Off The TOPP Of Her Head: An Interview With Amy Messer   

Amy Messer is a registered CA (SA) who did her articles at VAT IT. She is now the head of Research and Development at TecEx, one of the businesses within the VAT IT group. Amy’s decision to do her articles in Commerce and Industry rather than in an audit environment was not common among her friendship group at the time, but she is so glad she went with her gut in the end.  

We wanted to share Amy’s personal experience in order to help other accounting students make informed decisions about the program that best suits their personality, their career goals, and their professional interests.  

Reviewing the options: TOPP or TIPP?  

Amy didn’t always know what articles options were available to her while she was studying.  Most of her peers seemed to gravitate towards doing their articles in auditing,  and she was initially going to go the same route before she heard about the VAT IT CA program. 

The VAT IT CA program offered Amy the opportunity to complete her articles in an environment which was dynamic, interesting and different. It offered her the opportunity to find out what she was good at, and what she enjoyed. “I’d always said I wanted to go into banking because it interested me more, but this business program with VAT IT was actually the perfect fit for me,” she says. “It was exactly what I wanted, I just didn’t know it was out there.”  

The first time Amy heard about VAT IT was on a brochure which, she says, “really sold the dream – and they lived up to it.” By the end of Amy’s 3-year articles journey, she found herself running an entire division – which is not something a lot of article clerks can say for themselves. 

Why VAT IT?  

Once Amy knew she had her heart set on the TOPP route, she needed to find a program that suited her needs and professional goals. VAT IT offered an opportunity for professional autonomy, growth, and support from like-minded team members and mentors.  

“It’s a very flexible program,” she reports. “There’s lots of opportunity for growth, to do your own thing and run with it.” At the same time, the program is supportive, with many experienced mentors to guide trainees. Amy was also attracted to VAT IT’s reputation as a successful global business. In her own words, “Everything [VAT IT] touches turns to gold.”  

Amy feels that the VAT IT CA program provides trainees with plenty of opportunities for growth, autonomy and hands-on practical experience. Joining a program like VAT IT’s can grant CA trainees invaluable experience early on in their careers. As she puts it, “To get all of these experiences while you are still in your articles is pretty unheard of.”  

Back to her roots: the University of Johannesburg  

It was with the avid support of one of her lecturers at UJ that Amy decided to investigate doing her articles through VAT IT’s TOPP program. She was advised that it was an excellent opportunity. However, during the course of her studies at UJ, Amy also encountered some misconceptions about TOPP.  

One of these misconceptions was that going the TOPP route would not adequately prepare students for their SAICA board exams. Amy’s experience has proven that this is simply not the case.  

“I found that having the theoretical knowledge [of auditing] and speaking to a few people was more than enough to prepare me for the exam,” she recalls.  

The second board exam (the APC – Assessment of Professional Competence) seeks to assess trainees’ competence in dealing with business scenarios. Amy felt that her experience in the VAT IT program prepared her more thoroughly than some of her peers at other firms, because of the exposure she had received during her articles. By the time she wrote the APC, Amy had already pitched solutions to the CEO and presented reports to the CFO – so she was incredibly prepared. 

“I’ve come out with skills I never thought I would have,” she says. “It pushes you to grow a lot quicker and to accelerate in your career a lot faster…I feel like I could go anywhere now. I could go work at an audit firm now if I wanted. I could go work in a bank, I could go and do anything, basically, just because of the skills [I’ve gained] from the TOPP program.”  

How do I know if TOPP is for me?  

In Amy’s experience, TOPP programs are ideal for aspiring CAs(SA) who want to diversify a practical skillset and supercharge their careers straight out of the gate. But, it also comes down to what your professional and personal interests are, what kind of structure you are looking for in a workplace, and your personality.  

TOPP is a good option for those who learn best by doing something first-hand. “With TOPP, you aren’t rotating in groups where everyone is in their first year of articles. Everyone else is a permanent employee and you get thrown in there as a TOPP trainee.” Mixing it up with a diverse group of experienced professionals can be challenging, but it is also almost guaranteed to spur rapid career growth and confidence.  


Amy’s final word of advice for accounting students is this: “Take the risk – an educated risk! But go for it.” Ultimately, the path that an aspiring CA(SA) takes is up to them. “Don’t get bogged down by everyone else’s opinions. At the end of the day, it’s your decision and, if in your heart it’s what you want, then I would say, go for it!”  

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