Chartered accountants are leaving South Africa – here’s where they’re going, and what they get paid

South African businesses face a historic shortage of newly qualified Chartered Accountants (CAs) in 2022 as many take advantage of international opportunities while others work remotely in South Africa for US companies at very attractive salaries.

Graeme Marais, director of Blue Recruiting, a specialist South African financial recruitment consultancy that places CAs locally and globally, said that more stringent global audit requirements have created greater demand for qualified auditors.

Blue Recruiting has seen a spike in newly qualified South African CAs heading to:

  • the UK;
  • Ireland;
  • the Netherlands;
  • the Middle East; and
  • tax haven islands.

Local CAs are considered to be some of the best-qualified accountants and auditors in the world with an exceptional work ethic, Marais said. “Newly qualified CAs have always been attracted by global work experience and the appeal of living abroad and earning better salaries in hard currencies.”

Starting international salaries typically range from $46,700 (R750,000) to $61,400 (R982,000).

“But now the trickle has turned into a flood as the global war for talent ramps up,” Marais noted. “It’s not just better earnings they are looking for: they are drawn by greater job security as well as political and social stability. Working overseas often leads to alternative passports and greater future security.”

He added that while the UK has always hired South Africans, they are hiring more now than ever. The Netherlands has also substantially ramped up their hiring of South Africans, making it particularly attractive for workers under 30 by introducing tax reimbursement incentives.

An additional factor contributing to the growing shortage is many CAs have not left South Africa but are WFH (work-from-home), typically outsourced to large US companies, making them no longer available to local businesses. Many of these workers plan to ultimately move to the United States, Marais said.

“Salaries for this kind of work can exceed local equivalent pay by as much as 40%,” Marais said. “These workers can potentially make up to R720,000 a year as soon as they have completed their articles. And they could see a bump to over R800,000 in 2022.”

Starting salaries for recently qualified CAs in South Africa have remained static at R550,000 – R650,000 for the better part of a decade.

“Companies in SA are still expecting to pay this rate but they are going to struggle to find people unless they offer substantially higher salaries and start hiring earlier,” Marais warned. He added that South African companies may also need to give candidates greater work flexibility and autonomy to be able to compete for top talent.

To get the best CAs, Marais advised companies to employ them in the first half of the 3rd year of their training for a January 2023 start.

“In the past, these candidates were being interviewed from October of their third year, to the February after completing articles. If this is your policy, expect to have a limited choice of candidates. It’s also advisable to use recruiters that specialise in newly qualified CAs. They often have the advantage of meeting the best candidates first,” Marais said.

The shortage has also been exacerbated by poor accountancy board exam results this year in which only 43% of candidates passed.

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