Helen Brand OBE, Chief Executive of ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants)
Helen Brand, could you tell us about ACCA, please?
ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) is the global body for professional accountants. We aim to offer business-relevant, first-choice qualifications to people of application, ability and ambition around the world who seek a rewarding career in accountancy, finance and management.
Through a worldwide network of 89 offices and centres and more than 8,500 Approved Employers, who provide high standards of employee learning and development, we work to support our 162,000 members and 426,000 students in 173 countries, helping them to develop successful careers in accounting and business, with the skills required by employers.
We are committed to work in the public interest, and as such, we promote appropriate regulation of accounting and conduct relevant research to ensure accountancy continues to grow in reputation and influence.
Since it was founded in 1904, ACCA has consistently held unique core values: opportunity, diversity, innovation, integrity and accountability.
We believe that accountants bring value to economies in all stages of development and seek to develop capacity in the profession and encourage the adoption of global standards. Our values are aligned to the needs of employers in all sectors and we ensure that through our qualifications, we prepare accountants for business. We seek to open up the profession to people of all backgrounds and remove artificial barriers, innovating our qualifications and delivery to meet the diverse needs of trainee professionals and their employers wherever they may be around the globe.
What does the future hold for the profession globally?
Globally, there are clearly shifts in economic stability and strength, from Western Europe and the US to the vibrant economies of Asia and South America. This is no better encapsulated than the growth in the economic muscle of the BRIC countries, Brazil, Russia, India and China of which India, thanks to some sound differentiators and attributes, is and will continue to be, one of the key magnets for countries and companies to work with from around the world.
There is also extreme economic uncertainty along with political transitions in many regions.
At the same time, the business landscape is being reshaped by a combination of market volatility, globalisation and transformational innovation. The impact of these challenges is compounded by rapid advances in science and technology, demographic shifts and disruptive new business models.
To enable ACCA to understand the future, we recently conducted a global survey and produced a report called 100 Drivers of Change. This looked at what is influencing the global economy and how accountants might respond to the new landscape.
There were a number of implications for the accountancy profession to arise from our findings.
For example, it needs to go beyond current financial reporting practices to provide a more transparent, simplified but holistic picture of a firm’s health and prospects.
Additionally, we expect more regulation and greater momentum in the drive to globalise accounting standards and practices, and there are increasing expectations that the CFO and accountancy function should play a far greater role in everything from strategic decision making to the design of new revenue models.
To meet those challenges we believe that the profession needs to embrace an enlarged strategic and commercial role. As businesses adapt to a turbulent environment, opportunities are emerging for accountants to assume a far greater organisational remit.
The pace of global expansion of firms from developed and developing markets alike is placing the spotlight on accountancy’s ability to master the technical, language and cultural challenges of cross-border operations.
There is more opportunity than ever for accountants to work around the world and with a range of global clients. ACCA has always focused on in ensuring our finance professionals have the edge in a global marketplace, by ensuring their training is based on international financial reporting standards; that they are equipped with the skills they need to succeed anywhere, and that employers recognise the value of the qualification and the ACCA designation.
Are there issues which specifically impact on India?
One of the areas in which India is already leading the way is in the rise of the international finance and accounting super hubs.
We expect that organisations looking to set up finance shared service centres, or to tap into business process outsourcing operations, will increasingly concentrate demand in key centres where shared service and outsourcing operations will aggregate.
These key centres will become innovation hubs for finance operations and, through their association with large organisations’ brands, will represent low-risk, desirable choices for finance departments seeking to establish shared service operations or outsourced relationships.
Until now, the key driver behind the rise of shared services and outsourcing is well established as cost, primarily labour arbitrage in cheaper offshore locations.
But we believe the situation is changing - and access to talent is taking precedence over cost as a driver in places where finance operations through shared services and outsourcing are based.
Organisations will look closely at the capability profiles in certain locations, matching skills to work, and source and invest in senior talent in locations that they view as key talent pools.
As a result, the finance career proposition may become location-sensitive, and of real significance to places such as India with its outstanding pool of talent.
However, technology will have a significant impact on the role finance professionals will perform in the future, and will dramatically reshape the remit and purpose of the finance function, and “what” gets done “where”.
So how does ACCA believe it has a role to play in this new financial landscape?
Taking shared services as a starting point, they have resulted in the emergence of new career paths.
Relatively young finance professionals are assuming job responsibilities that it took baby boomers in many countries, 20 years or more to learn – and earn.
They are now managing accounts, processes and/or teams, replacing managers who may be as much as twice their age. The workers who are managing them onshore, or process leaders who interface with these younger workers daily, may have different attitudes towards work, company loyalty, goals, lifestyle requirements and communication patterns.
As organisational priorities shift from survival to growth, it is no surprise that even more value will be placed on finance capabilities that develop the business: virtual management skills, customer and partner-relationship expertise, ability to facilitate change and communicate, and commercial acumen.
This presents a challenge to bodies such as ACCA, which is why we regularly speak to employers to ask them what it is that they want from professional bodies and their qualifications.
That is why we undertook a survey of more than 500 chief financial officers for ACCA’s report, The complete finance professional 2013: Why breadth and depth of finance matter in today’s finance function.
Thisidentified the key financial areas that CFOs said they need in the finance function, and apart from the need for accounting professionals to behave and act ethically and professionally, financial management and financial analysis were seen as particularly high-impact areas, followed closely by governance risk and control, strategic management accounting and corporate reporting. Internal audit, tax advice and planning were also widely considered to have considerable impact.
Following that feedback, ACCA a competency framework to ensure that aspiring finance professionals, employers and tuition providers are clear about the key skills demanded in an increasingly globalised and rapidly changing business environment.
These are: professionalism and ethics; governance, risk and control; stakeholder relationship management; strategy and innovation; leadership and management; corporate reporting; sustainable management accounting; financial management; audit and assurance
We work to ensure that the ACCA Qualification comprehensively covers these abilities and behaviours through its exams, practical experience requirement and the ethics module.
Are Indian ACCA members using these skills to succeed?
Indeed. ACCA firmly believes that the achievement of our members is what makes the ACCA qualification globally coveted. Our members have demonstrated skills and knowledge in various fields and industries; are passionate about ACCA and thereby contribute richly to the accounting profession and growth in whichever economy they ply their trade. Our members reflect ACCA values of ethics, integrity and diversity and ACCA takes pride that they are looked on as complete finance professionals in whichever field they choose to work in.
ACCA members have been working with leading Indian as well as multinational companies both in and outside India and are equipped with a wealth of expertise which helps them excel in their careers. Within India, ACCA members work with companies such as the Big 4 (KPMG, Ernst & Young, Deloitte, Pricewaterhouse Coopers) , Shell, HSBC, SOS India, JP Morgan, International Monetary Fund (IMF), IBM India, Accenture, Infosys, Tata Consultancy Services, Steria India to name a few.
What sets ACCA and its members apart is that we train our members and members of the future to deliver public value. This is our key priority ever since ACCA was founded over a hundred years ago. We have built the system of sustainable and ethical accounting in the syllabus and every student is trained on it. Our members are aware of their responsibilities towards societies as well as their commitments to ethics is reinforced by continued CPD throughout their membership life time.