Interview: Faatima Kholvadia CA(SA)

What is your current position?

I lectured at Wits for 3 years, and I’m currently a financial accounting lecturer for Tabaldi Online Education. I specialise in teaching Groups (Consolidations) for third year and CTA UNISA students for Tabaldi’s online classes. I’m very happy to stay in the education space because I’m able to help empower people as only education can.

Here’s Faatima’s “Meet your mentor” video for her online course students…

Summary of your academic journey?

I completed my degree and CTA full-time at Wits University. While I followed the more traditional path, it was not without obstacles.

Firstly, when I was in matric, I had applied to study mining engineering, chemical engineering, medicine and accounting at several universities. At the same time I applied for bursaries as my parents could not afford to send me to university. While I received provisional acceptance at all the universities I had applied to, the bursary acceptance letters were a lot less forthcoming and I knew that without a bursary I could not go to university.

I finally received letters from EY and PwC, (I had a very vague idea that these were accounting firms!), and eventually got a bursary offer from PwC. And that’s how the decision to study accounting was made for me! 

The bursary was a fixed amount per year which wouldn’t cover tuition, let alone living and travelling expenses. So, I had to study hard to get University scholarships to cover the remainder of my tuition fees. My matric results were good enough so that my first year tuition fees were covered but I wasn’t able to maintain those high marks, and I had to supplement my bursary with a student loan for the remaining 3 years.  

My study loan ran out in my CTA year and my parents had to borrow and scrape together some cash so that I could get my final results. My parents were already scraping and saving every last cent to cover my living expenses and I was working weekends and holidays to do the same. 

I was fortunate to have passed each year first time, although there were many test and exam failures along the way. To this day I can still feel the panic of getting final results because failing would mean no bursary, no further studies, no degree and a loan that will take me much much longer to pay off.

CTA was by far the toughest year, and emphasized my lack of conceptual knowledge from undergraduate years. I felt that I was actually redoing 2nd and 3rd year as well as CTA. Studying was pretty much all I did that year.

Summary of your work journey?

Articles

In my first year of University, I did Vacation (Vac) work for PwC and was blown away by the experience. Up until that point I actually had no idea what I was studying towards and what my work experience would be like. I didn’t have any accountants or auditors in my circle of family, friends and acquaintances so I was basically studying for this degree without much idea of what it really was! I worked weekends and holidays at a food place to help pay for my living expenses and did between 1 and 2 weeks of Vac work at PwC each year.

When I received my CTA results (after a back and forth to fees office because of outstanding tuition fees!), I was over the moon to have finally figured this degree out and got the better of it. The feeling didn’t last long! 

The first month of articles at PwC was my most intimidating experience. While I had used the Computer lab intermittently during my studies, having my own laptop was very exciting but also a bit daunting. The 2 hour computer course in the first week of articles helped me to get the basics right but I was still completely useless in using Excel and Word, which I needed to use to complete my audit work. I still remember not knowing about the “add” function on excel and manually adding a 200 line Trial Balance on my calculator!

I was fortunate to have had an excellent 2nd year trainee on my second audit job who recognized that I was as green as they come. He spent many hours coaching me and teaching me “hacks” to help me be more efficient. 

I wrote my first Board exam after having worked for 2 months (It was written in March back then), without having had much time to study as I had been working nights just to keep up with my work. Studying and preparation for the exam went well but on the first day I blanked out at the cash flow question. It was 38 out of 200 marks and I didn’t answer it at all. I knew that I had severely reduced my chances of passing. I wrote a much better second paper and thankfully I managed to pass. 

The remainder of my articles was rather enjoyable. Because I did not know anything when I started I had low expectations and because I was learning so much, I really enjoyed the experience. The second part of the Board exam went well and I was relieved when I qualified.

Post-qualification

I decided to stay on after my articles and requested a secondment to the Accounting Technical division. If I thought my IFRS knowledge was good, I was to learn otherwise!

During my first week there one of the partners told me that it was inconceivable that I had qualified as a CA! That was a turning point for me in my life and I realized that in order to learn and grow I must always be willing to put myself in a position where I feel stupid and learn from there. By the time my secondment had ended I had managed to earn respect from that same partner. 

I went on to request, and was granted, secondments to a few countries: Australia, the UK and Indonesia. The work experience in each place was both similar and different. In every place I initially felt stupid and had to figure out my way from there but I had made peace with feeling that way initially. The years abroad were my best experiences professionally and I came back a different person. I also managed to travel a lot of Europe and South East Asia during that time.

My grandmother had a stroke and was in a critical condition during the time I was in Indonesia and this prompted my decision to move back to South Africa. By this time, I was a senior manager and up for promotion to Director.

I thought long and hard about becoming an audit partner at a large audit firm and decided that it was not what I envisaged for the rest of my life. I would much rather be involved in education and helping empower people to enrich their lives this way. I left PwC after almost 10 years and having worked in 4 countries, to go lecture Auditing and Financial accounting at Wits University.

Lecturing

In the 3 years that I was at Wits I lectured and ran tutorials for 3rd year and CTA students in Auditing and Financial Accounting. I particularly enjoyed helping them understand how the theory works practically and am a huge supporter of visualising concepts to help them understand. I found that they really struggled to explain concepts themselves in basic everyday language. Another struggle for students was understanding the scenario in tutorials, tests and exams and how to apply their knowledge to answer questions. 

The most fulfilling part of my time at Wits was my interaction with students. I am a strong believer in tough love, so while I empathise with the struggles faced by students, I am also tough on students regarding picking themselves up. What’s important for me is helping students equip themselves with enough self-belief to pick themselves up over and over again. Life is a series of highs and lows, and if you are at a high point, know that it may be temporary and enjoy it while it lasts. But the same goes for lows, power through it and it will definitely get better.

Your challenges? 

I think being female and Muslim were definitely a big strike against me. My parents were always supportive of university education but they had to face loads of criticism from other family members for being so liberal.  

Religiously and culturally, there was an expectation that I would marry and be a housewife. My dad, being a religious leader, faced criticism from friends, family and the wider community because of his decision to allow me to obtain a university education. There was a general consensus that my attending university would bring shame upon the family and would result in my ruin (archaic but true!). This put a lot of added pressure on me as I did not want to disappoint my family who went against expectations to make my university education happen. Failing was not an option and neither was experiencing the full carefree ‘party’ aspect student experience.

My own laziness was another strike against me. I managed to get through school with minimal effort and was not familiar with the practice of working hard for my marks. I was lazy and confident that I would pass if I just put in some effort right before a test. The first time I did that, I was stumped in the paper and got a mark under 30%. I think I accidentally started working more and more each year (scraping through each year!) until I got to CTA and realized that I needed to put time in every day. CTA was the most difficult year by far, more so because I had to fight my own laziness every single day! Despite working way harder in CTA, My marks were not far above 50 in the end!

Our financial situation was almost a 3rd strike against me. If it wasn’t for the combination of the bursary from PwC, University scholarship, the student loan and my parents’ sacrifices, I may have been out!

At PwC and Wits, I was on the Transformation Committees and this has created in me an awareness of unfair practices. I encountered sporadic instances of racism during my work career at PwC but I think this was curtailed due to the strong nature of my personality. I have spoken out many times against blatant racism encountered by my black colleagues and was sometimes subjected to nasty emails and conversations with senior management because of it. I felt disillusioned that even though we say that we are a democratic country and that there is equality for all, my black colleagues with the same education were not treated in the same way as my white colleagues and were not booked on clients that would help them learn and grow, and were then not promoted because they had not attained the required level of experience. Our work on the transformation committee had at least created awareness in the firm that this was happening but I do not think the issue has been completely addressed to this day. At Wits, management’s policies were not racially friendly and the transformation committee’s responsibilities and reports were not independent of management and therefore not effective. We did bring this to the attention of the Vice Chancellor and I hope that the transformation committees can now actually be effective. I don’t believe all insults/ criticisms are racially motivated but I do believe we still have a huge race issue in our country.

As a Wit’s graduate, do you think UNISA CA(SA)’s are  not ‘as good’?!

I think there is a perception that UNISA students have an inferior education (guilty!), but that misconception was quickly remedied once I worked with people who studied at UNISA. I found students who studied the “hard” way (UNISA) already had time management and self-teaching skills which I was only starting to learn in articles. All my experiences with people who had studied through UNISA have been great, and I count some UNISA students amongst the people I respect the most professionally. Your predecessors have created large shoes for you to fill but I am sure that you will not disappoint!

What do you want people on this qualification journey to know?

Stupid is good, it means you are learning. Prepare to feel stupid every so often, and then use this feeling to help yourself out of the stupid space. I started at Tabaldi Education at the beginning of 2017, and with all my experience so far… I’m still in “stupid space” here… it’s new, different and I have lots to learn… and I’m very much looking forward to this journey!

 

 

2 comments on “Interview: Faatima Kholvadia CA(SA)

  1. Misbah

    Similar to yourself, I am having great difficulty financially to fund my studies further.

    I have been working full time during my undergrad, and then part time during the start of CTA but now I have stopped working in order to dedicate more time towards studying.

    I am currently signed with Deloitte and my marks are good. I have scored an average of over 60% in my undergraduate year. If I was not working and had more hours to use towards studying, I feel that I could have attained a higher average. However, I have gained great accounting & auditing experience through my job(s).

    Unfortunately, till date, I have not been able to get a bursary for my CTA year. I have no idea how I am going to pay my fees for the rest of the year.

    Should you or your team know of anywhere else that I can apply, please contact me – 074 599 2664

    Thank you.

  2. Misbah

    Assalaamu alaikum (Peace be upon you) Faatima

    Your story is very, very similar to mine except that I’m currently doing my CTA, level 2 with UNISA.

    As a fellow Muslim, Indian – I must say that your story is very inspiring.

    Thank you for sharing.

Categories

Latest Articles