Behind the scenes of my 10 year long journey becoming a CA(SA) and of not giving up!
- Hi! I am Vhonani Ndwambi, a proud South African and Chartered Accountant from SAICA (The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants).
- Being raised by a 'single parent' gave me more reasons to want to succeed as I saw how my mother worked so hard to give us a better life. Her struggle kept my ambitions alive and reminded me of 'why' I wanted this.
- The CA journey tested my faith, my dreams, and my ability to keep at it even when things seemed impossible!
- Here is my story of how I was able to achieve my dreams with the limited resources that I had and how delay doesn't mean denial.
Back Story - Why Chartered Accountancy?
I am from Limpopo and a daughter to the strongest, loving, dedicated 'single mother' of 4. I grew up in church for most of my life and that’s where my faith was birthed.
Growing up I never aspired to be a Chartered Accountant. In fact, when it was time to choose my majors in high school it was not a decision that I was 100% sure of.
I knew that I struggled a lot with any science-related subjects and excelled very well in business studies! It then became an obvious choice to pursue business studies and add accounting!
As I progressed in my studies, I got introduced to the term 'Chartered Accountant' and considered it as a future career choice. However only when I began excelling in Accounting I was convinced that Chartered Accountancy would be the right choice for me!
And that’s how I decided to become a Chartered Accountant.
What Next? Applying for Study Financial Assistance
I came from a family of limited resources and thus it was not possible for my mother to fund my studies. So like most students, I applied for Bursary.
In fact, my application for this bursary can be attributed to my mother who when I was in Grade 12 went on 'Google' and typed “Accounting related bursaries”. The list was long but that’s how I started my bursary application process. I filled in all those forms and the bursary search began.
With all the applications I filled in, KPMG welcomed my application and gave me an offer. This is how my CA (SA) journey was funded until I finished my CTA studies.
After my university studies, I did my articles at KPMG. My articles firm was selected by default as I had a bursary with KPMG and that automatically meant I had a 3-year training contract after my studies, so I never struggled with applying for a firm to serve my articles.
Timeline of my 10 year long CA journey (2010-2020)
B.Com Accounting (Degree) from the University of the Free State
- After high school, I went and studied at the University of the Free State. I was fully funded by a bursary (scholarship) that I received from KPMG. I did not come from a family of wealth so I knew 'I could not lose my bursary' and hence I buried myself in my books.
- Whilst in university I was always at the library, computer lab, or in my room studying. My social life was non-existent.
- I also had 'no laptop' for the duration of my entire studies as money to fund this was not available. Hence I had to use the resources at the university. I capitalized on my time to ensure that I didn't use the lack of a laptop as a reason for my bad marks.
- Even with all that, I excelled in my academics - I finished my degree and honours in record time, with great marks on top of that.
- So this type of win made me automatically assume that this career wasn’t as hard, and if a person sat in the library, put in the time, sacrificed, and was focused then one could finish this route in record time and become a CA(SA)!
2013 B.Com Accounting (Honors)
2014 1st Attempt CTA: Failed
- CTA became the biggest challenge that tested me. I failed my first semester tests and this fail was my worst academic fail. It was a blow for me when CTA was not co-operating as I was used to passing.
- The fails continued to the 2nd semester until the end of the year. CTA humbled me and I had officially encountered my first official academic fail. In 2014, I received the official news that I would be repeating my CTA.
- I emailed my bursary holder (KPMG) and informed them of the fail and that I wanted to go back and repeat CTA. I received an email from my bursary indicating that due to my poor performance I can go back to varsity but I was placed on probation. This meant that they would reassess my bursary depending on my performance!
2015 Second Attempt CTA: Passed
- In 2015, I went back and did my 2nd attempt at CTA. By June I had failed 2 modules and passed 2. I was very disappointed in myself as I could lose my bursary. and this would be a financial strain for my mom.
- This is when I saw a miracle and my faith carried me through this season. Even with 2 fails and 2 passes the bursary lifted the probation and paid 100% of the debt that had accumulated. This was another source that fueled my ambition.
- I put in more hours, I consulted, I did all I could possibly do to ensure that I could salvage the other 2 modules that I was failing in. And luckily I managed to pass CTA on my second attempt!
2016: ITC (Board 1)
- After passing CTA, I registered and completed the UJ board course and I wrote my 1st board exams (ITC) in January 2016. I passed ITC on the first attempt.
- Now I just had to complete my articles and pass one more board exam APC (APC is considered the easiest!). In my head, I had almost made it!
SAICA articles at KPMG Johannesburg
- When I started my articles journey at KPMG Johannesburg I felt I had made it! I mean, I was in the Big 4 firms; What more could I ask for? I was ready to learn and I was so excited.
- All this excitement soon became tears as I struggled so much to understand what I was doing - I battled to link what I had studied to what corporate was offering me.
Struggling during articles
- I failed to understand working papers, I felt so out of place and I struggled to raise my hand when I was stuck. I would just suffer in silence whilst sitting in those boardrooms.
- I felt like my peers knew what they were doing, they were asking questions and I felt like I didn’t even know what to ask as I didn’t even understand what I was doing. It was so foreign. I would cry as I felt so stupid.
- I had passed my first board exams (ITC) in my first attempt but that didn’t stop me from feeling so inferior in those boardrooms.
- Luckily, a colleague who was in her 3rd year of articles (who later became a friend) saw my struggle and was able to give me the lifeline I needed. She became a sort of mentor and helped me through the first year!
- As time went by and with the help I received I began to understand and also started to contribute to the boardroom. I started to question working papers which helped me in gaining the exposure that I have gained. Through this, I learned that a questioning mind opens up the opportunity to constantly be at a place of learning.
- In my second year of articles, I started leading teams and from there I was able to learn even more!
Nov'17: Appearing for APC exams and failing the same
- So, now I had only one more hurdle to complete in order to become a CA(SA) which was the last board exams (APC)! Also, the word was if you can pass ITC then APC was actually a breeze.
- I was confident about passing APC exams as I had nailed the ITC exam on my first attempt.
- I registered and completed the APT course and my journey with APC board exams started. I was confident that in November 2017 I would write and pass the APC exam.
- November 2017, I wrote APC for the first time and in February 2018 I received the SMS from SAICA saying that I had 'failed'. This was terrible for me.
- I was broken because mentally I had a road map of my life and this detour wasn’t factored into this plan.
- With time I had to get myself off the 'pity party' and registered again with APC to complete the whole course again.
Secondment: May 2018 –July 2018 Short term secondment at KPMG UK
- I had just failed my 2nd board exam (APC). Around the same time came an internal opportunity at KPMG UK. I didn’t think that if I applied I would even qualify, but nonetheless, I had nothing to lose so I applied and hoped for the best.
- When I received the news that my application was successful, I was beyond happy and this was and still is an amazing opportunity that I am grateful for.
- This wiped away my frustrations of failing and this grace period gave me hope.
November 2018: I wrote APC for the second time and failed!
- I registered for the APC board course again in 2018 and did the entire process for the 2nd time, and guess what? I failed again! The news of failing APC for the second time hit harder than the first.
- As I indicated initially, word on the street is that if you pass CTA and ITC, then APC is a breeze. So, I felt so stupid that I am failing where I am supposed to be sailing! It killed my self-esteem.
- How could I confidently respond to my trainee’s questions during audits if I couldn’t even pass APC? What do I know? I wasn’t as confident as I used to be. Failing made me question myself.
January - May 2019: Short term secondment at KPMG US
- This second secondment happened after I had completed my SAICA 3-year articles and I was already signed off. During my final year of articles, I had applied to KPMG U.S to do my secondment there.
- I served at KPMG US in Houston, Texas for 4 months. This was also an amazing journey that I am grateful for.
November 2019: I wrote APC for the third time and I passed
- I came back from secondment in May 2019 and obviously at some point reality sunk in that I still had not passed this APC hurdle. I didn’t register for the board course this time as I was really emotionally tired of the process.
- Fast forward, I finally decided to start being serious and started practising techniques for the APC. I went through prior papers, and my scripts with the only intent to learn exam techniques and to see what the markers look for when they mark!
- February 2020 on Valentine’s Day I received an SMS that I had waited for, for the longest period of my life - I had passed APC and was now eligible to register as a qualified Chartered Accountant. (Woohoo!)
What Next? Challenges in job hunting
I had thought that after becoming a Chartered Accountant the job hunt would be easier but this has not been the case!
I started my job hunt in 2019 and what I have been praying and believing for has not yet materialized. This is the new hurdle that I am learning to be patient with.
I know better is coming and this positive attitude keeps the dream alive even more.
My setbacks have prepared me, and I know that it may take longer than anticipated but giving up on my dreams will never be my story.
My faith in God carried me and kept me from literally throwing in the towel. I got disappointed but I knew this was my dream and it might be delayed but I knew I was never going to give up on it.
I told a friend that “I was tired of failing, but I am never going to give up. I wasn’t going to be responsible for dimming my own dreams."
The virtual social media world we live in, where we are constantly seeing wins of our peers, can easily make you feel behind...but always remember it’s your race and if this is the dream you have don’t be the one that kills it by giving up!
Don’t compare your journey. Some cruise, some sail.
Keep at it. Seek help when you feel you need help. Use the resources available to help you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from those who have walked or are walking similar journeys.
Vhonani Ndwambi, is a CA(SA) and has worked in various clients (Listed and Unlisted) ranging from manufacturing, mining, investments, and contact centre. She has also worked at KPMG in SA, UK, and US from 2016 till 2019 in the Energy and Resources industry.
Now It's Your Turn...
Do you have a goal that you want to achieve? Or are you feeling bogged down with the challenges?
Tell us your story in the comments. And don’t forget to share this with your friends.