Which Accounting Designation Is BEST for Me? (Part 3 of 5)


Continuing our series of “Which accounting designation is best for ME?”, we’re taking an in-depth look at how to become a registered Professional Accountant (SA) and at some of the powers/ authorities you’ll be acquitted with after obtaining the designation. SAIPA is a well-recognised institution with over 35 years of experience at delivering the South African market with well trained professional accountants, which are collectively also referred to “general accountants”.

The PA(SA) is a strong brand recognised in commerce across South Africa and is regarded as the second largest accounting body in SA with over 10 000 members. They are second to SAICA regarding total members but serve a different speciality than that of its counterparts. General accountants focus slightly more on the mid-tier finance roles and are super savvy when it comes to Tax matters, CIPC administration, bookkeeping, preparing financial statements and cost & management accounting duties.

General accountants form an important part of just about all finance teams in South Africa and tend to be well dispersed across the corporate spectrum, with some reaching high flying executive and managerial positions, while others could find themselves in the exciting role as a financial controller of large business network, with others opting to run successful Accounting and Consulting practices. The spectrum is endless. A designation which promises its members the ability to grow to staggering heights with an array of opportunities at hand. The SAIPA designation ensures that your attitude and work ethic play the most important role in your future career success!

Becoming a Professional Accountant (SA)

As with SAICA, SAIPA maintains a minimum degree requirement from a tertiary institution, to complete a practical experience component and to write a final board exam. Not meeting all of SAIPA’s requirements could, however, allow a candidate to register as an Accounting Technician.

Academic Requirements

SAIPA has a less strict admission requirement on the minimum level of academic achievements at the tertiary level compared to its counterpart, SAICA. SAIPA offers a spectrum of qualifying tertiary qualifications, namely a Bachelor of Commerce degree or equivalent B-Tech degree, with guidelines regarding the major subjects required when completing the qualification. These degrees need to at least cover the following subjects: Financial Accounting 3; Taxation 1; Auditing 1 / Internal Auditing 2 / Internal Control and Code of Ethics; Corporate Law 1 / Commercial Law 2; Management Accounting / Financial Management.

Having only obtained a diploma is therefore not satisfactory to the minimum requirements to register as a member. However, SAIPA has introduced an in-house training course which facilitates a type of bridging program for students with a Diploma (finance major) and are in the final year of their practical experience. Passing this course would therefore meet the minimum academic requirements to qualify for the board exam. Qualifying as a Professional Accountant (SA) is registered as an NQF level 8!

Board Exams

To qualify to write the SAIPA board exam, referred to the Professional Evaluation (PE), a candidate must have completed their academic qualification with the minimum prescribed subjects (mentioned above) at the desired level (usually a bachelor’s or B.Tech qualification), as well as the practical and workplace experience where the practical skills and competencies were developed.

What is important is the pervasive of “soft skills” as this is integrated into the competencies required to be a Professional Accountant (SA). Skills such as reading, communications, critical thinking, analytical skills, problem-solving, and report writing are critical components of the competencies which will be evaluated during the Professional Evaluation exam.

The SAIPA Professional Evaluation is a four-hour written examination to determine your ability to integrate your academic knowledge with your practical experience gained in the workplace. The examination is written twice per year, in November of a trainee’s 3rd and final year of practical experience, or student has the option to write in May of the following year. Passing the exam is the final step of the examinations and has a regular ±80% pass rate.

Practical Experience

The regular and the recommended method to complete your practical experience is to complete 3 years of practical experience at a SAIPA Accredited Training Centre, mostly referred to as an ATC. During the three years, trainees learn from their peers and must achieve certain goals and objectives, which is logged and confirmed by a principal, which is a standard monitored by SAIPA to ensure that members leave the ATC well rounded, and essentially qualifying only quality members which they assure to outside stakeholders. SAIPA has in the past delivered consistent results on the output of their members, excelling in ethics and all-round finance and accounting proficiency.

As a PA(SA) is not permitted to sign off on Audited Financial Statements, audit is usually not a core competency as with SAICA trainees. Trainees would typically gain extensive experience in delivering tax services, preparing financial statements, preparing and interpreting financial reports for clients, CIPC administration, BEE verifications, Business Plans and forecasts, only to mention a few. The training is very practical and is extremely valuable to business owners all over South Africa and form a key part in the leading and support-functions in finance teams.

Something to note – if you are looking to go the SAICA route, such as an AGA(SA) or CA(SA), then your SAIPA 3 years of practical experience would not count towards your SAICA traineeship. The inverse is however true, as SAIPA allows completed training programmes with other accredited accounting bodies (such as SAICA / CIMA) to supplement the entire 3 years required by SAIPA. If you have previously worked in a finance role and have 6 years of relevant accounting experience, you could receive remission for your 3-year practical experience to further pursue the PA(SA) designation.


The Professional Accountant (SA) designation is well regulated by SAIPA and ensures a consistent high-quality release of general accountants into the industry. SAIPA personnel play an important function in South Africa’s accounting industry and possess skills acquired through their practical experience which are a rare find among many CA’s and CGMA’s.

PA(SA) have a range of powers and abilities, of which will not be mentioned. It should be noted that the designation would not allow candidates to register as Auditors with IRBA but can perform Independent Review Engagements for certain size companies and can register as a professional tax practitioner (and perform a range of highly skilled tasks for businesses).

This designation caters for the dynamic candidate and although it is easier to obtain than the CA(SA), AGA(SA) and CGMA designations, it will continue to open doors with exciting opportunities. From our view, this remains a brilliant designation, with a stable outlook for the near future due to SAIPA’s good standing with stakeholders locally and their clean track record. In most regular cases the designation is not the highest paid of all the designation but offers a variety of opportunities to turn into gold for anyone who is willing to work hard and make his own success. Remember: Success never lies in the title or designation you pronounce!