How to Become an Accountant in South Africa

Everything you need to know about becoming an Accountant in SA

The South African financial sector is in growing need of qualified accountants. Every company has a finance department, which means there is a huge demand for those skilled in accountancy.

What does a Professional Accountant do?

Accountants are tasked with giving clear records of financial transactions for either an individual or a business. The job can be quite demanding but can open you up to career opportunities within almost any industry. Tax season is generally the busiest time of year in accounting, and there is also the chance of assisting in examinations and audits of financial records. There is a lot of flexibility in the type of accounting you can do, from monitoring the books of private individuals to conducting financial studies for large-scale corporations.

Some typical accounting activities include:

  • Planning and budget meetings
  • Assisting with strategic planning to control costs
  • Performing independent reviews
  • Checking the financial practices follow the law
  • Balancing accounts and preparing financial documents
  • Providing recommendations on investment opportunities
  • Preparing tax returns
  • Entering and monitoring financial data

What is SAIPA?

The South African Institute of Professional Accountants (SAIPA) represents all Professional Accountants practising in South Africa’s commerce, industry, academia and public sectors. Boasting a membership of more than 10 000 Professional Accountants, SAIPA contributes to the advancement of the local accountancy profession, influencing legislation and constantly transforming to keep abreast of business, financial and social developments in the country and internationally. SAIPA is a professional body registered with the South African Qualification Authority (SAQA) and has a number of registered professional designations.

What do I need to study to become an accountant?

School subjects:

At high school level, you will need to choose Mathematics (Not Maths Literacy) and Accounting (preferably), matriculating with marks that will ensure you get a university pass. This will lay the foundation in accountancy and financial knowledge, while also instilling the correct logic and process of thinking to succeed in the profession.

Tertiary subjects:

After matric, you will need to enrol in a tertiary institute and complete a Bachelor of Commerce degree – or equivalent qualification at a SAIPA-accredited institution. The core subjects you’ll be studying are:

  • Financial Accounting 3
  • Taxation
  • Auditing 1 OR Internal Auditing
  • Commercial Law
  • Finance OR Management Accounting 3


Having successfully earned your Bachelor of Commerce degree, you will need to gain invaluable work experience in a three-year learnership at a SAIPA-Accredited Training Centres (ATC).

Professional Evaluation (PE) Exam:

Having completed your learnership, you can then tackle the final hurdle, which is the SAIPA PE exam. Trainees can take the exam, either in May or November, at various venues countrywide. This is a four-hour written competency exam that determines your ability to integrate academic knowledge with practical workplace experience.

What does a chartered accountant do?

Chartered Accountants (CA) are generally employed within the commerce, industrial or non-profit sector. A CA will undergo more training than an accountant including an academic post-graduate programme followed by at least three years under a mentorship. The work’s focus is generally the provision of accurate records of all financial transactions for an individual or business.

What is SAICA?

The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) is a professional accountancy body in South Africa with more than 36 000 members. SAICA provides support, advice and services to its CA members throughout their professional lives.

What do I need to study to become a CA?

Your high school subjects and undergraduate degree will follow the same lines as a Professional Accountant, however, you must ensure that the qualification is accredited by SAICA. You will then need to complete a Certificate in the Theory of Accounting (CTA) or equivalent qualification which is a post-graduate course focusing on Accounting, Auditing, Taxation and Financial Management. As with a PA, a CA must complete a three-year learnership programme at a SAICA-registered training office. During this time, you will be studying towards your Certificate in the Theory of Accounting (CTA) which you’ll need to pass before going onto the next step. The CTA is valid for three years.

Part-Time Study

If you’ve passed matric with pure maths and will be studying part-time, you can enter into a training contract with a SAICA-registered training office. During these 5 years, you will study towards your CTA or equivalent.

Pass the exams:

  1. After this, you will need to pass two SAICA professional exams, the first of which is the Initial Test of Competence (ITC) written in January or June every year.
  2. After passing the ITC, 20 months of registered training with a SAICA-accredited training office, and completion of the professional programme, you qualify to write the Assessment of Professional Competence (APC).

On successful completion of this, you can register as a CA(SA) with SAICA.

What are some of the benefits of an accounting career?

As mentioned, accountancy skills are in big demand countrywide, which is why choosing a profession in accounting is a sound choice. But here are some more benefits to consider:

  1. Solid skills’ base
    The practical skills and financial knowledge learnt when studying a career in accounting are beneficial across various industries. You also have a clear career path and understanding of where your career is heading.
  2. Job stability
    As the saying goes, there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes – which is why almost every business requires an accountant. It’s a stable job choice with good prospects.
  3. Career growth
    Although you will start at the bottom rung, with accountancy you can quickly work your way up the ladder. There’s no limit to career success, you just need to decide how far you want to take it.
  4. Financial security
    Depending on which career path you choose, there are benefits associated with the company that hires you. Additionally, an entry-level accountant will earn roughly R285 000 per year with an entry-level CA earning R406 000.
  5. Workplace flexibility
    Because of the need for accountants everywhere, you can choose where you want to be based. Anywhere from the coast or mountains to city living – you decide! There are different career paths to choose from, including financial and corporate accounting.

If you have a proficiency in accounting and a passion for numbers, then pursuing a career in accounting is a really worthwhile consideration. It opens the doors for international job opportunities and the chance to work in whichever industry you prefer.