Sally Percy, journalist

The accountancy profession is facing a range of challenges, including retaining its attractiveness to younger generations, and the ever-widening skillsets demanded by technological advances and the sharpening focus on sustainability. ACCA and Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ) are working through a strategic alliance to address these issues.

‘From an employer perspective, these issues are causing talent shortages,’ says ACCA chief executive Helen Brand. ‘They are not easy to tackle, but tackling them together is an imperative. No individual player can resolve these issues alone.’

‘When you’re an accountant, you’re the problem-solver in businesses’

Ainslie van Onselen, CA ANZ chief executive, says their research has shown that it is not that the younger generation thinks negatively of accountancy, ‘It’s just that they don’t know enough about what it is in order to make a decision. So, we need to inform them about what accountancy is.

‘When you’re an accountant, you’re the problem-solver in businesses. You’re digesting complex information and making that information understandable to people within your organisation and your community,’ she adds.

Sustainability focus

Professional accountants are in increasingly short supply at a time when the transition to a more sustainable economy is creating heightened demand for their skills, while offering exciting new opportunities for them to further their careers.

As organisations around the world come under growing pressure to make a ‘just transition’ to net zero, and sustainability reporting standards and frameworks are mandated by regulators, the skills of the professional accountant are increasingly in demand to integrate the financial performance and sustainability strategy of their organisation.

‘Accountancy is based on a code of ethics and we hold our members accountable to that’

‘We know that accountants can play a critical, and tangible, role in the ESG agenda,’ explains Brand. ‘So, it’s imperative to convey that message to those who wish to have a rewarding career, so that we can attract them into the profession.’

New opportunities

Van Onselen adds that rapid technological advances are also creating new opportunities for accountants. This is not just because the technological revolution is equipping them with powerful new tools to help the finance function and their organisations work more efficiently and productively; technological developments, especially the rise of AI, also place a greater focus on ethics. Accountants have a lifelong commitment to ethical conduct, so they are in an excellent position to ensure AI is used in ethical ways.

‘Accountancy has always been a very trusted profession,’ says van Onselen. ‘It’s based on a code of ethics and we hold our members accountable to that.’

Brand is conscious that professional bodies have a responsibility to equip their members with the skills they need to adapt to this rapidly changing world, whether those are technical, sustainability, technological or softer skills such as emotional intelligence.

‘We need to ensure that people feel valued and their voices are heard’

‘People’s jobs will be very different in 15 years’ time,’ she says, ‘so they have to be able to take on those new roles as they emerge.’

Influencing policy

Through their strategic alliance, ACCA and CA ANZ are seeking to influence the core policy issues impacting the profession. For example, they have made joint submissions in response to reviews of the audit profession and other issues affecting the accountancy profession globally.

‘That collective voice has sparked interest from policymakers and regulators,’ Brand explains, ‘and we know that influence on policies is something that our members treasure highly.’

The two chief executives speak regularly to discuss the issues facing the profession. ‘Having a peer you can talk to is really important,’ says Brand. ‘Not only do we have a close connection; senior members of ACCA’s Council and CA ANZ’s board meet regularly as well’.

The strategic alliance between ACCA and CA ANZ dates back to 2016, when it was established to expand the opportunities available to the bodies’ existing members, as well as future professional accountants. Since then, the two organisations have hosted joint events and worked closely on different initiatives, from CPD courses to joint research papers on topics such as cybersecurity, robotics and talent. To operate more efficiently, ACCA and CA ANZ also co-locate their teams in several locations around the world: the UK, Australia, Hong Kong SAR, Malaysia and Singapore. Find out more.

Inclusion agenda

Inclusion is another priority for the accountancy profession, which continues to be male-dominated at senior levels and still presents barriers to people from many backgrounds.

Brand and van Onselen have appeared together in joint webinars – for example, to mark International Women’s Day, exploring inclusion issues and sharing their experiences of building their careers and being successful in leadership positions.

It’s an area that both are passionate about. ‘Accountancy is an extremely diverse profession,’ says van Onselen, ‘but we need to ensure that there’s equality of opportunity and that people feel valued, and their voices are heard.’

Ultimately, both Brand and van Onselen are very positive about the future of the profession and its ability to attract the next generation of talent. Brand points to the very significant role that accountants will play in ‘driving the kind of change that will mean we have sustainable businesses on a sustainable planet’.

In an age of high inflation and economic uncertainty, van Onselen adds, the profession offers breadth, opportunity, security and financial reward.

More information

Watch live on 21 November or on demand the keynote session of ACCA’s annual virtual conference, Accounting for the Future, where Ainslie van Onselen and Helen Brand will discuss the accountant’s role in putting profit, people and planet on par