(c) Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada. Contact CPA Canada for permission to reproduce this article., (c) The Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada. Contact CPA Canada for permission to reproduce this article.


By Kerry Anne Pursey CA(SA)

Financial and audit management are core to every business that operates both locally and internationally.

The career path in becoming either a financial manager or an audit manager will commence in the same manner. However, when you have completed all the relevant requirements in becoming a CA(SA), a decision needs to be taken on what path to pursue. All audit managers are required to be CAs(SA), however, not all financial managers require this.

The choice between public (audit) and private (financial management) will change your career progression for the remainder of your career. One is not necessarily better or worse than the other, however, the skill sets, expectations and lifestyles each are vastly different.

The basic skills (including soft skills) required for both career choices are the same:

Business minded

Public, or rather auditors, work for external companies as auditors, business advisors or tax consultants, providing evaluation and an independent outsider’s view to management and the oversight boards.

Private or financial managers work internally within a company and use their knowledge to record transactions, perform financial planning for the business and ensure compliance with external regulatory bodies.

There are advantages and disadvantages in both career paths:

Advantages of being a financial manager are that one gets to assist a company in its strategic plans and one has significant influence on the path the company takes. Financial managers take full responsibility for the financial functions from controls to the financial statements. If your interests do not lie in the banking institutions then you can look into companies that suit your lifestyle, for example, outdoor living and a less corporate life.

In the private sector, whether the financial manager or advisor role, you get to learn the company in depth. However, you may not be exposed to other areas of interest.

Advantage of being an audit manager are that the job entails variety in terms of the companies that one audits as you could be auditing a retail company on Monday and a casino on Friday. Audit managers are extremely marketable both locally and abroad, and with’CA(SA)’ being recognised in most countries overseas, the world is your oyster.

Working in public practice or as an auditor gives you much more exposure to more diverse industries, different company structures and various management styles. The audit industry is ever changing with regard to engagement teams, issues that the companies face and the accounts under audit. Although this will provide you with a base of industries that may interest you, the ultimate decision of your area of specialisation remains high level as opposed to it being in-depth.

The key duties and tasks of a financial manager are:

delivering the overall business plan through financially managing the company to meet its obligations,
establishing policies and procedures over assets, liabilities, income and expenditure within the business,
preparing the annual financial statements,
reviewing and reporting on the financial status of the company,
ensuring financial corporate governance, and
ensuring the company adheres to all legal obligations with regard to the Companies Act, IFRS and tax compliance.

The key duties and tasks of an audit manager are:

planning and scoping audit engagements,
overseeing the execution of the audit procedures, and
reviewing the audit outcome to ensure significant issues and risk areas have been addressed.

The transition from audit to financial can be a difficult one; however, in most audit firms, part of the training is to manage staff, which is required for any financial management position. A study performed in the USA a number of years ago concluded that auditors who completed their traineeship and then stayed within audit gained invaluable management of people experience, thereby making the move to the financial management sphere less challenging as opposed to when auditors leave as soon as their traineeship has completed.

When choosing a career, it is always important to consider what are your long-term goals, and whether the private or the public specialty will best accommodate this. Work/life balance is a term that has been thrown around for quite some time now. In choosing public or private this needs to be taken into consideration, as the public sector is a very deadline driven industry and one moves from client to client with their year ends. This is in contrast to the private sector where depending on your seniority within the company, the peak periods are once a year on the financial year end and monthly closing of the accounts. However for the majority of time there is a standard work week.

Whether you commence in private or public – although in order to become a CA (SA), public is the route the majority take due to available traineeships – the array of experience you gain, looks great on a CV and allows you time to specialise in any industry. Most people do not struggle when moving from audit industry to private industry, however, the other way is somewhat harder.

For those working in the private sector there is an assortment of opportunities available, such as:

financial managers
financial planning and as analysts
group accounting
internal auditing
general management
Project management etc.

Although it is difficult to decide on a clear career path when you are required to start studying, an accountant or indeed a CA(SA) opens up doors to many different career paths and is not limited to any one industry or final destination. The world becomes your oyster and it’s up to you to find the pearl.

Kerry Anne Pursey CA(SA), former Financial Manager, SAICA.

This article was originally published in the February 2012 issue of ASA.