After 10 years at the helm, Ignatius
Sehoole is leaving the South African Institute of Chartered
Accountants. He speaks with Arvind Hickman about
his highlights, regrets and the battle to improve the racial
balance of qualified chartered accountants.

Ignatius SehooleIt is a fitting
tribute that Ignatius Sehoole passes on the leadership baton of the
South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) the month
that the first batch of Thuthuka graduates outperform the national
average score in the final chartered accountancy exam.

Just as impressive is that the majority of
candidates sitting these exams were of black African descent –
South Africa’s largest ethnic majority – for the first time.

Sehoole, who qualified as a CA at Deloitte,
faced an uphill battle to try and redress the balance of black
African accountants in a country that is desperately short of
qualified talent. He can now leave the executive presidential role
with the knowledge that the profession is in a much better state
than when he arrived 10 years ago.

Sehoole tells The Accountant that a
major challenge when he started was building relationships between
the profession and government officials, business leaders,
regulators and key interest groups.

“I don’t think there was any magic, rather
just being tenacious about it and just keeping on pushing until
people take notice and people make time. Once you’ve gone through
that initial pushing to establish the relationship then it tends to
be downhill from there,” he says.

Developing equality

Under his stewardship, SAICA has
professionalised and now plays a much larger role in the wider
community. One of the body’s most important aims is to bring the
balance of black CAs more into line with the nation’s
population.

Statistics South Africa, an independent
government body, estimates that of the nation’s 48 million people,
about 38 million are black Africans. At last count, SAICA has 1,247
black African members – 4 percent of its total membership.

The major initiative to achieve this balance
is called Thuthuka, a Zulu term that means ‘to develop’. Thuthuka
launched in 2002 and is comprised of several programmes that reach
out to poor communities and offer assistance and incentives to
become a CA.

The Thuthuka Education Upliftment Project has
helped educate more than 15,000 high school students in South
Africa in the past year. It is a multi-level programme that targets
students at school and university level. The scheme provides
technical assistance to schools in core subjects such as maths,
science and English.

SAICA provides scholarships to university
students through its Thuthuka Bursary Fund, which places African
and mixed race students into selected accredited universities on
special undergraduate accounting programmes.

“We go to really impoverished areas and it’s
quite amazing because we pick up some gems of kids, they just need
a bit of polishing,” Sehoole explains. “In these poor communities,
and I see it with my own eyes, if you can try to get a few CAs
qualified and they can then make a future for themselves it will
impact their families… you begin to reverse the poverty cycle.”

The importance of programmes like Thuthuka
cannot be underestimated as South Africa is in the midst of a
chronic shortage of qualified accountants. In February this year,
the hard work finally paid off.

“I think the highlight of my time [at SAICA] is having seen the first cohort of Thuthuka students get a 71
percent pass rate when the national rate was 60-something,” Sehoole
explains. “For me that was fantastic to see that the students we
put through were far above the national average. You put your
effort in something that you only know the outcome of seven years
down the line. That’s very risky and to see that the outcome was
more than what we expected. I was so thrilled.”

There are promising signs for the future of
South Africa’s profession as a greater number of black African
students are now coming through the ranks.

“The shortage is still there but the increase
of people, in particular black CAs, entering the profession is
quite remarkable. If you look at the pipeline of things to come you
see that we really are on the right track,” he says.

One ambition Sehoole never quite achieved was
leading the institute to play a greater developmental role in the
southern Africa region.

“I believe the type of institute we have with
its infrastructure in South Africa should benefit the rest of the
continent,” he says. “Obviously the natural thing to do is to start
with the immediate neighbours but I believe that we should’ve
started much earlier to make a push to ensure that the institute
benefits the rest of the continent. For me that’s my regret.”

Outside of SAICA, Sehoole has played an
important role in raising the profile of South Africa’s profession
and contributing to the development of accounting globally. He
served two full terms on the International Federation of
Accountants (IFAC) board and is the current Developing Nations
Committee chair.

“When I joined the IFAC board there was no
limit as to how long you can be on the board and I was part of the
team that drafted the constitution so that you can only have two
terms,” he explained. “I was also involved in the process of
changing and professionalising IFAC.

“I’d like to think that the profession is now
much more recognised and that SAICA is much more acknowledged
locally and internationally because of my time here.”

Sehoole is still weighing up his options
for his next career move.

SAICA’s new executive president, Matsobane
Matlwa, began his term in February.