If you pushed your trolley down an aisle of the main supermarket in Grand Cayman, you’d be forgiven if you thought you were in South Africa.
“I’ve heard and spoken more Afrikaans here in the past year than I ever did back in Johannesburg. That should give you some sort of indication of how many South Africans are here,” South African-born chartered accountant Alon Berger (pictured below) tells Moneyweb.
After completing his articles at EY in Johannesburg in 2015, Berger headed to the Cayman Islands “for the hedge funds, beaches and tax-free pay”. While he expected to be challenged in his new role at PwC, the number of South Africans living and working on the island caught him off guard.
Due to the large expat community, the island’s main supermarket has an aisle with dedicated South African products and it is not unheard of for the local watering hole to host a “South Africa day”.
Berger says during a three-month period last year he was contacted by 18 different CAs(SA) – mostly newly-qualified or with one to three years experience – through Facebook or LinkedIn hoping to work on the island. The competition is fierce and many people don’t get an interview without a strong reference.
The decision to work abroad was not informed by fears about South Africa’s prospects but rather an opportunity to get exposure to some of the largest hedge funds in the world. Moving to the Caymans offered exciting career prospects, travel opportunities but also the ability to earn a foreign salary.
While pessimism around South Africa’s prospects may play a role in some people’s decision to move abroad, Berger says it did not fundamentally govern his decision to go to the Caymans, but made the allure of non-rand earnings that much more attractive.
The initial set-up costs were significant, but the move was informed by a desire to challenge himself.
“In South Africa we have such a good base and foundation educationally in terms of our CA(SA) designation. I think that is why it is so highly regarded on this side of the world.”
While the broader South African expat community in general seems to be significant, statistics from the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (Saica) show that the number of CAs(SA) on the island remain relatively small.
Nazeer Patel, regional executive for international members CPD and the contact centre at Saica, says it has increased by between 2% and 5% annually, which is not significant. Currently, 183 of their members work in Grand Cayman.
“However, there is a huge appetite for CAs(SA) across the globe,” he adds.
At the beginning of 2017, Saica had 41 362 CA(SA) members. Almost 20% of these members work abroad. The UK and Australia remain the two territories with the largest chartered accountant contingent.
The past year has been a difficult period for South Africa – economically and politically, but Patel says this does not necessarily play a role in chartered accountants’ decisions to leave South Africa.
“Some of our members get seconded for two years by their firms overseas as part of their training after which most return to South Africa with international experience and flavour, which enriches the South African work environment.
“This may differ from member to member, though.”
One of the benefits of the designation is that it is a well-recognised and respected brand throughout the world, he adds.
For Berger, whose initial plan was to stay in the Caymans for two years (his contract runs out at the end of 2017), the idea of staying indefinitely has become more attractive, although he is keeping his options open.
In the meantime, he can find comfort in the fact that finding a little familiarity on the island won’t be a problem.
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