Four of the top twelve candidates in the 2019 Chartered Accountant (CA) assessments in South Africa are from Deloitte. Two each of the top twelve came from EY and PwC respectively, while only one came from KPMG, the last of the Big Four accounting and advisory firms.
The results represent a significant shift in competencies, not only among the Big Four accounting advisory firms, but the entire candidate pool as a whole. KPMG was the top performer in the 2018 evaluations and slipped to last of the Big Four this year, while the overall pass rate among candidates also registered a sharp decline.
Where the pass rate was well over 68% in 2018, it has dipped to just under 57% in the 2019 results, marking the worst pass rate in six years. The results have sparked concerns among officials at the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA). Freeman Nomvalo of the SAICA acknowledged that the tests were a significant challenge.
“To pass, candidates must demonstrate high levels of the skills employers have told us they want in the next generation of CAs. It’s gruelling but it’s exactly the kind of challenge successful candidates will soon face as qualified CAs,” said Nomvalo.The results are particularly concerning at a time when the accounting profession in South Africa is looking to reform and rejuvenate its reputation. The profession has come under sharp scrutiny following a series of scandals and incidences of financial malpractice, creating the need for more committed accountants in the country.
KPMG, which has slipped in performance this year, was caught up in the scandals and has had to undergo significant restructuring efforts to re-establish itself as a trustworthy firm. The Big Four accounting and advisory firm has been among the most vocal when it comes to rejuvenating the accounting profession and reassessing priorities.
Nevertheless, the results were not all bleak for the SAICA. The overall pass rate might have declined, but the 2019 evaluations saw increasing participation from female and black candidates alike, both communities that have been historically marginalised in the business environment.
While the pass rate among black candidates fell from 48% to 43% between 2018 and 2019, the absolute number of successful black candidates increased from 638 to 934. Nomvalo states that the growing numbers are the result of targeted SAICA efforts, which have seen black membership below the age of 35 rise from 3% in 2002 to 25% in 2020.