Home Accounting and Auditing How Saiba set out to democratise the accounting profession

How Saiba set out to democratise the accounting profession

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By Ciaran Ryan and Ludzula Mukhuwana

When SA achieved its liberation 27 years ago,  Saiba CEO Nicolaas van Wyk saw this as a period of great awakening for the country.

South Africa found itself at an inflexion point where it could venture down the path of other failed post-colonial states, or it could strive for true political and economic freedom.

Saiba was conceived as part of this massive transformative shift. SA’s liberation depended far more on economic prosperity than many people were willing to admit 27 years ago, says van Wyk, and the smooth functioning of the economy rested very much in the hands of accountants who, up to that point, remained part of an exclusive club. There was in effect a single professional body that catered to the accounting profession.

It was time to break this mold.

“I started comparing South Africa with other countries and what were the drivers of our contribution to the world economy. It was clear we had certain strengths that needed to be safeguarded, but it was also clear we were going to have to be far more competitive in the global arena if we were to succeed.”

SA needed a new kind of accountant, one that would guide, mentor and nurture small businesses – and provide the competitive edge that the country needed. Accountants needed professional designations that rewarded them for their study and experience, and provided an aspirational path of growth and specialisation.

Saiba’s contribution to the profession

Van Wyk’s idea was to bring transformation to the accounting profession, provide a professional designation to those who felt excluded, and make accounting a truly inclusive profession. In other words, accounting should be truly transformative in its nature.

Out of this came the Saiba designations Business Accountant (SA), Business Accountant in Practice (SA), Certified Business Accountant (SA), and Certified Financial Officer (SA). Each designation address the different needs of the profession. Prior to this, there had been no designation for accountants that recognised their worth, their skill and their contribution to the profession. Saiba provided the umbrella under which they could gain professional recognition, while providing the support and back-up expected of a professional body. Saiba added specialist licences so members could upskill themselves and gain deeper level specialist knowledge in areas such as immigration accounting and independent reviews.

Prior to the formation of Saiba, accounting services (other than bookkeeping) were generally costly and hard to justify. Saiba made it possible for smaller businesses to access high-level accounting insights at relatively reasonable cost. It was a game changer.

The future for Saiba

The future for Saiba is to stay focused on its core founding principles, to raise the level of accounting standards among its members and to service the South African economy. Above all, it must remain human and avoid falling into a rigid bureaucracy.

Saiba forms part of an ever expanding network of alliances aimed at delivering its core mandate to its members.

 “Our role is to connect our members to an already established infrastructure and integrate them as volunteers and offer their services to these firms. The benefit for our members is that they get skills transfer and a better foothold in the market,” says Van Wyk.

If 1994 was the birth of the new SA, Van Wyk says it is time for a new symbol to carry the nation forward: one that is smart, critical and more than just a “rainbow nation”. He is calling for a competitive nation, built on a need to adapt to exploration and adventure, where the discovery of new business techniques, models and ways of working help move us past old wounds to better establish our place in the world economy.