A career in accounting involves much more than just number crunching, and the traditional image of accounting professionals as bean counters has never been based in reality.
This is according to Mark Gold, deputy president, ACCA. Mr Gold adds that the role of professionals in the field is in many ways akin to that of business partners. "In addition to accounting expertise, they have a solid business sense and knowledge."
Competent accounting professionals need to be precise, focused and academically strong. Above all, they need good communication skills. "It's essential for accounting professionals to be able to identify what has to be achieved and to effectively communicate that to other people such as clients, subordinates and superiors," notes Mr Gold, who is a partner at major UK firm Silver Levene.
Meticulousness and accuracy is vital for accounting professionals to deal with "the flow of paper", Mr Gold says. "Whatever the size of the business, the tiniest piece of paper must be recorded."
He stresses however that members of ACCA offer much more than basic accounting skills - they also add value on a strategic level.
Founded in London in 1904, ACCA is the international body for accounting professionals, with 131,500 members and 362,000 students in 170 countries worldwide. To be admitted as members, candidates must pass the 14 ACCA professional examination papers, complete the professional ethics module and accumulate three years of supervised and relevant work experience.
"What we offer is a business qualification, enabling members to interpret figures. It's the difference between simply reading a book and being able to understand it and make decisions based on it," Mr Gold explains. "Employers hire ACCA members because they know they are getting the quality they deserve."
ACCA offers abundant support to its students and members, encompassing technical and soft skills training, seminars and conferences. ACCA members must accumulate about 40 hours of continuous professional development (CPD) training every year throughout their careers, a process strictly monitored by the association.
Mr Gold is passionate about his profession, which he believes offers fantastic career options and opportunities. "At a micro level, it is a very steady occupation. Accounting professionals are in constant demand whatever the market situations. If you have additional skills to complement the qualification, the sky really is the limit."
Apart from going into private practice or working in industry and commerce, accounting professionals may also work for governments or non-profit-making organisations. "Every organisation needs their expertise because everything is assessed in monetary terms," Mr Gold points out. "There's no other way of quantifying a business."
The industry spans a range of roles to suit people with different abilities, interests and preferences. Those choosing the commercial stream may subsequently rise to senior positions in various specialties such as finance, internal control and risk advisory; or expand their careers into other strategic areas while the professional practice scope includes areas such as audit, tax and mergers and acquisitions. There is every chance for aspiring individuals to climb the corporate ladder and eventually assume the position of a CEO.
"The beauty of the field is that it can be extremely specialised or diverse," Mr Gold notes, adding that one of the areas that his own firm focuses on is media. "My clientele tends to include television personalities and film stars. Other firms might specialise in travel agents or footballers."
Recognised worldwide, the ACCA qualification opens doors to work abroad. "The brand is just so strong," remarks Mr Gold. "The world's getting smaller - it's a global economy now."
He points out that ACCA members must possess a high level of English-language skills since they have to take their courses and examinations in English, whatever their home country.
ACCA training can also benefit people outside the industry. "I can't think of a better foundation for any kind of business role. Someone with accountancy training is equipped with the tools and skills to read and understand a business right from the start," Mr Gold says.
With a greater demand for transparency and a more regulated global business environment, employers increasingly rely on accounting professionals to ensure compliance, ethics and good corporate governance.
The 2001 Enron scandal that led to the collapse of top accounting firm Arthur Andersen was a wake-up call on corporate governance, according to Mr Gold. ACCA has since enhanced its syllabus and incorporated a professional ethics module into its curriculum.
"Part of our role is to make sure our members respect the profession and don't bring it into disrepute. We uphold our high standards. This is a promise to our members and employers alike," he concludes.
- Accounting professionals add value on a strategic level
- Myriad of career options for skilled accounting professionals
- ACCA qualification recognised worldwide