To celebrate international youth day, The Accountant and International Accounting Bulletin asks professionals aged under 35 to share their thoughts on the profession: why they qualify as accountants, whether it was challenging and, now that they are in, how they see the profession and where it is going.

Sapna Galal

Finance and operations director, IFAS (French Institute of South Africa)

From a very young age, I have had a strong drive to succeed. Growing up in a tiny town, I was not influenced by, nor was I accustomed to, city life. My strong belief is in the importance of education and that the secret it holds in improving oneself both mentally and spiritually remains hidden.  I am an introvert by nature but I love being surrounded by different personalities and enthusiastic minds with different viewpoints. My passion is dance, watching movies, reading novels and spending time with my young family. I am happily married with two kids, who are my heart and soul. I see them and envision a better and brighter future with promise and hope.

During my high school years, I chose Accounting and Mathematics as my subject choices, including Biology and Physical Science. I always dreamed of becoming a doctor. I excelled at accounting and enjoyed tutoring my fellow students whenever they required help. Balancing the balance sheet and cash flow statement became my adrenalin. It dawned on me that I was very adept and had a knack for accounting. A career day at school opened my eyes and suddenly it became clear. In conversation with qualified accountants I realised the doors that this profession could open, which greatly excited me. One of the carrots that drew me to the field was the possibility of going on a secondment internationally. 

When the time came for applications to tertiary institutions, I applied for the Bachelor of Accounting degrees at both RAU (now The University of Johannesburg) and University of Witwatersrand. Fortunately, I was accepted at both but chose Witwatersrand to complete my studies.  I remained ambitious and focused on my end goal which was to qualify as a CA. I chose studying over University rendezvous and Friday night socials. As much as I enjoyed the University life, lectures and tutorials were my first priority. It was a four year degree and I did not want to extend it in anyway. I consider myself quite blessed to have had the opportunity to live at home while studying. Without the support and constant meals from my mum the journey would have been much longer, arduous and strenuous.

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I first entered the profession in doing articles at the global firm, PwC. It came as a surprise, the ease with which everyone let their hair down, enjoyed what they did and the humour which bandied about during my every day work day. It totally scrounged the stereotype of accountants being boring. I was always enlightened when conversing with like-minded individuals and this was the most fun time of my career. The big picture started coming together as all the facets started overlapping.

I see the profession as a leading light amongst many others and I always hold hope in what influence we, as CA’s are having the world over. A large number of CA’s are CEO’s of JSE Listed entities from a local perspective, and the profession is held in high esteem generally. I am in awe of CA’s doing great things in various industries and sectors, may it long continue.

I didn’t experience much difficulty due to the open mind with which I approached everything. Maybe it was naivety but I think this helped me to exude confidence and be open to learning. Initially when you enter the profession you are at the prime of your ability levels and enthusiasm to achieve, be it academically or professionally. The statements are new and fresh in your mind and become second nature. Calculations, formulae, models could be rattled off effortlessly. You soon realise that you are in demand for that and welcomed. As the time passes, the diversity is enhanced and you get more involved in varying topics, ranging from governance to strategy to finance.

I’ve witnessed many initiatives carried out by SAICA, targeting young CA’s and aspiring students. This leads me to believe the focus is there but visible presence would go a long way to encouraging students and exposing the profession, whilst demonstrating the benefits of becoming a CA in South Africa. After joining the private education system in SA in 2015, I was surprised that most of my students had not even heard of SAICA or how to become a CA.  After providing them with some background and guidance regarding the profession, most were keen to learn more about pursuing this career path. The footprint needs to be broader, whilst targeted campaigns need to be more focused and accessible across both government and private schooling circles. To me there isn’t enough out there in terms of ‘showing off’ the value proposition of becoming a CA as it truly makes the world your oyster.

I think that the profession has evolved tremendously in the last 10-15 years, which has resulted in CA’s needing to be more competent and diverse in areas of strategy, finance and operations no matter what their roles in organisations. CFO’s for example, have become most critical in influencing key decision-making and on the dependence placed on them by organisations in general. Given this, I see big changes going forward in the continuous need for the profession to transition from typical reporting accountants to fully-fledged, technology-driven professionals who can rove across any area of the business in order to drive varying initiatives, from cost optimisation to strategic growth. A big threat to the profession is that the accounting function will be automated via the use of bots and AI, rendering the repetitive finance tasks becoming redundant in terms of human intervention. 

My generation brings a new dimension to the workplace, which normally means continuous stimulation and also a need for immediate recognition and appreciation. This has pros and cons but I think this is mostly positive, in that, it drives urgency and results in an organisation. More and more I believe that this generation will have greater influence on a senior level in terms of knowledge and technological know-how, where C-suite executives will rely on this to drive strategy and operational results. From an accounting standpoint, sorting the relevant from the immaterial will result in the streamlining of standards, governance requirements, ethics and provision of admissible tax advice.

Fintech, Disruptive Technologies and Innovation are some hot topics that I would like to highlight as critical reading and exploration in terms of thought leadership. Generally, I think that all professionals need to be more aware of how the world and profession moves forward at a rapid pace and the impact that this can have on all of us.