The term three-dimensional accountant is becoming increasingly popular as the traditional role of accounting professionals expands at lightning speed. Bean counters and number crunchers they may have once been, but this is no longer the case in the contemporary accounting world. In response, one international overarching accounting body is on a mission to embrace this demand shift and promote quantifiable industry excellence.
ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants), the global body for professional accountants, offers specific and internationally recognised qualifications for people interested in a rewarding career in accountancy, finance and management.
According to Brendan Murtagh, ACCA deputy president, the ACCA proposition starts with education. "Our syllabus is both in depth and extensive. We also hold a unique position in the global arena with representation in 170 countries, affording us a perspective which reaches beyond that of other accountancy bodies. In addition to learning and internationalism, we also promote professionalism and ethics as the third dimension. These are very much at the core of what accountants do today," Mr Mutagh says.
In Mr Murtagh's view, the three dimensions are essential for modern accountants. He is clear however, on the origin of the idea. "The concept is not the product of internal ACCA meetings; we constantly consult stakeholders in the market and ask what they want from their accountants," he reveals. ACCA then devises both the syllabus and experience requirements based on real market data, ensuring members benefit from comprehensive and up-to-date lifelong educational initiatives.
The 2007 syllabus, which integrated professionalism and ethics, has been tremendously well received by employers and students alike, with students being the best assessors of course content as they are quick to appreciate the value of acquired skills which can be used immediately. "Professionalism, ethics and leadership are examples of areas where roles are changing globally. Accountants hold a unique position in any organisation as they are able to set the professional tone and culture which then cascades throughout the establishment," Mr Murtagh explains.
Indeed, the responsibilities of accountants are increasingly interwoven into more corporate departments, which in turn give CFOs a sharper insight into a company's overall position and future possibilities.
"If you consider how involved most CFOs now are in every aspect of the business, the step towards the CEO position is becoming much smaller," Mr Murtagh notes. In essence, the two positions are no longer so clearly delineated, and with the soft skill and leadership ability many CFOs now incorporate into their professional life as standard, it is becoming a natural career choice.
As an acknowledgment of experience accumulated and previous learning, Mr Murtagh highlights that graduates with accounting majors are exempt from up to nine of the 14 papers which ACCA candidates are required to sit. Time wise, candidates can dictate the pace of study and take the examinations at a time which suits their personal schedule.
Unlike membership to many professional bodies, an accountancy based degree is not a prerequisite and an increasing number of non-accounting graduates, undergraduates or non-degree holders are taking the exams.
'We want quality people and ensure these people enjoy a sense of flexibility while having easy access to ACCA. Once you meet some basic criteria, you might need to do all 14 papers. Access to this qualification means you must attain the consistently high standard," he affirms.
Every year, ACCA members are required to complete a specific number of CPD (continued professional development) hours. Although this is common practice for many professional bodies nowadays, ACCA is specific about the validity and comprehensiveness of CPD initiatives. Every member stays abreast of changes in the fast-evolving industry and can subsequently offer the highest levels of service and acumen to the companies they represent and the clients they support.
Regarding the direction of the industry, Mr Murtagh adds, "The traditional area for accountants was practice. Then we moved on to industry, commerce and banking and finance. Now, interestingly, one of the largest growth areas is the public sector."
ACCA has analysed these trends and creates courses which encourage all learners to seek a general spread of knowledge, which ultimately allows a degree of choice on the part of the individual as to which direction their accountancy career takes. As Mr Murtagh concludes, "The qualification is generalist in the sense that it covers an awful lot, but within the disciplines, we keep it relevant for accountants in very specific fields."