Being a chartered accountant opens all kinds of doors in corporate South Africa - almost 40% of South Africa's CEOs are chartered accountants. The average JSE-listed business has more than 2 CAs(SA) on its board. But becoming one is not easy: It involves some seven years of studying towards a degree majoring in accounting, a post-graduate course focusing on the theory of accounting, signing a training contract with an auditing firm and, then, two gruelling exams, the initial test of competence and final assessment of professional competence (APC).
A total of 3,037 candidates sat for the APC in November 2018, which the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) says is the highest figure recorded.
In February 2019, only 2,080 received good news that they've passed their final assessment and are now a registration away from using the coveted CA(SA) designation next to their names.
The 68% pass rate was however, the lowest in five years.
Some 2,529 were taking the APC for the first time, while 508 were repeating the assessment. More than 72- first-timers and nearly half of the repeaters failed the APC, making it the highest number of failed candidates in a long time.
Almost 48% of the 1,219 black candidates that took the APC failed - compared to the pass rate for coloured (73%), Indian (78%) and white (86%) candidates. .
The lower pass rate is "a reflection of various factors including the significant increase in the number of repeat candidates who sat in November, as well as the quality of prospective CAs(SA) coming out of South Africa’s disruptive tertiary environment," says Mandi Olivier, SAICA's senior executive of professional development.
"While, on the face of it, it [declining pass rate] may seem negative," Olivier says "it is proof of SAICA’s continued commitment to producing CAs(SA) of the highest standard."
"What is particularly satisfying," adds Oliver, "is the number and diversity of the 12 candidates who earned a place on SAICA’s prestigious APC honours roll," which includes three from embattled audit firm, KPMG.
KPMG has more South African-based candidates on the honours roll than any other firm. According to SAICA, the honours roll is made up of candidates who demonstrate exceptional performance and show the greatest insight into the way they complete the case study tasks.
While it also had three candidates, two of Deloitte's candidates were doing their learnerships with its London office. Nedbank was second with two candidates in top 12.
KPMG has been embroiled in various auditing scandals for work relating to Gupta-related entities, the South African Revenue Service and VBS.
SAICA says it will be engaging with audit firms as well as professional programme providers to identify the reasons behind the drop in pass rates.
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