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Helen Brand (Chief Executive of ) – The professional accountant is the ethical guardian of the business

Helen Brand (Chief Executive of ) - The professional accountant is the ethical guardian of the business | business-magazine.mu

Mauritius has the highest number of ACCA members in sub-Saharan Africa and over 85% of professional accountants in Mauritius are already members of ACCA. How does it work out with the global trend of the ACCA network?

ACCA’s mission is to be number one in developing the accountancy professionals the world needs. Number of members and students are very much focused on what that particular market in any part of the world might need from the accountancy profession. Here, in Mauritius, we have a high number of ACCA members but that is very much driven by the type of economy that more than absorbs those accountants.

Similarly, in China, in Vietnam, in Russia and in emerging economies or central economies with international financial centres like Mauritius, you will find the need for numbers of accountants that ACCA can produce. And the ACCA works hard to ensure, however economies might move or shift, like for example in the environment what we find ourselves in globally, accountants can remain relevant and add value in those circumstances. So, they will change and remain relevant rather than be too many.

How is the accountant’s job evolving?

ACCA has an ongoing piece of research, “Accountants for the future”, which started in 2014. It is continually addressing the questions of how will the profession remain relevant: what are the skills required by professional accountants in the future economy, in the future workplace? So, we identified some particular drivers of change which remain relevant, like increased regulation and governance happening all over the world. There are the expectations of the public and of the government: what business will do in terms of environment, societal and human impact, and climate change? There is a whole lot of different expectations on the profession than there was before.

Globalisation trends now mean that even though we hear a lot about protectionism and the closing down of national borders, the fact is that with digital technologies, we are connected globally. That connectivity is only increasing and brings different requirements for professional accountants. So, we identified what we call “professional quotients for success”. There are six of them: creative, digital, emotional intelligence, experience, intelligence and vision. That is not a list that you necessarily expect to see connected with a professional accountant but we think that you need that rounded set of skills and competencies as you progress through your career in order to be successful.

At the centre, we still have those technical and ethical competences that are required. So, that is going to remain constant because even if a process is automated, professional accountants need to understand why and what is happening even if they haven’t perform that task themselves. It is more important than ever that people feel what the business is built on, that it is in the right way and for the right reasons. And the professional accountant is very often the ethical guardian of the business and making sure that they are doing the right thing is at the heart of a business. Moreover, the fact that professional accountants are moving into positions of leadership and emotional intelligence is incredibly important in that leadership sphere.

How about the impact of technology, digitalisation or robotics on accountancy?

Of course, some processes will be automated and we’ll have a lot more of information that is produced in a more timely fashion. But technology is not seen by our members as a threat but as an opportunity to do the job better. It actually means that you have better tools to do the job but it does also mean that you have to understand the technologies and how to use them, how they can produce better information and how you can use them to make better decisions.

It is all about relevance and delivering value. What does the employer need? We are driven by the market; so whether it’s a practice firm, public sector employment, everybody needs finance professionals but how are they going to add value in that workplace? Long gone are the days when it was just about the numbers, processing and numbers coming out of a sausage machine. It is about looking that overall business strategy and, first of all, ensuring that you are accounting for overall value creation: how you are treating your people, how you are governed, how you are impacting on the climate, and the purpose of your organization.

The accountant can be part of that but also making sure that they are providing for strategic and leadership skills, being part of the business that drives it forward. Essentially, what an accountant is doing is providing the information to enable a business to s쳮d but the latter can only s쳮d if that information is used. So you have to communicate that information effectively to the marketing team, to the Chief Executive, to the people throughout the organization.

What are the innovations brought by ACCA regarding training to students and professionals?

From the lowest to the highest level of examination, you will find digital content, and we keep adding new elements. Even since we launched our new professional qualification, we added new data analytics modules; so you get the practical experience you want. We put new technology components in the professional exams; so it would be a continuous process because everything is changing so rapidly and we have to innovate continually. We have a flexible approach to that and we keep updating, making sure members and students are fit for the future. For example, all our examinations are now computer based, but we work a lot on professional insights, talents development and continual professional development content delivered digitally. We are a global body; we can only serve our members ultimately through digital means, whether it’s by creating digital communities, digital learning or digital services. Like many organizations in the world, ACCA itself is going through a digital transformation in order to ensure that we can continue to innovate and serve the market globally.

With the global economic conditions (Brexit, Trade wars, etc.), what changes can the accounting and finance world expect to see? What should they be getting prepared to?

The accounting and finance world is impacted by global economic conditions like any other because our members are part of business. But I guess that accountancy professionals are needed in good and bad times. So in the challenging times that financial focus and the understanding of real value, what is driving value in the business and support the businesses making the right investment decision in challenging times, cutting costs in the most proper way, for sustainability. From that point of view, our members will always be needed but there will be challenging times ahead.

ACCA itself undertakes a global economic conditions survey every quarter and we’ve been doing that since 2008 and it was really in line with the financial crisis. We all are going to have to get flexible, innovative and digitally capable members in those markets to ensure sustainability. I think it will be a different business model as well as moving forward which goes back to the climate and sustainability issues. I think the pressure on businesses is also going to mean change even if nobody can say exactly what this change would be. And the way in which business has thrived and profit will have to be more clearly linked to that broader thriving of the society and the environment in which they are operating.

Accountants are going to play a very important role in giving business and the public an understanding of the way in which resources are measured and are being used by businesses, measuring the impact on the climate and then measuring the improvements and setting the targets and goals for improvements that ensure that environmental change we all need is made.