International career opportunities for CAs : Helen Brand, Chief Executive, ACCA Global


Recently, CAclubindia had an exclusive talk with the CEO of ACCA, Helen Brand. She is one of the few women in the world to head a global accounting body.

We spoke to her about the Future of the Accounting Profession, and the ACCA's role in making competent accountants.

Can you tell us about the focus ACCA is placing on training accountants to make them strategic business thinkers and not just number crunchers.

So, ACCA's current work in terms of qualification is all based on a massive piece of research we in 2016, called- Professional accountants, the future which identified the attributes and content that the employers needed from professional accountants out to 2025. So, when we had the research we thought about evolving our qualifications to meet the findings.

What we saw was that the employers are looking for is a rounded professional, who can really add value in the business way beyond the number and the normal technical work.

So, what we found was the 7 quotients for professional success. And it that we have got what you would expect. Technical and Ethical quotient right at the heart, that's not going to go away because even though there is automation and etc. you still have to understand what's behind the numbers. We have the Intelligence quotient and the Experience quotient which you would expect. But there is also Vision, Creativity, Emotional Quotient and most important the Digital Quotient. And when you put all those things together that's quite a different view of what a professional accountant would be.

So, we have re-launched our qualification by using not just the content but the way in which we examine using sophisticated computer based examination. And the professional now which we call strategic professional, we have a full case study strategic business leader and I think within that name you probably have an idea what kind of accountants the ACCA wants to produce for the future.

What are your views on the future of accounting profession? And how accountants and finance professional can be the drivers of change in the times to come?

Well, you know there are certain pressures on the profession. Regulation being one of them and Digital transformation being another. So, there's two very different but very important things that are happening within the profession.

I think digitalization is the fastest moving of those and what I think it means for the future of the profession is that the professional accountant is going to have to be very alert, very digitally savvy, able to make ethical judgements within a digital context. So, a lot more issues around data, cyber security and those kinds of issues. And also, has to gonna have those more rounded qualities that I was talking about earlier.

So, you are not going to add value through processes that will now be automated. You are going to add value through understanding your impact on the environment of the business, how your people are being trained and motivated, how you are investing for that very uncertain future. But what we know that businesses are also going to have to change and adapt. So, the CFO or the professional accountants is going to have to guide and navigate the business through those choppy issues.

How do you see Indian Accounting profession evolving as compared to developed countries? Is it adapting to Global standards?

Ofcourse, India has one of the longest and the most established professions in the world. So, I think it is very well established. It's been great to see the convergence with IFRS which I think puts the Indian economy at the heart of the Global profession and makes it so much easier to trade and to do business and for investors to understand what's going on. And now this independent oversight and regulation too of the profession, that will be another common global best practice element.

And, yes, great to see all of those things happening, which of course, being such an important global economy with the eyes of the world on it. The stronger the profession is, the greater the credibility of the economy, and the trust and confidence everybody can have while investing here.

What prospect does ACCA bring for an Indian student?

ACCA has syllabus based on IFRS and IAS since 1996. We were the first to adopt integrated reporting into our syllabus. We have members and students in about 180 countries around the world, our governing body is to run from many countries around the world. So, I guess what I am getting here is this global or international DNA in ACCA and in the qualification and I think for employees and the individuals, you want that global perspective, the professional accountants of the future.

The research we did – employees time and again asked for cultural sensitivity in global perspective, a part of which was they wanted to see the people who were working for them. I think ACCA is one of the qualifications that can give you that edge and make you work ready and I say, change ready.

So, the competencies, you would be drawing on ethics and professional skills or more through, right through emotional intelligence then not one time things that might compete you to do with any changes that comes through in business, whether you are working here in India or the positions that you might achieve around the world.

Recently, you have introduced some changes in your curriculum. Can you tell us something about it?

Well, I mentioned the strategic business leader and the computer based exams --- the other thing that I mentioned is but I think what is very important is the ethics and professional skills module. We tested ethics alongside all other examinations since 1997 as well as embedding it  in the other examinations.

But, this is an enhanced version – an interactive online module where we test individual's ethical judgement on the professional skills that they will apply on their workplace by putting scenarios in front of them and asking them to describe how they would respond to those scenarios – it's very interesting.

One of the things that you learn – is that there is no right and wrong, there are different answers you can give, but you have to understand why you have applied the ethical judgement or the scepticism or whatever professional skill it is that you have used. And in order to become an ACCA member, everybody must pass through all the examinations, get the 3 years relevant experience minimum and pass through the ethic and professional skills module.

Strategic Professional level exam I mentioned earlier, that's very much about about being rounded value-add strategic professional. It's very exciting I think it gives huge opportunities to the people who qualify and most importantly employers love it. So we have based it on what employers have told us what they want, be it the corporate sector, firms or the public sector .And I think members are going to add even more value as time progresses

Any message for the members of CAclubindia

I think it's a great time to be a finance professional, I think there is so much change happening in the business world. You can be the ethical guardian of the business which is so important to the public now in terms of trust and confidence in business. And you can be the person who has ensured that the right investments are made and the right strategic path is taken and also big responsibility but huge opportunity as well.

Thank you, Helen for this insightful conversation! It was great to have you with us today. :)


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CCI Team 
on 07 February 2019
Published in Career
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