’t let that stop you from securing a brighter future for yourself.
Getting an education in general is costly and you must treat it as an investment.
- For starters, you need to have good marks in the Matric certificate, especially in Math.
- The second step is to obtain an undergraduate degree accredited by SAICA, from a university approved by the institute. It usually takes three years to complete your degree.
- The third step is to achieve a SAICA-accredited postgraduate diploma (Certificate in the Theory of Accounting - CTA). If you choose to do it full-time, it’s going to take you about one year, and three years in case of part-time studies. I opted for the latter as it fit my work schedule.
- Once you have obtained both your B. Com degree and diploma, you’d be eligible to start your mandatory 20-month internship at a SAICA-registered office/firm. You would gain practical experience.
- Lastly, you have to write two board exams namely the Initial Test of Competence (ITC) and the Assessment of Professional Competence (APC) to qualify as a CA (SA).
If you're pursuing studies on a part-time basis, I would strongly recommend getting a tutor. They would keep you grounded, and simplify the topics that you are unable to understand.
Having a strong grasp of English vocabulary is crucial.
Applying for work abroad… From South Africa
If you are a CA from South Africa looking to build a career overseas, make sure that your LinkedIn profile is updated.
Don’t wait for a recruiter to approach you.
Remember that many other CAs would apply for the same job position as yours. How would you stand out? You’d have to seek new opportunities in this overly competitive job market.
Be out there and connect with the people that are on the same career path as you.
Start a conversation with them on LinkedIn, and talk about a project or topic that both of you are interested in. Later on, it would be simpler for you to talk about a job opening that he or she may help you with.
Never compare your journey with others
We all come from different backgrounds hence each of our paths would be different.
They say that it takes 7 years to become a CA in South Africa. Don’t be hard on yourself if you are taking longer than usual. Even I couldn’t complete it in that timeframe.
The journey is going to be difficult so try to connect with other students. It becomes easier to gain motivation, to carry through when people are with you.
Enjoy the journey and keep learning.
And whenever you feel like giving up, just remember why you started.
Are you looking to accelerate your career in finance? Fill up this form to talk to an industry expert