29 November 2021

Nicholas Riemer wins top prize in the SAICA Top-35-under-35 CA(SA) Competition

The Top-35-under-35 CAs(SA) competition was launched by the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) in 2014 to recognise its young CA(SA) achievers. It has proven to be a huge success in recognising and promoting young CAs(SA) under the age of 35 who are not just achieving extraordinary results in their professional capacity but are also making a significant difference in society.

More on the winners

The winners are considered by the diverse, multi-disciplinary judging panel as the cream of the crop among this year’s Top-35-under-35 CAs(SA), who have gone the extra mile to achieve their career aspirations. Indeed, all 35 finalists are individuals who have not only successfully pursued their career dreams but have also excelled and moved swiftly through the ranks to lead operations within notable organisations.

The overall winner is Nicholas Riemer, co-founder and CEO at The Invigilator. Nicholas attended the University of Johannesburg where his passion for finance and education developed. He was fortunate to spend a year in academia before completing his articles through FirstRand. Nicholas spent three years in mergers and acquisitions before moving to the investment world where he headed up the investment education team at FNB Wealth and Investments. Nicholas is well known for his investment article publications in the media, as well as unpacking financial topics and market events on various radio and TV networks.

In 2020 he co-founded The Invigilator, an entry-level smartphone application used to monitor online and remote assessments. Since launching the company, The Invigilator has conducted over 1 million assessments and was the number 1 most downloaded education application in South Africa as of September 2021.

Nicholas continues to guest lecture for the University of Johannesburg as well as for the ITC and APC board courses and followed his passion for education and business in creating a company that he believes will add significant value to the academic world in mitigating online examination risk as well as making education more accessible across the globe.

The Develop category award winner is Simon Ellis, Co-founder and CEO of SmartWage. Simon is passionate about learning, start-ups, tech and entrepreneurship, and loves working with people to make the world a better place. After university in Stellenbosch, he took a year off to travel alone through India, China and most of Southeast Asia. After his travels, he worked at Deloitte London, gaining experience in Japan, Russia and the US on large multinational projects.

Simon loves building communities, ideas and businesses. In early 2018 he created a community of like-minded people in London called ‘The Bark’, which now involves more than 800 people. In mid-2019 he started Nutbrook Property, a property development company, and in 2020 he started SmartWage. He is currently the CEO of SmartWage, an African technology company that offers employees real-time access to a portion of their earnings before payday. They are the market leader in earned wage access in South Africa, have raised $1,2 million in funding and have thousands of employees using their product. Simon is also a founding member of 20:40, an Oppenheimer fellow through his work with Harambeans, and African entrepreneur alliance, and chairman of the UK Old Hiltonian Club.

Simon believes there is no substitute for hard work and he loves finding new ways to solve old problems. He is curious about why things work as they do. He takes huge satisfaction in helping people achieve their goals and devotes his energy to this end.

The Influence category winner is Akona Gazi-Babana, a Senior lecturer at the University of Johannesburg. Completing her articles at UCT gave her great exposure to the world of academia and the impact she could have on students from all walks of life, specifically on students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Akona later joined the WSU re-accreditation programme in Mthatha as a senior lecturer. Being part of this team allowed her to give back to her community and to be a beam of hope to many. She was involved in the UCT/FASSET initiative where she translated financial reporting into isiXhosa – her home language. She is currently a senior lecturer and a programme director for BCTA at the University of Johannesburg. She holds a master’s degree in Development Finance from the University of Stellenbosch and is currently pursuing a master’s in Applied Finance at the University of Cape Town.

She is a presenter on APT, a preparatory course for the second board exam, and is a member of the JSE proactive monitoring team that is tasked with assisting in upholding financial reporting standards of JSE-listed companies.

She is also involved in a community upliftment programme in her rural village where they focus on youth development and assisting the impoverished. Akona sits on a few boards as a non-executive director and as a member of the audit and risk committee. ABASA has recently selected Akona as the Academic Woman of the Year 2021.

The Lead category winner is Onke Ndinani Mkiva. Onke is Rand Merchant Bank’s (RMB) co-lead for the Africa Debt and Trade Solutions business (DTS) and serves on the RMB global DTS Exco. He leads a team of investment professionals across seven countries and was responsible for setting up the most fit-for-purpose operating model for this lending business following a merger of RMB’s long-term lending, trade and working capital units.

His purpose statement is to help African operators build sustainable businesses and economies. He has developed formidable relationships with clients, internal, and other stakeholders across the continent and believes in having the best talent in the market. A clear vision and goals set his business apart.

Onke’s commitment to building a solution-driven African society saw him co-creating RMB’s diversity and inclusion agenda alongside other stakeholders. In 2020 he was awarded RMB’s diversity and inclusion award for his contribution to the space.

As a leader, learning never stops and Onke has undertaken executive education programmes from renowned international institutions such as INSEAD and Harvard Business school. He is an MBA candidate at Imperial College Business School where he will be focusing on how African SMEs can leverage technology to reach and create new markets.

The Gamechanger award winner, Candice Unsworth, is the CEO of PKF South Africa, one of the largest mid-tier accounting firms in South Africa.

Candice has always seen it as her privilege to understand what the people around her are experiencing, what they need and to then help them along their path. She believes that if one can bring together the right people and listen to their different perspectives, there is no process they can’t improve together, no problem they can’t solve and no idea they can’t generate. This has, she believes, been the key to her success.

SAICA’s Chief Executive Officer, Freeman Nomvalo, congratulated all the participants and especially the award winners. “It is gratifying to see that our young CAs(SA) are committed to making a difference and leading with integrity,” says Nomvalo. “Our young CAs(SA) are a beacon of light and hope that points to the fact that our economy is in good hands, led by responsible young business leaders who, through their commitment, engender trust in the profession and save and protect the livelihoods of several families. I applaud all our Top-35-under-35 CAs(SA) finalists for their commendable commitment and success. Congratulations to the winners on their fine achievements.”

The competition was sponsored by Makosi, CAMAF and AdaptIT / Caseware, who have recognised the value of this initiative as it provides a platform to promote young CAs(SA) who are #differencemakers not only in their communities but also in the economy of South Africa.

Find out more information on the Top 35 under 35 CAs(SA) competition here.


The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA), South Africa’s pre-eminent accountancy body, is widely recognised as one of the world’s leading accounting institutes. The Institute provides a wide range of support services to more than 50 000 members and associates who are chartered accountants (CAs[SA]), as well as associate general accountants (AGAs[SA]) and accounting technicians (ATs[SA]), who hold positions as CEOs, MDs, board directors, business owners, chief financial officers, auditors and leaders in every sphere of commerce and industry, and who play a significant role in the nation’s highly dynamic business sector and economic development.

Chartered Accountants are highly valued for their versatile skill set and creative lateral thinking, that's why all of the top 100 Global Brands employ Chartered Accountants.

SAICA Media Contact:

Renette Human
Project Director: Corporate Communications
SAICA Brand Division
011 479 0698 or 071 266 0019