The cushy life of a CA. A steal at R10 a day, make it R20.

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The cushy life of a CA. A steal at R10 a day, make it R20.
The cushy life of a CA. A steal at R10 a day, make it R20.

This is Matthew Lester at his best, he’s questioning the R10 a day he pays to be a Chartered Accountant. It’s a brief look into the ordinary life of a CA, one which Lester says is privileged and the R10 a day is a small price to pay. Granted it takes up to 10 years for some to reach this point. But it’s such a good life, during and post retirement, that he says the fee should be bumped up to R20 a day and made more accessible to all by doubling the extent of the Thuthuka programme. Better yet, most CA’s wouldn’t even notice as their subscription is paid by their employers, with no fringe benefit taxes. It’s some classic tongue in cheek from the tax guru, and he says anyone who struggles with accounting, tax and auditing, should maybe look at the MBA option. – Stuart Lowman

By Matthew Lester*

Net of the tax deduction it costs me more than R10 per day to call myself a Chartered Accountant, CA(SA). And paying this year’s membership subscription to SAICA was made even worse by SAICA’s snazzy app that I couldn’t get to work. So I couldn’t access the tax invoice. Why SAICA cannot just email a pdf is beyond me.

I tried to call SAICA and was left dying on an automatic answering service telling me that SAICA has moved from Bruma Lake to Fricker Road, Illovo. Very smart.

All this frustration left me thinking ‘is a career as a CA(SA) really all is staked up to be?’

The SAICA call center recording says the CA(SA) qualification makes for great business leaders. Maybe not. Yes, generally I find CA’s great team players. They really love committees and meetings. But seldom have I encountered CA’s as the dog-eat-dog business leader types.

What I would say about CA’s is that they are very nice people. Some of the nicest people one could ever hope to meet. They just are! Maybe the genuine shits in business plugged the CA(SA) board exam and have a life-long chip about it.

I say that SAICA are leaders in transformation. Chantel Mulder’s crusade with the Thuthuka development programme is just a fantastic achievement that goes far beyond the benchmark. Last year the Thuthuka students at the University of Johannesburg achieved a higher pass rate in final year exams than their peers. Anyone who gets on the Thuthuka programme should count their blessings. As a CA (SA) I am proud of that.

But there are other blessings inherent to the CA(SA).

Most know that the money is good. But qualify that with that it takes a good 10 years of study and training before the CA(SA) starts to pay. It doesn’t come that easy.

CA’s rarely have to get their hands dirty. There’s no mucking around with anatomy or body fluids or go gazing into open mouths or other places. Some say dentists and proctologists are expensive. But I wouldn’t do that, even for ready money. Anyway my fingers are just too big.

Unlike vets CA’s rarely get hurt at work. And they don’t have to deal with neurotic animal owners either.

I wouldn’t say that any candidate CA(SA) can just walk into a training contract after university. But they find training contracts easier than those trying to enter the legal profession. And they rarely have to defend the indefensible, no matter what.

There is no Zuma year for the CA(SA). Not that it would do much harm. They could make a huge contribution in the fight against corruption.

There is a problem. The CA(SA) qualification travels so well that far to many of our young CA’s leave SA shortly after qualifying. And many never come back, except maybe for a holiday. Yes, unfortunately, a CA(SA) is probably the best one way ticket out of here.

Those that leave don’t land up doing gymnastics on top of buildings in Dubai like the engineers. Or dodging lumps of falling coal down a mine. Working conditions for CA’s are very safe and comfortable.

All of the above and more make the CA(SA) a very comfortable profession for younger people. But what about later on in life?

Any CA(SA) with a laptop can do more or less what they want for the rest of their lives. That’s pretty cool for some. ‘Do what you love’ said Steve Jobs. You can generally live up to that with a CA(SA).  Doing the same old thing for the 50 years that is a career is a a depressing prospect for anyone with ambition.

And then comes the big advantage. Because the CA (SA) works in a safe, molly-coddled environment, when they get to 65 there is still a future. Many CA’s work to 70 or more. That makes the CA(SA) qualification a pension in itself, and hopefully keeps the mind alive for longer. Yes, nothing kills more people than retirement.

R10 a day for all this privilege is a small price to pay. Perhaps we should make it R20 a day and make the CA(SA) more accessible to all by doubling the extent of the Thuthuka programme. Most CA’s wouldn’t even notice as their subscription is paid by their employers, with no fringe benefits tax.

But what about those who just cannot get to grips with accounting, auditing and tax? Well, the MBA qualifications have come a long way since they entered the world of 3BL, people, planet and profit. Any graduate should have a closer look at what the modern MBA is all about.

  • Rhodes University Professor Matthew Lester was educated at St Johns College, Wits and Rhodes universities. He is a chartered accountant who has worked at Deloitte, SARS and BDO Spencer Steward. A member of the Davis Tax Committee investigating the structure of aspects of the RSA tax system, he is based in Grahamstown.

By Matthew Lester