Bernard Agulhas

Bernard Agulhas
Bernard Agulhas

A Chartered Accountant (SA) and Registered Public Sector Financial Officer with over thirty years’ tenure in the auditing and accounting profession, and until recently eleven years as CEO of the Independent Regulatory Board for Auditors (IRBA), the audit regulator, Bernard commenced his career as a CA(SA) when he enrolled at Rhodes University in 1981 to study a Bachelor of Commerce degree.

Bernard completed his schooling in Gelvandale, Gqeberha, where he grew up, and as he and his parents could not envisage a career in art, one of his other passions, he decided to pursue his love of accounting.

Following his time at Rhodes University, he joined one of the ‘Big Four’ audit and accounting firms where he completed his articles of clerkship back in Gqeberha and later transferred to the former Transkei and eventually to Gauteng to expand his experience and outlook.   

The following 30 years equipped him well in obtaining experience in leadership and technical capability (audit, accounting, ethics, governance), regulation, stakeholder relationship management, media liaison, strategy development, change management and communications – a journey which culminated in him being appointed as the CEO at the IRBA from 2008 to 2020.

In addition to leading and maintaining the effective operation of the organization, during which period South Africa was ranked in the number one position globally for its auditing and reporting standards by the World Economic Forum for seven consecutive years, Bernard acted as principal spokesperson for the IRBA and developed a public persona through numerous interviews on radio, television and in the printed media. His position enabled him to develop strong networks within the media fraternity and engaging with key stakeholders including international bodies, professional bodies, regulators, government, parliament, the profession, and investors. Most importantly, he created a platform for ensuring that the IRBA’s mission to protect the financial interest of the South African public and international investors was consistently held top of mind.

Prior to becoming Chief Executive Officer, Bernard was the Technical Director at the IRBA, largely responsible for audit and ethics standard setting for the auditing profession, adoption and implementation of the International Standards on Auditing (ISA) in South Africa and participation in the international standard setting activities of the International Federation of Accountants’ (IFAC) International Auditing and Assurance Standards Board (IAASB), as technical advisor to the South African member, as well as providing technical support on the redrafting of three ISAs for the IAASB. He has always been of the firm belief that South Africa should be a globally respected player if it was going to participate in international activities involving the accounting and auditing profession.

During 2001 to 2003 as Project Director - Technical at the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA), the South African professional and IFAC member body, Bernard was responsible for the public sector of the local profession. During this period, he was technical advisor to the South African member on the international public sector accounting standard setting body of IFAC.

Prior to joining SAICA, he headed up the technical department at the Office of the Auditor General from 1998 to 2001. During this time, he was responsible for harmonising and implementing the private sector auditing standards in the public sector and participated in the development of the Public Finance Management Act, the legislation which covers the national and provincial spheres of government. This period equipped him well to better understand the public sector environment in which the profession also plays a major role.

From 1983 to 1995 Bernard lectured and tutored part-time for various educational institutions including Rhodes University, WITS University and the University of Transkei and continues to mentor aspirant professionals, in and outside of the accountancy profession.

Until 2020, he was a board member of the IFAC International Accounting Education Standards Board (IAESB) and chairman of the Professional Skepticism Behavioral Competency Task Force and was also a founding member of the International Forum of Independent Audit Regulators (IFIAR), which consists of over 50 jurisdictions world-wide, and was appointed to its first Board and as the first chairman of the IFIAR Audit Committee. He also chaired the IFIAR Standards Coordination Working Group (SCWG) for four years.

Bernard always believed that his international experience and opportunities should also benefit his home continent and became a founding member and deputy chairman of the African Forum of Independent Audit and Accounting Regulators (AFIAAR), the African counterpart of IFIAR.

He also believed that it is better to influence rather than simply adopt international standards and grabbed opportunities to serve as a member on the IAASB Audit Quality Framework Task Force and Professional Skepticism Task Force based on his unwavering commitment to strengthen audit quality and auditor behaviors.

Bernard is a member of the King Committee on Corporate Governance, the body responsible for developing best practice in governance in the private and public sectors in South Africa and chaired its subcommittee on Climate Change which was tasked to develop guidance to Directors on climate-related matters.

Most recent achievements as the audit regulator were the introduction of Mandatory Audit Firm Rotation to strengthen auditor independence in South Africa, and tabling proposals to the Minister of Finance for a Comprehensive Regulator Model which will spread accountability of all role-players in the financial reporting ecosystem. During April 2021, the President signed into legislation the amendments to the audit legislation, which included proposals to strengthen the independence and oversight of the audit regulator as well as introduce stricter sanctions for auditors.

Since leaving the IRBA at the end of June 2020 at the end of his last CEO contract, Bernard assisted the Commission of Enquiry with respect to the role of accountants and auditors in alleged state capture with the objective of making recommendations to the President of South Africa.

He currently chairs the Examination Board of the South African Institute of Government Auditors, the body responsible for qualifying auditors and accountants to deliver services in the public sector and is a board member and chair of the audit committee of the Field Band Foundation, a Non - Profit Organisation which empowers the youth through music to become ready for their future careers. 

A few of Bernard’s other achievements over his career in the accounting and auditing profession includes:

  • Developing and implementing a strategy for restoring confidence in the reputation of the auditing profession, following the multiple audit failures over the past few years.
  • Implementing measures to transform the profession to be more representative of the demographics of SA.
  • Ensuring that the IRBA is recognised as an equivalent regulator by the European Union and Swiss Oversight Authority.
  • Facilitating and chairing a committee consisting of regulators, the profession, professional institutes and governance bodies to develop responses and steer South Africa through the challenges presented by the COVID 19 Pandemic.
  • Establishing a function to support Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) following an intervention under the then leadership of the Minister of Trade and Industry.

Bernard’s mission has always been along the following lines:” If we can ensure the highest audit quality and the right auditor behavior, such as independence and ethics, users of auditor’s reports can rely on the auditor’s opinion on a set of financial statements. This does not only contribute to users basing their economic decisions on sound information and opinions, but also identifies potential business failures at an early stage, which often comes at a cost of billions of Rands to the public. Confidence and trust which emanate from reliable information will go a long way towards securing efficient financial markets, a robust economy and, ultimately, the protection of the public, investors and pensioners”.