Thinking about becoming a CA? Here's the 'need to know' information

By Jordan Rowledge, CA, MRSB Accounting Services

You might be finishing up a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) degree and pondering what your next move will be. Or maybe you’ve been working in a different field entirely for the past several years and feel like it’s time for a change. You like tasks that requires attention to detail, you work well with others and you are good with numbers...maybe a career as a Chartered Accountant is the way to go.

However, as with all other professions, you need to determine whether the career is a good fit for YOU. Like any career choice, becoming a CA isn’t necessarily as straight a path as you might think. There are hours of studying involved, exams to pass and, once you land a position, weeks of intense, coffee-fueled mayhem during tax season. Then again, you get to work with smart people who know their stuff (probably in a nice office), the pay is competitive and you will be subject to a number of different learning opportunities, situations, and valuable experiences that will facilitate your growth as a professional. 

So how do you make an intelligent, unbiased decision when questioning your future potential as a CA? While we can’t tell you what to do - we don’t know you that well yet - we are happy to offer some advice from people who have passed the exams, charged through the above-mentioned mayhem and who enjoy the perks of the profession. Here are a few well intentioned bits of advice for would-be CA students from accountants who know the ropes.

1. Take Action Now

If you are lucky enough to be considering the CA route early on in your post-secondary education, generally it is an excellent idea to apply as a summer or co-op student. Having the opportunity to work within a firm will allow you to get a direct taste of the day-to-day activities performed by a CA, and paint a clear “real-life” picture of what actually takes place in the workplace. The profession is definitely not a fit for everyone, so such an experience would be invaluable in the course of making your final decision of whether or not to pursue the CA program.

2. Finding Employment

 The Atlantic School of Chartered Accountancy (ASCA) currently requires CA students to obtain full-time employment before entering into the professional program with a public firm, or other accredited organizations. Therefore, this will require some planning ahead on your part.

Generally, interested students will apply for jobs in the fall of their fourth year as this is the most popular hiring time for accounting employers. Every year it is quite competitive as there are typically fewer positions compared to the number of students applying. Therefore, by pursuing recommendation #1 discussed above, this can allow you to get your foot in the door as employers will generally hire their summer/co-op students it they feel they are a good fit to the company.

3. Course Planning

It is also very important to take into consideration your course load in preparation for the professional program. The provincial Institute/ordre you apply to for registration will provide you with a list of the specific or additional education requirements you must meet. Most universities will offer a major or certificate in accounting through their Business or Commerce programs, so in most cases you are able to get all required prerequisite courses within your degree.

4. Developing good habits

For anyone who has been through the program, it is quite safe to say it was one of, if not the, busiest time of their lives. Balancing hours of study time and assignments on top of a full-time work schedule can be very hectic and also put a strain on your social life. Although it can seem like a very daunting task, with the right plan and work habits anything is possible! We would recommend implementing and developing your study/time management habits during your remaining time at university. As they say, practise makes perfect.

As well, it is very important to note that most employers will either supplement or pay for your education, which presents an amazing bonus and incentive. Your only job then is to make sure you pass the courses/modules on your first attempt. The program is not cheap by any means, so staying on top of your work and getting the job done right will not only benefit your wallet, but also your knowledge and understanding in the workplace.

5. Get Excited

Chartered Accountants are viewed as the staple of business professionals in today’s society. With so many opportunities in an endless number of industries, it is said to be the most transferrable and useable designation the business world has to offer. As well, if you have a strong interest in business and entrepreneurship, the education provided by this professional program is second to none in developing exceptional business skills and knowledge. It really is an excellent career choice, and well worth the time and hard work.

Important note: If you have been keeping up on the latest news surrounding the CA profession, you may have heard rumors surrounding a new “CPA” designation. Historically there have been three accounting designations in Canada, of which the Chartered Accountant (CA) is one. Currently all three of these bodies are working towards the unification of each of these three designations under the CPA designation.

With the unification on the horizon, a new CPA professional program has been developed and is set to be rolled in during 2013, replacing the current professional programs that each of the three current designations require. Right now Ontario and Quebec are the only two jurisdictions in Canada that are able to certify members as CPAs. Until legislative change is complete, each provincial and territorial CA institute will continue to grant the CA designation. Once unification efforts are complete, the jurisdiction will then issue all CAs the CPA designation as well.

Hopefully this post has been insightful and answered a few of your questions with regards to becoming a Chartered Accountant. Good luck in your decision!