Maths, a degree, a CA: These are nice to have, not accounting essentials

A degree or maths isn’t the one and only entry level skill set to the accounting profession. Picture: iStock/Gallo Images
A degree or maths isn’t the one and only entry level skill set to the accounting profession. Picture: iStock/Gallo Images

A recent report that the accounting profession faces a crisis because learners avoid mathematics is interesting.

There are a number of myths circulating among learners about the accounting profession that need to be dispelled.

1. Accountants must have degrees

Some professional bodies state as a requirement that their members must have accounting degrees.

There are, however, other professional bodies that allow persons with national diplomas in accounting to become members.

In fact, there are professional bodies that award people with the status of certified financial accountant after they completed a national diploma and after they have a certain amount of work experience.

In addition, there are a number of international professional bodies that allow persons with a national diploma in accounting to do additional professional exams and board exams so that they could get the status of certified chartered accountant.

Thereafter, they could progress into other professional programs focusing related accounting disciplines such as ethics, auditing and governance.

2. All accountants must be CAs

The majority of school leavers are under the impression that they cannot practice as accountants unless they are chartered accountants.

Also, they are under the impression that they have to be auditors in order to practice as accountants.

The reality is that only 2% of South African businesses need the service of auditors. The rest of South African businesses need the service of professional financial accountants.

This means that people with a national diploma in accounting and with recognition from a professional body could create their own accounting practice in line with the professional body’s mandates.

3. Without a degree there are no accounting jobs

It is true that the big accounting firms ask for a degree.The industry does not realise that some professional exams have a required pass mark of 60% compared with a required pass mark of 50% for degree programmes.

The argument that a degreed accountant is better qualified than a person with only a national diploma, must be reconsidered.

Also, considering that people with national diplomas can do most accounting functions except auditing (which is an element of the degree programme), should be cause for employers to reconsider their views.

4. Accountants must have mathematics

Accountants need numeracy skills, good language skills and good reasoning skills. Mastering algebra does not necessarily transform someone into a master accountant.

A strong foundation in arithmetic serves many professional accountants well, unless one has an ambition to become an auditor, actuary or forensic accountant.

Experience has shown that a student with 60% mathematics literacy is better equipped to master work in the national diploma (accounting, business management, entrepreneurship and office administration) than someone with 50% in mathematics core.

They may not be able to go to university but there are so many alternatives that they could become very proficient accountants over time.

5. There are no jobs but there is work

The days of any qualification being an automatic ticket to a job are over. It can take a graduate up to three years to land a first interview.

Instead, persons with national diplomas and other qualifications that are recognised by professional bodies need to consider starting their own practices, providing services to the many small and medium businesses that cannot afford the big-ticket price tags of some providers.

For this reason, there are a few small business support centres in Gauteng that can help the youth to start their own businesses at a very small cost.

Professional bodies are rightfully concerned that their ranks could shrink in the future.

Public and private tertiary education will have to become more aware of the different routes that are available to professional accountants. Like in other professions, different core functions require different skill sets.

But to argue that a degree or mathematics is the one and only entry level skill set to the accounting profession is not the whole story.

Peter van Nieuwenhuizen is chief financial officer of the Growth Institute, a private college offering a range of commercial, tourism and hotel management programmes.


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