My 10 Year Long Journey to Becoming a Chartered Accountant in South Africa

 

  • Failure is a heavy word. It has crushed a lot of dreams and a lot of great ideas before they could come to life. Yes, failure is undesirable. Failing is never what we plan for when we pursue a goal. However, more than likely, you will recover from failure.
  • In this article, Taryn Raju sharing her ten-year journey of overcoming failure and steps to becoming a Chartered Accountant.
  • Taryn is a qualified Chartered Accountant from SAICA (The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants) and is working at a very well known organisation. 
  • She enjoys working with different clients, getting to know their businesses especially smaller commercial companies that are usually family businesses.

Deciding to Become a Chartered Accountant

I was born and raised in East London, Eastern Cape (Southeast coast of South Africa).

Growing up I was very good with numbers. I still remember when I was about 12 years old, we had visited someone's home. His house was lavish and beautiful and I thought, “Wow! What does this guy do? I want to have a home like this one day.” Turns out that he was a Chartered Accountant!

At the time, I did not know exactly what that entailed but I just knew that I wanted to have this prestigious designation. And so the dream to be a Chartered Accountant was born even before reaching high school.

While in high school my favourite subjects were mathematics and arts. I did everything from drawing, painting, sculpture to design. I loved creating things. I was the topper of my class. But building a life and a home by selling art is not very easy and unfortunately, not everyone appreciates it. So I continued to stay focused on my CA dream.

Requirements to become a Chartered Accountant from SAICA:

  • To have a Bachelor's degree in Accounting or equivalent
  • Honours Postgraduate qualification (CTA 1, CTA2)
  • 3 years articleship (this depends whether it is a part-time study or full time so it can vary from 3-5 years)
  • Give two written board exams (ITC and APC)

Giving my best at school and Financial Challenges

Like most people, the CA journey was not an easy one for me. I lost my dad when I was 10 years old and my mother raised us (I have two brothers as well) all by herself.

Coming from a home with a single mother, I didn’t have the financial support to study at university. I knew my mother would make a plan so I could study at University but I wanted to make it less stressful for her. At such a young age, the only way to contribute was by studying well. So, I decided to be disciplined, study hard, and make sure my results were good.

I worked hard throughout high school so I could get a bursary to study and achieve my CA dream. And all the efforts paid off when I scored well in grade 12.

Applying For a Bursary For My Chartered Accountant Education

Luckily working with numbers was something that came quite naturally to me and by the time I was in grade 12, I started looking into companies that gave accounting bursaries to deserving students.

Since I scored well in grade 12, I knew I would get a bursary with a good company. I applied and was interviewed by Grant Thornton in East London (South Africa). They offered me a full bursary to study my Bachelors in Accounting degree at the University of Fort Hare.

The only condition was that – I complete my articles at the same time (not after graduating) and pass all my exams (Since I was studying part-time and working full time my articles were for 5 years and not 3 years). They did pay me as well but not much, like minimum wage or even less. Basically, it was like pocket money but my entire study cost was covered by them.

So there I was, an 18 year old, straight out of high school, starting my articles, and studying part-time.

"What is Bursary?"

A bursary is financial study assistance offered by institutions towards a course of their choice, mostly comes with a condition of service after graduating or before graduating.

If you want a bursary, the important thing is to have good marks from the start. You can’t scrape through grade 12 and expect a company to invest in your future when you don’t make that investment yourself by studying hard. Also, once you get a bursary you have to fulfill the condition of working for their company and completing your degree. 

I know a lot of people who got bursaries but then failed and never completed their degrees, and are still paying those companies back for the investment. I can imagine that is quite painful.

My Journey becoming a CA(SA): The Complete Timeline

Year 1-4: Jan’09-Dec’12

Completing my Bachelors in Accounting Degree + CA Articles 

  • Studying and working full time was so tiring. I had to work 8 hours a day, then attend University from 4.30 pm to 8.30 pm for at least 4 days a week. At times we had extra tutorials on Saturday mornings.
  • Also when there were no college lectures, managers would require audit teams to work overtime. By the end of the day, I would be exhausted.
  • If I had any free time it was spent studying for tests and exams because passing my exams was one of the conditions of the bursary. 
  • Sometimes audits would get a bit much, especially nearing exam time. I remember once crying in the bathroom at 9 pm because my manager would not let me go home to study. And I had to prepare for final exams (coming in less than 2 weeks).
  • Sometimes even if you finish your own work, you end up picking up the slack of other team members. Although not fair, this is the way it was.
  • At one point it got very difficult, that’s when I decided to discuss with the Partner to leave on time as long as my own work was completed so I could go home and study.

Dealing with a Break-Up

  • In my final year of Bachelors in Accounting, I went through some personal issues and ended a 5-year relationship which was honestly just as important as my CA dream.
  • You think you are going to be with this person forever, especially when you get into a relationship at a young age (I was 16 when this relationship started) but as you grow up, you both become different people.
  • Looking back, I feel silly for even letting it get to me so much because that person was so clearly not right for me. It wasn’t the energy I needed in my life. As soon as I understood and accepted this, it was easier to move forward...unfortunately, back then this breakup crushed me emotionally which affected my studies as well!
  • For the first time ever I ended up getting a supplementary pass for Accounting (as I scored 49% instead of 50% and above). I was mortified. (Supplementary pass means when you get between 45-49% for a module and the university allows you to rewrite that exam without having to repeat the semester). 
  • After this, I became more focussed, studied hard and passed my supplementary exam and I graduated with the rest of my class and completed my Bachelors in Accounting degree.
  • Having now completed my Bachelors in Accounting degree, I could get my 4 years of articles signed off (my articles was initially a contract for 5 years, however, as I got my degree after 4 years, I had the last year of my articles written off as Grant Thornton was happy with my contribution).

Year 5: April'13 - Dec'13

Resigning from Grant Thornton + No Admission for Honours

  • After completing my Bachelors in Accounting from the University of Fort Hare and completing my CA articles, the next step was to do my Honours in Accounting (a post-qualification degree). This consisted of giving CTA 1 and CTA 2.
  • Everything was falling into place except that because I had a supplementary exam, my final accounting mark was limited to 50%. To get a bursary from the University of Fort Hare and do my Honours in Accounting, I needed above 55% for all my final year modules. So my only option was to apply to the University of South Africa (UniSA) and do my Honours through correspondence.
  • Unfortunately, I could not even apply to UniSA for my Honours as the admission was closed in March (I got my supplementary results only in April). So now to do my Honours I had to wait for one more year. I felt so stuck. 
  • I had to waste a whole year where I could not study and which would later affect my ability to study. I was still working at Grant Thornton as an Audit Supervisor (as I had completed my articles so was retained by them) and focussed on work that entire year.
  • Since I was no longer studying, they sent me on out of town assignments. These places were usually in the middle of nowhere, with limited options for food and language barriers with my team members.
  • I was no longer working on commercial audit clients which I used to enjoy.
  • I found the municipal and public entity audits very frustrating because it lacked the business element so I resigned from Grant Thornton.

Year 6: Jan’14-Dec’14

Working full time + Honours from UniSA (CTA 1, CTA2) 

  • After resigning from Grant Thornton I took up a job at a smaller accounting firm Van Wyk Chartered Accountants, East London (South Africa). They also agreed to give me a study loan for my Honours.
  • Now after the study gap of a year, it was really tough to study all over again. I was doing my Honours from UniSA and not from a private University like Fort Hare. So I had to do self-study and it was not easy.
  • I flat out failed my first attempt at CTA level 1.

Year 7 and 8: Jan’15-Dec’16

I tried again and passed CTA Level 1 on my second attempt.

  • Then there was the monster known as CTA level 2. I went through yet another breakup, and although I studied hard, I could not clear. I was crushed. I cried. I was so disappointed in myself. I let down my family, my boss who was paying for my CTA studies, and mostly myself.
  • Apart from crying, I spent time with my family. I got strength from their support and encouragement, especially my mother. At that time I felt like nothing was working out. I knew I had to change something. I was tired of failing because I knew how capable I was.

Year 9: Jan’17-Dec’17

  • So I put aside everything else and I focussed on passing my exams (CTA level 2). I knew I had to have confidence and faith in myself. I converted my TV lounge into a study. I bought a desk and a comfy chair and bookshelf and I just went hard, made study plans, and notes etc and studied every day. I also bought all the latest IFRS standards and books.
  • I ate supper at my study desk. I never spent time with friends, I refrained from having personal relationships and I focussed on the one thing that was in my control, studying.
  • I was doing well, but I also wanted to do something that excited me so I took a part-time Makeup course. It was over 2 months and only 2-3 evenings a week, and still gave me enough time to study. Also, my studies were going on well I was confident and I knew I could pass as I had worked consistently throughout the year.
  • It was going well, until the morning of my Audit exam. Bear in mind, I had been doing audit for 9 years, so this came naturally, a subject I never really even needed to study much for. I slightly overslept and was in a hurry driving to the exam venue, in the rain. The roads were wet and I hit into the car in front of me.
  • My car was ok, but I had no insurance and I was stressed about the coming financial burden of being sued for damages.
  • Also, I had only 20 minutes to get to the exam venue before they would no longer allow me to write the exam. Luckily I made it to the exam venue with 2 minutes to spare.
  • Still shaking, I wrote my paper. I spent time trying to compose myself. I was disappointed that I was not able to give my all when I wrote.
  • I knew that if it was any other exam, I would have failed. But because I was such a good auditor, I made it through.
  • I passed CTA Level 2. I was happier than I could ever imagine. I called my mum and I told her I finally made it and CTA was done.

Year 10: Jan’18-Dec’18

Moving to PwC + Appearing for board exams (ITC, APC)

  • Now to become a qualified Chartered Accountant from SAICA, I had to give two board exams – ITC and APC. Having finally passed CTA, I wanted to move on with my life, I felt like too much had happened in East London (South Africa) and I needed a new environment. I wrote ITC in Jan’18 and applied for a new job at PWC, Port Elizabeth (South Africa) which I started in March’18.
  • "How did I get my job at PwC?" I got this job at PwC through an agency. Having my name in their database helps when jobs do come up. For this job, I was called by an agent who offered the position as an opportunity for me and I took it. Agencies are really helpful and show that they are interested in you and find the best opportunity suited for you as a candidate.

Qualifying as a Chartered Accountant, Finally!

  • A few short weeks after making that move, I got my ITC results and I was amazed when I realized that I passed. I was alone. I didn’t make many friends yet and I had no one to share that moment with but I was one step closer to achieving the CA dream.
  • Now the last exam was APC course. I was fortunate that PWC covered the cost of the APC course, so I went on to do that. The support was amazing, being with a group of people with a common goal of qualifying as CA’s. I passed APC as well. 
  • After years of hard work, a number of setbacks, long hours with my head buried in books and all strength it took getting through all of the above… I can finally say I completed my CA(SA) qualification!
  • I was now a qualified Chartered Accountant.

Here are Some Lessons That I Learned in My CA Journey

1. Focus on positive things

  • The most important thing – Focus on the positive things.
  • I used to always look back and feel like I wasn’t achieving anything and it was so demotivating.
  • But the day I decided to be grateful for all the wonderful things I had achieved amidst all the failures my life got wonderful.
  • So now when I look back, I realize that – I actually completed my Bachelors in Accounting degree which was fully funded and never cost me a cent. I had bought my first property before the age of 25. I have an internationally recognized Makeup qualification and a CA degree both.
  • It might have taken me 10 years to become a Chartered Accountant but that gave me 10 years of work experience.
  • So in short, through all the struggles I still achieved so much on the way.

2. Have a Vision board

  • Life happens and sometimes you can’t control what is happening around you. What you can control is how much effort you put into something and how much time you set aside to achieve your goals.
  • Also, manifest the things you want to achieve, I’m one of those people with a vision board. I have the letters CA(SA) right up there. I see it every day.
  • When you focus on the things you want to achieve then you can make it happen.

3. Pursue a Hobby/Passion

  • With makeup, I found a way to use my creative side. Playing with colors and experiment with different looks and ideas and see them come together. It was exciting.
  • I was the best in my class and I thought I could for sure make a part-time job out of this since I enjoyed it so much.
  • It gave me peace of mind.

4. Have one person who tells – You Can Do It

  • My mother always told me that no matter what, I will achieve my CA dream.
  • I should not worry about financing my studies or anything instead just give it my all and try again.
  • Having a support system really helps.

5. Take care of yourself

  • Lastly, take care of yourself. Eat well, drink water. It’s a lot easier to focus when you physically feel good.
  • An hour at the gym is an awesome productive way to have a study break.

 Now It’s Your Turn!

Have you been in a similar situation? How do you overcome failure? What is your failure to success story? Any tips to be a Chartered Accountant?

Or do you have any questions for me?

Just drop your views in the comment section below!

You can connect to Taryn on LinkedIn at – Taryn Raju.

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