Preparing accountants to take over the world

Wednesday, 2 January 2013 00:12 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

With accounting and finance being essential back-office services in the current highly competitive economy where outsourcing industries grow at a rapid pace, countries like Sri Lanka stands to benefit greatly if the talents of finance professionals are harnessed to be on par with international trends.

Identified as a remedy against growing costs and inefficiencies of almost every business activity as well as the remedy against the high costs of internal accounting, departments are looking to outsource the services of accounting professionals from the world over. “This has created many opportunities for countries like Sri Lanka, which has been progressively making a name for itself as a successful outsource centre,” ACCA Executive Director Neil Stevens said.

Noting that companies that treat accounting and finance as their main business activity will do everything that is necessary to make it efficient – particularly in specialised areas such as finance management, tax advisory, staff and payroll affairs – Stevens stated that it is one the best solutions for new companies concentrating on business development.

“Therefore companies that require such services will undoubtedly look for an accountant who has a globally recognised qualification. We at ACCA are confident that we can provide a foundation for future accounting professionals in the country to provide the necessary services to those companies.”

In Sri Lanka, there is an increased emphasis on roles that support strategy, decision making and operations. A focus on finance as a more business advisory and partnering role is now seen with finance being integrated within organisations.

Forces such as globalisation, increased competition and developments in IT have increased demand for more collaboration and value added input from the finance arm, and have enabled accountants to interact better with the business.  

Collaborations between finance professionals and the business can now be achieved through cross-functional projects and initiatives, while virtual communication allows employees to interact across departmental and geographical boundaries. This again is an area that ACCA professionals can use their knowledge to assist finance professionals in the country through their extensive network and expertise.

The rise of integrated reporting – which merges financial and sustainability data – poses challenges as well as opportunities when looking for solutions in execution, engagement and education, which is another area that ACCA is seriously looking at.

“We strongly believe that integrated reporting doesn’t only demonstrate the linkages between an organisation’s strategy, governance and financial performance and the social, environmental and economic context within which it operates, but also works as an integrator of sustainability into a company’s core business,” Stevens expressed.

Speaking further, he acknowledged that in the present context, being a CFO is a challenging task which needs to be balanced accordingly. “CFOs need to improve on their multitasking ability – from reporting and controls to finance operations or strategy and execution and address the challenges that their finance functions faces. At the same time, CFOs also face never-ending pressure to cut costs, grow revenue, and tighten controls while assuming unprecedented personal risk for their company’s mistakes.”

Stevens listed four key roles that a CFO is required to play in a business context – the role of a steward (protect and preserve the assets of the organisation), operator (balance capabilities, costs and service levels to fulfil the finance organisation’s responsibilities), strategist (provide financial leadership in determining strategic business direction and align financial strategies), and catalyst (stimulate behaviours across the organisation to achieve strategic and financial objectives).

The key areas CFOs operate in today are the fields of investor relations, external reporting and assurance and operational controllership and financial risk management. Another emerging trend in business is sustainability: the growth of integrated corporate reports, in which sustainability data is reported alongside traditional financial reporting data.

He asserted: “The CFO role of the future will be unique, requiring a special blend of capabilities and skills.”

Outlining the competencies which he believes will be essential for accountants in the future, Stevens listed out functional competencies, personal competencies, broad-business-perspective competencies and integration.

“I believe that today’s accountants should have more than just the core competencies in accounting and general business that are necessary for a successful accounting career,” he said. “For instance, the ACCA qualification includes study in the following areas: financial accounting, management accounting, accounting information systems, financial, operational, and information systems auditing and taxation.” This is because today, many value added services are required by accountants in the form of decision-making abilities, strategic and critical thinking, leadership, and more.”

Stevens went on to  explain that ethics and the importance of ethical decision making are increasingly significant because of the pressures placed on business managers by stockholders, creditors, and other parties affected by financial performance.

Therefore ACCA has ensured that this is an important area that is covered in the syllabus  In terms of ethics, ACCA has an entire module on this, which gives the students exposure to a range of ethical perspectives and includes several self-tests which require them to reflect on their own ethical behaviour. ACCA also believes that professional values, ethics and governance are essential skills needed for accountancy as the profession moves towards strengthened codes of conduct, regulation and legislation. The aim of the professional ethics module is to help students develop ethical knowledge, sensitivity and judgment which can then be applied in the exams and the workplace.  

Stevens concluded by pointing out that in terms of developing the right skills that are in line with the current requirements of the finance profession, ACCA constantly updates its tuition providers with the relevant training they require to impart this knowledge to their students in turn.

They host conferences and training programs that give them guidance on all the important aspects that are both relevant and important to tuition providers. The interactive sessions with the trainers draw out problems, suggestions and ideas from the participants and make them understand how to successfully tackle their problems and overcome them in a successful manner.

The ACCA facilitators also share their thoughts and analyses of situations and provide many valuable insights that were very relevant to each of the markets and also focus on better methods of teaching and how best to market the study courses.

ACCA also has discussions on best practices for teaching, assessment methodologies and the examiner feedback received on student exam performance which is very useful, as well as forums on identifying challenges and methods of how to initiate solutions to help improve exam performance.