Adapting to the Evolving Accounting Sector in South Africa: Insights for Business Owners

Table of Contents

As the accounting sector in South Africa undergoes significant changes, business owners face new challenges. This guide offers insights into adapting to evolving regulations, talent shortages, and industry trends, helping businesses stay resilient and informed in this dynamic environment.

The Decline in Accountant Numbers

The decrease in the number of accountants in South Africa is a significant concern for the industry. This decline is driven by various factors, including an increase in emigration and the growing trend of remote work, which has opened up global opportunities for local professionals. Furthermore, the accounting sector is witnessing a trend where individuals are leaving the profession, possibly due to the increased pressure and regulatory scrutiny following recent financial scandals. This dwindling number of accounting professionals poses potential challenges for businesses in terms of securing qualified accounting expertise, which is crucial for accurate financial reporting and adherence to compliance standards. As a result, understanding and addressing these causes is vital for ensuring the sustainability and effectiveness of financial management in South African businesses.​

Causes of the Decline

Emigration and remote work trends.

The increasing trend of emigration and the allure of remote work have significantly impacted the accounting profession in South Africa. Professionals are seeking opportunities in first-world countries, contributing to a talent and skills shortage within the local industry. This trend is compounded by the global shift towards remote work, which offers professionals the flexibility to work from anywhere, often leading them to pursue opportunities outside South Africa.

Professionals leaving the accounting sector.

A substantial portion of accountants are considering leaving the profession within the next five years. This sentiment is not limited to any specific age group, as it includes both younger accountants under 25 and those aged 25-44, who cite a lack of healthy work/life balance as a key reason for their departure. Additionally, for those over 55, while retirement is a common reason for leaving, a significant number also seek a career change or opportunities in different industries. Despite the majority of accountants enjoying their roles, many feel that their time is overly consumed by manual tasks, which could potentially be automated. The anticipation is that automation within the sector will increase, potentially alleviating some concerns but possibly too late for those already planning to exit the industry.

The drive for career progression, an interest in maths and accounting, and the profession’s respected status have traditionally attracted individuals to accounting. However, the evolution of the profession, including the integration of technology and the need for new skills, may reshape these attractions.

To address these challenges, there is a push towards more empowering programs for young accountants, especially from underrepresented demographics, and a need for the profession to adapt to technological advances and changing business needs. The future of accounting in South Africa appears to hinge on embracing technology, enhancing education and training programs, and improving work/life balance and job satisfaction among professionals.

Impact on Businesses

The challenges in finding qualified accountants and the impact on financial reporting and compliance are significant concerns for businesses in South Africa. The sector is experiencing a notable decline in the number of auditors and chartered accountants, driven by factors such as emigration, remote work trends, and professionals leaving the profession. This decline is exacerbated by recent accounting scandals, which have eroded trust in the profession, and regulatory changes aimed at increasing accountability, making the field potentially less attractive to new entrants​. Reference Yahoo!News and

Challenges in finding qualified accountants.

Businesses face difficulties in recruiting skilled talent due to the decreasing pool of qualified accountants. This shortage is partly attributed to professionals taking advantage of international opportunities and others working remotely for companies outside South Africa. The situation is further compounded by the fact that a significant portion of the workforce is considering leaving the profession in the next few years due to various factors, including a lack of healthy work-life balance and the desire for a career change​

The effect on financial reporting and compliance.

The scarcity of accounting professionals could significantly impact financial reporting and compliance, crucial aspects of business operations that ensure transparency and trustworthiness in financial statements. With fewer qualified accountants available, businesses might struggle to maintain high standards of financial reporting, potentially leading to delays in reporting, decreased accuracy, and increased risk of non-compliance with financial regulations. This scenario could erode investor confidence and affect the overall integrity of the South African financial market.

Regulatory Changes and Their Impact

The regulatory environment for accountants and auditors in South Africa is undergoing significant changes, impacting the profession in several ways. Two key areas of focus are the introduction of new regulations aimed at enhancing auditor accountability and the implementation of a mandatory auditor rotation policy.

New Regulations and Auditor Accountability

Recent years have seen a push towards stronger regulations to enhance the accountability of auditors in South Africa. This movement has been partly driven by high-profile accounting scandals that highlighted the need for greater independence and effectiveness of external auditors, as well as integrity within audit regulators. To address these concerns, regulatory changes aim to bolster efforts to hold auditors accountable. There’s a growing emphasis on making the profession more attractive to graduates by ensuring they do not fear harsh consequences for being associated with corporate scandals. However, there is concern that the profession may become less appealing due to these stringent measures

Overview of recent regulatory changes.

The South African accounting sector has seen significant regulatory changes aimed at strengthening the accountability and independence of auditors. Notably, the introduction of the mandatory audit firm rotation (MAFR) rule is a critical change. This rule, effective for financial years starting on or after April 1, 2023, mandates that audit firms must rotate out of their client engagements every ten years, with a cooling-off period of five years before they can be reappointed to the same client. This move was largely prompted by high-profile accounting scandals, which highlighted issues around auditor independence and the effectiveness of audits conducted by the major firms. These scandals involved notable companies and had a profound impact on the perception of the audit profession’s integrity and reliability

How these changes impact the accounting profession.

The implementation of MAFR and other regulatory changes significantly impacts the accounting profession in South Africa. These changes aim to enhance auditor independence by preventing long-standing relationships between auditors and their clients, which could potentially compromise the impartiality of the audit. By enforcing firm rotation, the regulation seeks to diversify the audit market, which has been dominated by a few large firms, and to encourage more competition within the sector.

The mandatory rotation is expected to lead to a reshuffling of audit engagements among firms, potentially opening opportunities for smaller audit firms to gain larger clients. This could also stimulate innovation and improvement in audit quality as firms strive to differentiate themselves in a more dynamic market. However, these changes also present challenges, such as the cost and effort associated with transitioning to new auditors, ensuring that new firms have the necessary expertise and understanding of the client’s business, and potential disruptions during the transition period.

Moreover, these regulations are likely to place a greater emphasis on audit quality and the need for auditors to maintain a high degree of skepticism and independence. Firms may need to invest in training and development to ensure that their auditors can meet these heightened expectations. In the broader sense, these changes are poised to foster a more transparent, competitive, and quality-focused auditing environment in South Africa, contributing to the overall integrity and reliability of financial reporting within the country’s economy​

Preparing your business for these changes.

For businesses and audit firms in South Africa, adapting to these changes will require strategic planning and a proactive approach to compliance, alongside a commitment to upholding the principles of transparency and accountability that underpin these regulatory efforts.

Trends in the Accounting Sector

The accounting sector in South Africa is currently navigating through a period marked by significant trends that impact both the profession’s credibility and its operational dynamics. These trends particularly revolve around the declining pass rates in board examinations and growing concerns regarding the quality of accounting, especially in the public sector.

Declining Pass Rates and Quality Concerns

The Assessment of Professional Competence (APC) examinations have seen fluctuating pass rates, with notable improvements in some instances. For example, the Auditor-General South Africa (AGSA) witnessed a considerable improvement in its candidates’ success rates, moving from a 16% pass rate in 2020 to 57% in 2021. This improvement reflects a broader national trend where the pass rate for the SAICA APC exam increased to 72%, with a significant rise in pass rates among African candidates to 62%. Such statistics suggest concerted efforts towards enhancing the professional competency and diversity of the accounting profession in South Africa

However, these improvements in examination outcomes are juxtaposed with ongoing concerns about the quality of accounting practices, especially within the public sector. The sector has faced criticism for instances of financial mismanagement and irregularities, prompting calls for comprehensive audit reforms. Recent scandals have underscored the urgent need for heightened accountability and transparency, leading to a credibility crisis for the auditing profession. In response, major firms have initiated various measures to bolster audit quality, including implementing audit quality monitoring systems, integrity checks, and whistle-blowing initiatives​

Regulatory Reforms and Technological Advancements:

Regulatory changes, such as the mandatory rotation of auditors scheduled to commence on April 1, 2023, are aimed at disrupting the status quo by enhancing auditor independence and reducing the risks associated with long-term auditor-client relationships. This regulatory shift is part of a broader effort to restore faith in the accounting profession’s ability to uphold financial reporting standards and perform its critical function in the economy effectively​​.

Technological advancements are also reshaping the accounting landscape, with digital auditing platforms and big data analytics becoming increasingly integral to the profession. These technologies promise to automate routine tasks and fundamentally change the structure of the profession, potentially improving the quality and efficiency of accounting practices​​.

In summary, the accounting sector in South Africa is at a crossroads, with significant challenges and opportunities lying ahead. The trends of declining pass rates and concerns over accounting quality highlight the need for continued reform and adaptation. Efforts to professionalize the sector, enhance regulatory frameworks, and leverage technological advancements are crucial steps towards ensuring the profession’s integrity and sustainability in the face of evolving demands and expectations.

Opportunities in Business Restructuring

The growing need for business restructuring professionals.

The increasing complexity of the global and South African economic landscapes has significantly heightened the demand for business restructuring professionals. Factors such as economic downturns, changing regulatory environments, and the impact of global events have led to a surge in companies facing financial distress. This scenario necessitates skilled professionals who can navigate these challenges, implement strategic restructuring plans, and turn around businesses to ensure their viability and sustainability. The Deloitte Restructuring Survey 2023 underscores the anticipation of a rise in business rescue activity, pointing towards a growing need for experts in restructuring and turnaround strategies.

How this trend can benefit your business.

Engaging with restructuring professionals can offer businesses a lifeline during difficult times. These experts bring a wealth of knowledge in financial advisory, legal frameworks, and strategic management to address and rectify the underlying issues causing financial distress. By leveraging their expertise, businesses can:

  • Identify inefficiencies and areas for improvement within their operations.
  • Restructure debts to manage liquidity crises more effectively.
  • Realign their business models to adapt to current market demands and future trends.

Moreover, the restructuring process often uncovers new opportunities for innovation, diversification, and growth, allowing businesses to emerge stronger and more competitive. SARIPA, representing a broad spectrum of professionals involved in restructuring and insolvency services, highlights the collective effort and multidisciplinary approach required to navigate complex restructuring scenarios​​.

In summary, the trend towards increased business restructuring in South Africa presents an opportunity for businesses to reassess, realign, and revitalise their operations with the help of skilled professionals. This strategic intervention not only aids in navigating immediate financial challenges but also sets the foundation for long-term success and stability.

Preparing for the Future

Adapting to a Changing Industry

Strategies for businesses to adapt to these changes.

The rapidly evolving business landscape, amplified by technological advancements and changing regulatory environments, necessitates businesses to remain agile and adaptable. Implementing technology-driven solutions to streamline operations, embracing digital transformation to enhance service delivery, and staying abreast of regulatory changes are pivotal strategies. Additionally, fostering a culture of innovation within the organisation can empower teams to proactively address challenges and seize new opportunities.

The importance of staying informed and proactive.

Staying informed about industry trends, regulatory changes, and technological advancements is crucial for businesses aiming to navigate the future successfully. This proactive approach enables businesses to anticipate shifts in the market, adjust their strategies accordingly, and maintain a competitive edge. Engaging with industry associations, participating in relevant forums, and leveraging insights from business advisors can provide valuable perspectives and guidance.

Finding and Retaining Talent

Tips for attracting and retaining accounting professionals.

Attracting and retaining top talent in accounting and finance hinges on creating an engaging work environment that promotes professional growth and personal well-being. Offering competitive compensation packages, flexible working conditions, and opportunities for career advancement can make a firm more attractive to potential employees. Additionally, fostering a supportive and inclusive culture that values diversity and encourages collaboration can enhance job satisfaction and loyalty among staff.

Investing in ongoing training and development.

Investing in the ongoing training and development of accounting professionals is essential for keeping skills current and enhancing the value they bring to the business. This can include sponsoring professional certifications, providing access to continuing education programs, and facilitating mentorship and coaching opportunities. Emphasizing personal and professional development not only aids in talent retention but also ensures that the team remains adept at addressing the complex challenges of today’s business environment.

Adapting to industry changes and focusing on talent management are critical for businesses looking to thrive in the future. By embracing change, staying proactive, and investing in their people, companies can navigate the uncertainties of the market while fostering a culture of excellence and innovation.

Our Take

The evolving landscape of the accounting profession in South Africa, marked by a decline in the number of accountants and regulatory changes, underscores a period of significant transformation and opportunity. The challenges of emigration, remote work trends, and professionals leaving the sector​​, coupled with stringent regulatory environments​​​​, present a unique set of obstacles that businesses and the accounting industry at large must navigate.

Yet, within these challenges lies the opportunity for revitalisation and growth. The increasing need for business restructuring professionals​​, as highlighted by Deloitte’s 2023 Restructuring Survey, and the pivotal role of organisations like SARIPA in supporting the insolvency and restructuring landscape​​, point towards a dynamic shift towards adaptation and specialisation.

For businesses, adapting to these changes means embracing technological advancements, fostering a culture of continuous learning, and staying ahead of regulatory shifts. This proactive stance not only ensures resilience but also positions businesses to capitalise on emerging opportunities in a changing industry​​.

The importance of attracting and retaining talent in this evolving landscape cannot be overstated. As the industry faces a potential skills shortage, strategies focused on creating engaging work environments, offering competitive benefits, and investing in ongoing professional development will be key to securing the future of accounting professions in South Africa​​.

In conclusion, while the accounting sector in South Africa faces significant challenges, the path forward is paved with opportunities for innovation, specialisation, and growth. By embracing change, investing in people, and leveraging technology, the accounting profession can navigate the complexities of the present landscape and emerge stronger, more versatile, and more essential than ever.

In the face of the dynamic shifts within South Africa’s accounting landscape, professionals and businesses alike are encouraged to maintain adaptability and stay well-informed. This evolving environment, characterised by regulatory changes, technological advancements, and new business needs, demands a proactive approach to professional development and organisational strategies. Embracing flexibility, seeking continuous learning opportunities, and staying abreast of industry trends are essential for navigating the complexities of today’s accounting sector. By fostering an ethos of resilience and forward-thinking, accounting professionals can better serve their clients and contribute to the financial stability and growth of the businesses they support. This commitment to adaptability and lifelong learning not only ensures individual career progression but also strengthens the accounting profession’s capacity to meet the challenges and opportunities of the future.

Information about the authors, publication, and publisher

Picture of Author - Arnaud Brunel

Author - Arnaud Brunel

After a 15 year long career in International Banking and Compliance, Arnaud launched multiple businesses in Cape town. He still heads 2 of these businesses today in the Digital Marketing Industry with Brunel Studios and in the Financial Industry with Thryv.

Picture of Publication & Publisher - Thryv Accountants

Publication & Publisher - Thryv Accountants

Thryv accountants is a private accounting company that focuses on outsourcing of the financial functions of small and medium companies in Cape Town and other regions of South Africa.

The publications on this website are for information purposes only. They are based on our professional opinion.

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