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Student Insights

What’s it like to… be an independent ICAEW CFAB student

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 28 Jul 2022

Student accountant young woman colourful pattern dress

For ICAEW CFAB student Xoliswa Elizabeth Mnyanda, the secrets of success are discipline, motivation – and the confidence to be who you are.

Independent may just be the perfect word to describe student Xoliswa Elizabeth Mnyanda. Currently studying for the ICAEW CFAB as an independent student in Cape Town, South Africa, Xoliswa Elizabeth has always believed in following her own path. “Growing up I actually wanted to be a dermatologist,” she says. “I had severe eczema as a child and was always in and out of the dermatologist’s office. I didn’t want anyone else to go through that.”

At high school she had her first introduction to accounting and, she says, “I just fell in love with it. I really enjoyed it, and I was good at it. I remember we had a project that involved researching which careers you could go into with accounting. That’s when I was introduced to all these different opportunities, and I decided to change my career path.” She went on to do more research by job shadowing chartered accountants, and soon decided she wanted to become one herself.

Xoliswa Elizabeth had already applied for a degree in accounting and finance when she came across the ICAEW CFAB qualification. “I knew that the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants, SAICA, was one of the best in the world,” she explains. “When I looked into it further, I discovered that ICAEW was number one. I started to research the ICAEW qualifications, and saw that there were different routes – that’s when I realised that studying for the ICAEW CFAB independently would cost me much less than doing a degree.”

When she registered as a student in 2019, she was working full time, in the marketing team of a small construction firm. Then, just before the start of the COVID pandemic, she decided to set up her own clothing company. “To be honest it was nothing I imagined for myself,” she says. “It was a journey I went through. I grew up in South Africa but I am originally from Zimbabwe, and I was given a Xhosa name – Xoliswa. Growing up in a different country, I never got to experience my own culture, the Shona culture, and it was something I longed to do – to find out the meaning of my name, to see where my parents grew up and to discover my identity.

“That passion of being someone who unapologetically embraces who they are is what led to me designing clothing. In each of the garments we make, we always include African prints, and the reason why is to remind the consumer that you just need to be who you are. That is the main goal and the main purpose behind the brand.”

Student accountant young woman colourful pattern dress

At the same time as setting up her new business, Xoliswa Elizabeth began studying for the ICAEW CFAB. “It was kind of a risk because everyone around me was training with SAICA – that’s the most common route in South Africa,” she explains. There were no ICAEW centres locally where she could sit her exams, so she decided to fly to nearby Mauritius – then, with the pandemic, everything fortunately moved online. She has completed two of the ICAEW CFAB modules and the Ethics Learning Programme so far, with four exams left to go.

The flexibility to set her own pace is one of the advantages of being an independent student, says Xoliswa Elizabeth, but there are challenges too. “You have to be disciplined – you need to do what you need to do when you say you are going to do it. It can also be a bit lonely. When you’re struggling with questions and answers, you don’t have someone you can ask for help, you just have to figure it out on your own. But that’s where motivation comes in, and remembering why you’re on this journey.” 

Having studied economics and business at school, luckily the subject matter isn’t completely new. “I have the basics, and I also did a few entrepreneurship courses after high school,” Xoliswa Elizabeth explains. “A few months in, I also realised that, living in the 21st century, there’s always a way to learn something! If there’s a topic I don’t understand, I Google it or go to YouTube.” She is also making the most of the ICAEW resources on offer, attending webinars and virtual courses and joining Communities. “Being an independent student you’re kind of on your own, so it’s really helpful to be with others,” she says. “I attended a webinar recently with caba, and it made me realise that many of us are struggling with a fear of failure. We all go through the same things.”

When it comes to balancing work and studying, Xoliswa Elizabeth is thankful for the experience she had at school, where extra-curricular activities such as sport and creative arts were given the same importance as academic achievement. “They would always speak of being good in every area,” she says. “I’m really grateful for that, because I think it’s allowed me to maintain balance in my life. Whenever I take something on, I always ensure that, whatever it is, I know I can do it. The key is scheduling and time management. I’ve noticed that the times when I do feel overwhelmed, it’s because I haven’t planned properly.” She makes sure she finds time to relax, too: “I always tell people that if I go missing, the first place you must look for me is at the gym, and the second place is in the library. Those are my two favourite places.”

Once Xoliswa Elizabeth has completed the ICAEW CFAB – hopefully this year – she plans to continue on to the ACA. “I’m hoping to secure a training agreement with an authorised training employer,” she says. “I think it will help working in finance, and being exposed to what it is I’m actually learning – not just seeing the theory, but doing it as well.” She is in no doubt that the ICAEW qualification, and a career in accountancy, is the right one for her. “It’s a qualification that allows you to do almost anything in business. It’s an investment in your future. From my experience there aren’t many risks involved – all I’ve got is gain.

“I’m motivated by my favourite quote, which is by an American runner called David Goggins: ‘Don’t stop when you’re tired, stop when you’re done.’”

We have a range of resources available to support you with your studies. Find out more about the ICAEW CFAB exam resources and the ACA exam resources.

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