Accountancy Gains New Management And Technology Focus
Accountancy training is broadening its focus to include management themes – helping accountants land jobs in financial services at diverse FTSE 100 companies.
The accounting profession is getting a makeover. The largest accountancy institutes are broadening their teaching to develop rounded financial managers, as accountants find senior-level management jobs in diverse businesses.
According to recruitment firm Robert Half, 50% of chief executives who were leading FTSE 100 companies in 2014 had an accountancy or financial management background.
While accountants still flock to the Big Four audit companies such as PwC and Deloitte, others see the value in their professional qualifications as a source of management training.
“Like evolving academic qualifications, we look to test the connections between disciplines and topics,” said Helen Brand OBE, chief executive of ACCA, one of the big accounting institutes.
All of the main accountancy qualifications – the ACA (offered by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales), the CIMA (from the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants), and the ACCA – have broadened their teaching scope to include more management themes.
This puts them in competition with business schools, whose MBA graduates often move into senior financial roles in big accounting firms such as EY and KPMG.
The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants’ exams are now more comprehensive, according to Helen. “The big difference is our focus on the fundamental importance of ethics and professionalism,” she said.
She added that ACCA looks to test connections between disciplines and topics so that accountants see the valuable connections between different business areas.
Peter Stewart, director of learning at CIMA, said the organization has moved beyond the scope and knowledge of “traditional” accountancy programs to include new themes.
A revised 2015 syllabus has a new “management finance focus” which includes topics such as operations and risk management, and managing corporate assets, he said.
More business case studies and scenarios will be used to educate accountants taking the CIMA exams, a method which forms the bulk of management degrees such as the MBA.
But Peter added: “The changes have been driven entirely from the demand of businesses, rather than academics, business schools and professors involved in finance.”
Gavin Aspden, director of qualifications at ICAEW, which runs the ACA exams, said that there is now more scrutiny of education in light of increasing tuition fees.
He said the institute has evolved the ACA qualification to reflect the market, and employers’ needs. “There is an increase in focus on managerial and leadership skills in the financial industry,” Gavin said.
Employers also want more technology elements, and ethics embedded into exams, he said. He added that the recruitment process is “more robust” today. “You’re expected to hit the ground running,” he said.
Accountants may question the value of an academic education such as an MBA or masters degree in light of professional services firms, like banks, taking on younger hires.
Grant Thornton is recruiting graduates and apprentices; EY is seeking to increase diversity by hiring more school leavers; and PwC has reduced its focus on academic achievement, hiring graduates who have been successful in alternative fields such as entrepreneurship.
“There’s a certain inevitability that if someone has to pay for something, they will question the value,” Gavin said.
“Employers are looking at school leaver programs because a student who starts work with £30,000 worth of debt has certain salary expectations,” he added, which may not be met.
Business schools and universities have begun partnering with professional bodies, offering transferable credits.
ACCA recently launched a masters program in partnership with the University of London, which enables students to complete the exam component of the ACCA qualification at the same time as their degree, Helen said.
“It’s critically important that those we train can see the full picture,” she added.
While there may be conflict between academic qualifications and professional qualifications, accountants are attaining both to better prepare themselves for financial services careers.
Paul Schoonenberg, MBA careers manager at Aston Business School, said: “An MBA, in addition to a recognised accounting qualification… Can demonstrate a broader set of commercial and strategic skills, which become more and more important in senior finance positions.”
Many people who enrol in an MBA program will have come from an accountancy background, said Naeema Pasha, head of careers at Henley Business School.
She added: “They often see the MBA being a way of widening skills and abilities in different areas such as strategy, marketing [and] sustainability… They are keen on creating new career opportunities.”
The sweeping changes to both content and delivery of accountancy training look set to continue. “The pace of change will only increase with the pace of change in the markets, with globalization and [with] technology,” said Gavin at the ICAEW.