The ‘I’s have it when it comes to ACCA’s core values: inclusion, integrity and innovation. For ACCA president Orla Collins FCCA, they are more than positive affirmations – they are principles that have guided her career.
‘A lot of what ACCA is about resonates with me very personally,’ Collins says. Hailing proudly from a working-class family in Dublin, she came of age in the late 1980s, a time when unemployment was rampant and the glass ceiling was almost shatter-proof.
‘It was ACCA and its focus on continuous learning that opened doors for me,’ she says. ‘Inclusion has been a core value of ACCA since it was founded. It was equally valid when I left school and is just as important today.’
‘As a member of ACCA, you are also part of a global family that is there for you. You should never be afraid to ask for that support’
Appointed deputy managing director at Aberdeen Standard Investments Ireland
Appointed chief risk officer at Standard Life International, and head of risk and compliance at Standard Life Ireland
Elected to ACCA Council
Elected ACCA Ireland president
Moves to Pioneer Investments
Becomes a member of ACCA
Going on to build a successful career in the area of risk and compliance, she reflects that ‘ethics have always been important to me, both in work and personally, and they resonate through ACCA’s commitment to integrity.’
And then there’s her own drive to always do better, ‘to be the best you can be’, which she sees reflected in ACCA’s commitment to innovation, to ‘training you and arming you to be that professional who can flex skills and show the broadest competence’.
Challenge and resilience
It was exactly a decade ago that Collins’s own skillsets brought her to prominence in ACCA, when she was elected to ACCA Council two years after being elected president of ACCA Ireland. ‘What I saw then, and what has kept me involved since, was that ACCA was pushing the profession forward and future-proofing it.’ Sustainability may be the buzzword of the moment, but she points out that ‘ACCA had been talking about it for years and recognised it as a core element in its desire to deliver public value through its commitment to building a better world.’
Making the world a better place has taken on renewed urgency during the pandemic. Collins won’t be the first ACCA president to navigate her term against its challenges and she is quick to note that it has brought some inadvertent upsides. She shares the sentiments of her predecessor Mark Millar, who observed he was ‘the first global president to meet the fewest number of members but be seen by most’.
One of her early tasks as president was opening ACCA’s Africa Members Convention, which she did from her dining table in Dublin. Far from disempowering, the experience gave her a chance to ‘engage with members across Africa, and to talk about what can be achieved and how the ACCA Qualification can play a role’.
Collins has, however, been no less exposed to the brutal side of Covid-19, having lost her beloved father in January 2021, with visiting restrictions to hospitals adding to the pain. She stoically observes that ‘I have always seen myself as a resilient person. However, I also witnessed my mother’s resilience through this very difficult time and that taught me so much.’
‘The pandemic has led us to rebalance what’s important in life and to connect with people in different ways’
Joining the frontline of ACCA has also corresponded with a significant uptick in work responsibilities, as Collins assumed the role of deputy managing director of Aberdeen Standard Investments Ireland. Taking on two leadership roles at the same time has left her notably unfazed.
‘The pandemic has led us to rebalance what’s important in life and to connect with people in different ways,’ she says. ‘I’m fortunate to have a great circle of friends and I think it’s important to have people to reach out to when you need to.’
That sense of support is fundamental to how Collins views both the qualification and the role that the organisation can play. ‘ACCA membership is a journey and a career opportunity for everyone, everywhere. As a member of ACCA, you are also part of a global family that is there for you. You should never be afraid to ask for that support if you need it,’ she says.
Regarding her own contribution as president, she reflects that the governance changes of recent years and the introduction of a Council Board have allowed Council and the Council Board in particular to play a more dynamic role. ‘One of our key responsibilities now is to support the executive team to deliver on strategy,’ she explains. ‘That allows me, as president, to play a part in keeping people focused, while also being a sounding board for members.’
And, for all the significance of strategy and growth, for Collins it ultimately comes down to the individual. ‘The highlight for me as president is engaging with members,’ she says. ‘When you meet new members and see their excitement and their pride in what they’ve achieved, it can’t but warm your heart.’
Diversity in action
She does, however, hope to influence recognition that those members are increasingly diverse in profile. ‘The first thing people think about in diversity is gender balance, but we have to think about it in other ways, including ethnicity, age and socio-economic background,’ she says. ‘The move to working from home, for example, has created a great opportunity for returners and for people living away from the big urban centres.’
Whatever stage of career or place you are in life, Collins’s advice, drawn from a deep well of experience, is surely resonant, and will be key to how she leaves her mark in her time in office.
‘Everyone has a personal set of skills – a toolbox – that is with them for life,’ she says. ‘You should be constantly looking to build and expand that toolbox. Sometimes things may not look linear but the situation you are in can give you a new skill or competency, and that can make all the difference in differentiating you in the future.’
Orla Collins has a monthly column in AB, in our Comment section