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CCI in an exclusive interaction with Stephen Heathcote, Executive Director - Markets at ACCA and Raymond Jack, Executive Director - Finance & Operations at ACCA 

Responses to be attributed to Raymond Jack, Executive Director, Finance & Operations - ACCAand Stephan Heathcote, Executive Director, Markets - ACCA

What is the current global economic scenario in India and India's position in the larger picture?

Raymond: I think India's position is rapidly growing in prominence. The government has made some very clear statements about its ambition and what it wants to achieve in terms of developing India's influence globally while equally growing its economy. We believe, that this gradual shift will create some fantastic opportunities for ACCA as an organisation. This growth has created a window for us where we believe that we can add value by helping individuals to fulfill their aspirations and to enable them to make a contribution to economic development and success.

As we know that India is a growing economy and now with the Modi Govt. hopes are really high across the globe, like, in every growing economy there are two challenges- one is the sustainability and the second is to cope up with the sustainability by narrowing the skill gap. The question is: How do we develop the fundamentals of a developing economy?

Stephen: There are several aspects to a growing economy and hence attention needs to be focused on those various aspects to develop a robust fundamental/basics of the economy in perspective.

The government is quite rightly focusing on the physical aspects – on basic hygiene, support or infrastructure. While these issues may not be talked about or make the headlines, they are very important to developing the fundamentals of an economy. For example, infrastructure plays an important role in enabling organisations to take advantage of opportunities, putting together business plans, to have access to finance, to create investments so on and so forth. As a global organization, ACCA has a very strong belief in the fact that finance professionals are essential to sustainable economic growth. A qualified finance professional is trained to look at the bigger picture while balancing different risks against opportunities; making the best use of investments and how to ensure that organisations for which they work are accountable to their stakeholders. These aspects are very important because they build confidence in a growing economy, which in turn encourages more inward investment. Creating the right confidence in people who are looking after the financial results and making an organization competent is a part of the training process of a qualified finance professional. It means that they know what they are doing and that businesses and individuals who use their services can have trust in them.

So, Raymond, now we have seen that the whole business as well as economic scenario is changing and is very positive. So, I would like to know what are the Job and career trends in Accountancy? Career in accountancy being less linear today/Career trajectory beyond finance, owing to functional shared services at global level.

Raymond: I think, the trends are changing in India as well because the focus has now shifted to developing leadership skills. The current demand for professional bodies like ACCA is to develop complete financial professionals who can work at every level and in every sector from smaller businesses to multi-nationals and government sector. They are equipped to not only ensure that accounts are correct but to also be able to advise on investment decisions, risk and good governance.

So basically, the role is expanding and also the trend is positive.

Stephen: We spoke with a large number of employers who said that following the global financial crisis, it was important that finance professionals were able to not only simply deal with compliance issues, but to support economic growth and development. Employers need people who can communicate and can influence others, as finance professionals need to be able to work very closely with all departments, particularly IT and HR.

What are the prospects and challenges in professional accountancy career and also how if somebody from India, accountants from India, finance professionals, if they go for global accounting certifications, how it will help?

Raymond: We are working to develop complete finance professionals. This involves ensuring that people are not just skilled accountants who are good at analytics but they also need to be effective communicators and influencers.

It’s almost a challenge of overcoming some of the perceptions that sometimes exist about finance. Sometimes finance is seen as a section, which is just there to put controls in place. But many do not understand is that the department can act as a business partner enabling other teams to innovate and take acceptable risks. But because of the perceptions of finance departments, there is a possibility that the finance department could easily become marginalized and pushed into the compliance bucket. I think that would be a lost opportunity, because what are actually needed are finance people helping to turn ideas and opportunities into real value and real returns on investment.

As, you discussed about the technological changes which are coming up recently, so my question is can you give some insights on proliferation of technology used in finance today and one more thing that, accountants in India are not that modern and if we talk about cloud accounting in India is not popular ad still the traditional accountancy is on rise so how you see that can be narrowed down?

Raymond: Cloud based services are challenging finance teams and IT teams alike.  The critical role played by finance professionals is in assessing the cost of using new advances, such as the cloud understanding, the value these systems can add. This can be achieved through proper evaluation and a value based assessment of the tools.

Given the pace of change, I think professional bodies have a responsibility to ensure their members are aware of the advances and enable them to be able to take advantage of those changes so that they in turn can help their clients or employers.

Stephen, In India the market behaves in a way that there are two big challenges when we talk about cloud accounting services, one is the trust of the data secrecy and second biggest challenge is the trust on the sustainability of that company and services. So, how do you see that, how much time it will take to transform the mind-set of this market or what are the tips that we can pitch in and remove that fear?

Stephen: I think it’s understandable to have some concerns, given that while they create opportunities for businesses, the new technologies also create opportunities for cyber criminals who are trying to use it for information and gain access to sensitive data.

Despite the risks, it is important that organisations are not left behind by advances. The world is digital, so if companies don’t adopt new ways of working they could become irrelevant quite quickly. It’s a case of taking opportunity but then trying to manage the risk, through robust cyber-security.

Let’s see, but I guess the transition will be slow, So, My this question is to both of you. Need for incorporating IFRS into Indian academic curriculum and ACCA's commitment to IFRS as a global professional accounting body and its offerings.

Stephen: We were the first professional accounting body to adopt IFRS in our qualification, so we have been passionate supporters of international standards for a long time. We believe global standards support international trade and development since they create the right structure to enable cross border investment and business transactions.

We offer a certificate in IFRS which enables people to get a basic understanding of the standards as well as a much more advanced course which enables people to apply the standards.

We are very committed to supporting the transition to IFRS and we will be very happy working with any stakeholders out there who are ready to make a move. We have a wealth of experience of working in countries, which have moved to international standards and would be delighted to offer help to organisations making the journey to IFRS here.

Raymond: International standards provide a level playing field, enabling consistency and comparability, while combatting confusion and inefficiency.

What is ACCA - X, I would like to know the insights on ACCA - X and its benefits and how ACCA - X can help the professional accountants in today's scenario and what is its relevance in Indian market?

Raymond: ACCA - X is a learning tool that we have developed which is owned by MIT and Harvard. It enables people who don’t have access to classrooms to gain access to online learning.

There are online tutors available and students are able to sit an exam at the end of their learning, which will lead to them tackling the ACCA Qualification, a professional qualification that is equivalent to a UK Master’s Degree.

The last question is to both of you again. What support does ACCA seek from the Min. of Finance from India and the current government, what are the hopes you think how the Govt. can support you or to International certification bodies?

Stephen: We would wish to work in partnership to help create the finance professionals that Indian businesses need, as it becomes one of the most important economies in the world.

Raymond: We believe the ACCA Qualification supports the aims of the Govt. so we would hope that the Ministry and the National Skills Development would support the development of the qualification here. We want to work in partnership to provide the qualification, which we believe is relevant and in wanted by employers.

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