Stellenbosch University (SU) alumna Hanne Mertens credits a balanced and consistent approach to life and study for her achieving first place in the 2021 South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA)'s first professional exam (Initial Test of Competence (ITC)).
The ITC, which took place in April this year, is the first of two exams conducted by SAICA that individuals who want to qualify as chartered accountants in South Africa, have to pass.
Mertens, who obtained a Bachelor of Accounting Honours cum laude in 2020, explains the key to her success as follows: “Balance is everything. From the bigger picture down to the details − balance between 'work' and 'play', breaks and study time, between theory and practicing, between spending time on sections you enjoy or are good at and sections you aren't. Balance helped me to stay physically and emotionally healthy and to give my all in every aspect of life."
“When I study I set a constant standard for myself – which is to understand as much of the work as possible, instead of cramming for the next test – and stick to that from day one. I tutored many hours of accounting modules during university and found an appreciation for the work through teaching it to others."
After completing her training contract and qualifying as a chartered accountant, Mertens sees herself in the financial consulting and advisory services sector, as she loves the financial analysis and people-driven side of it.
“But I'm keeping my options open though and am also considering lecturing or doing a master's degree," she says. “Growing up, I realised that there are many changes I would like to see in the business place, and by working hard and succeeding, I can get into a position to have an influence on people and to make these changes."
The Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth) native, who matriculated from Pearson High School as the top Grade 12 learner in the Eastern Cape, is currently working as a trainee auditor at Deloitte UK.
SU also had four other candidates among the top 10 nationally, all of whom passed the exam with honours (75% or more): Sadiyah Wahab (6th), Cameron Rencken (8th), Cayley Tarr (9th) and Stefano Filippi (10th).
A total of 314 BAccHons class of 2020 students of the SU School of Accountancy (SOA) sat the exam for the first time in April. This number is the highest of all 16 residential universities and private providers accredited by SAICA to educate prospective chartered accountants, and now makes the SOA the largest residential provider nationally when measured on this basis.
The 2020 SOA BAccHons class obtained a 96% pass rate in 2021, which is up from 81% in 2020, and ranked joint second with the University of Cape Town (UCT). The University of Pretoria took first place with a 100% pass rate. The overall national first attempt pass rate was 70%.
SU also delivered the largest number of passes among candidates nationwide with 301 passes. UCT was second with 231 passes.
The pass rate of SU's African, Coloured, and Indian candidates were also more or less on par with those of white candidates, with African 94%, Coloured 94%, Indian 91% and White 96%.
Prof Pieter von Wielligh, Director and Vice-Dean: School of Accountancy, said: “The excellent achievement by our BAccHons students in the ITC not only underlines the quality of the teaching offered by the SOA in a very concrete and visible way, but also the quality of students the School attracts. The School is proud of the excellent performance of its honours class of 2020, who will now go on to become the business leaders of the future. This comes amid the challenges that academics, students and alumni have been experiencing since March 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a truly remarkable achievement."
Prof Ingrid Woolard, Dean of the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, said: “I'm incredibly proud of these results. It's wonderful to have this external validation that we are the top residential university for accountancy education. Our staff works incredibly hard to ensure that our students get the best possible grounding to set them up for success in the professional exams."
The Institute said in a statement that despite the challenges and negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on students, many have turned these challenges into opportunities.
“These candidates had to overcome immeasurable odds to pass, and they lived up to the task," SAICA CEO Freeman Nomvalo said.
Prof Stiaan Lamprecht, joint programme leader of the School of Accountancy's BAccHons programme: “We are incredibly proud of the academic achievements of our students in the latest ITC exam. We have always known that the School of Accounting is blessed with academically gifted students, but 2020 also revealed the grit and determination of these young, future business leaders amidst adverse circumstances. Credit should also go to a dedicated team of lecturers, who worked tirelessly to convert academic content for online presentation, as well as the extensive institutional support provided to enable a rapid move to the online learning environment."
Prof Kobus van Schalkwyk, joint programme leader of the BAccHons programme and Deputy Director: Learning and Teaching of the School of Accountancy: “This achievement by our BAccHons students is even more remarkable if the internal pass rate of the 2020 BAccHons cohort is taken into account. The internal pass rate was one of the highest ever achieved by a BAccHons cohort, which is even more significant given the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic presented to students and staff."