Authored by: Karl Smith, Education, Training and Membership Manager at the South African Institute of Professional Accountants (SAIPA)
If you’re a professional recruiter and a client asks you to source an accountant, you might immediately think of a CA. Or perhaps they specifically request a CA because they’re unfamiliar with the various accountancy designations.
However, not all accountants are CAs. There are many other designations in the accountancy profession, each signifying a specialisation or range of expertise.
Recruiters who know and source the right designations will match their clients with the type of accountants best suited to the position on offer.
South Africa is home to several professional bodies which, in the accountancy field, are called professional accountancy organisations (PAOs). The designation an accountant holds depends on which PAO they are a member of. Below is a list of the main bodies and a short description of their popular designations, which are also registered on the SAQA database.
SAIPA (South African Institute of Professional Accountants)
Professional Accountant (SA) – SAIPA’s signature designation – performs all accountancy duties except signing off public financial statements and independent audits but including independent reviews.
After obtaining a SAIPA-approved degree, graduates who wish to become a Professional Accountant (SA), must complete three years of practical training at a SAIPA Approved Training Centre (ATC).
The designation is well positioned to provide accountancy services and strategic business advice to SMMEs and large organisations alike. In recognition of the need for excellence in business advisory to stimulate economic growth, the Institute has established a Centre of Business Advisory (CoBA). Both members and non-members who qualify may gain access to the Centre.
Professional Tax Specialist (SA), Professional Tax Practitioner (SA) – Because of the complexity of the processes and laws related to tax, these designations specialise in providing the full range of tax services. In addition, Professional Tax Specialists perform higher-level duties, such as writing tax opinions, mediating tax disputes and representing tax payers in court.
At the time of writing, SAIPA is celebrating 40 years of dedicated service to the accountancy profession, distinguishing it from newer bodies and those administered on a part-time basis.
SAICA (South African Institute of Chartered Accountants)
CA(SA) - A Chartered Accountant can perform all accountancy functions. In addition, as a Registered Auditor (RA) with the IRBA (see below), only a CA can legally carry out an independent audit of an organisation’s financial compliance and give professional assurance of its public financial statements.
IRBA (Independent Regulatory Board of Auditors)
RA (Registered Auditor) – By law, many organisations – especially those listed on the JSE – must be audited annually for financial compliance by a qualified independent professional. Only Registered Auditors, who must be CAs, may perform this function.
ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants)
ACCA (Associated Chartered Certified Accountant) – This designation aims for the broadest set of skills across different sectors and can perform all accounting duties. Unlike their UK counterparts, South African ACCA members cannot sign off public financial statements or perform independent audits.
CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants)
ACMA (Associate Chartered Management Accountant) – Whereas financial accountants assess the value of past business, management accountants use financial data for planning and forecasting. They therefore facilitate strategic decision-making and help business leaders improve corporate performance.
IAC (Institute of Accounting and Commerce)
FAC (Financial Accountant in Commerce), FAP (Financial Accountant in Practice) and IAP (Independent Accounting Professional) – These designations focus on the preparation of financial statements, the duties of an accounting officer and performing independent reviews, respectively, in support of Section 29 of the Companies Act, 71 of 2008.
SAIGA (South African Institute of Government Auditors)
RGA (Registered Government Auditor) – The RGA offers the same impartial assurance and compliance services to the public sector that the CA does to the private sector. This includes independent auditing of government entities and professional assurance on the validity of their financial statements.
SAIT (South African Institute of Tax Professionals)
GTP SA (General Tax Practitioner), MTP SA (Master Tax Practitioner) - Tax laws and processes are so complex that some accountants specialise exclusively in this area. General Tax Practitioners offer general tax services while Master Tax Practitioners must have 10 years experience with appropriate qualifications.
IIA (Institute of Internal Auditors South Africa)
PIA (Professional Internal Auditor), CIA (Certified Internal Auditor) – Internal auditors do the same work as a CA but from inside an organisation. They are employed or engaged to ensure the organisation remains compliant and their financial statements are correct before an independent audit takes place. Of course, they must be competent accountants to assume this role.
The right accountant
Apart from independent audits, all accountants are qualified to perform every other accountancy duty. However, specialists have greater experience in one area while other designations offer better experience over a range of services.
Knowing the experience profile of the different designations will help recruiters identify the most suitable accountant for a position. For this, their clients will be most grateful.
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