ACCA: Measuring Transparency and Accountability in the Corporate World
Today’s business environment is both complex and competitive. While technology and innovation propel firms ahead, transparency and accountability determine their sustainability. As corporates continue to focus on value creation, a mechanism that measures sustainability initiatives is increasingly in demand by stakeholders. This is in line with the business axiom, “What gets measured gets acted on.” With dynamism constantly transforming the corporate world, education is shaping the 21st century workplace like never before. ACCA – known as a qualification for the accounting profession – is now putting forth a series of leaders in the c-suite, individuals who are the driving force behind the success of business organisations. In an interview with ACCA Sri Lanka, Echelon talks to Nilusha Ranasinghe – Head of ACCA Sri Lanka and Maldives; Dilani Perera – Business Relationship Manager, Learning; Ruchera Jayawardena Peries – Business Development Manager, Employers and Members; and Mahendrika Wijayasooriya – Marketing Manager on how ACCA has moulded many of the country’s corporate leaders, while promoting transparency and accountability in its sphere.
Diversity and innovation are the hallmarks of today’s corporate world. However, transparency and accountability need to be at the core for sustainability. Do you think sustainability reporting has become the powerful change agent it can be?
Nilusha: Sustainability goes beyond the mindset of philanthropy. It’s also a top-down approach, so, if the board of directors and CEO are not committed, it won’t cascade down. The reporting aspect of it kicks in to provide a means of measuring the initiatives undertaken by a firm in the name of sustainability. We do believe that transparency and accountability are key for business success, and as a professional body, we are keen to recognise and reward businesses that embody these principles. With this in mind, ACCA launched its sustainability awards 15 years back, and since then we have continued to roll it out year after year, with improvements to the awarding mechanisms and capturing a wider segment of businesses through the introduction of new categories. We’ve also seen increased interest and participation in the sustainability awards over the years. This is encouraging as it means that firms believe they should acknowledge their non-financial risks and opportunities and be transparent about how they are managing them.
Going forward, we plan to focus more on the implementation aspect as well, not to play the role of a regulator but to take a closer look at how this is cascading down and across the organisations and their stakeholders. As the world advances, we also need to be innovative in our approach, which means we need to go beyond the reporting mindset. We believe this will help more firms embrace sustainability with a coherent and ambitious strategy that delivers longterm value, beyond mere performance metrics.
From an education perspective, where does the ACCA journey begin?
Nilusha: ACCA does not create artificial barriers for entry. For instance, we don’t have any age restrictions. We want students to start their journey with ACCA whenever they feel they want to do so. Today’s younger generation is smart and miles ahead because of the opportunities that technology present. They are ambitious and focused on what they want in life. Considering the mindset of the new generation, we have also made our qualification more accessible and userfriendly, free of age and other barriers.
How does ACCA assure the quality of the learning centres it is affiliated with?
Dilani: When it comes to learning support, we have a network of approved learning partners in Sri Lanka. Our Approved Learning Partner (ALP) programme gives formal recognition to leading learning providers for quality tuition and the support they offer to students. It is the platform where we can develop a mutually beneficial relationship, increasing the global availability of effective and innovative course delivery and first-class student support.
Is there a specific trend in demand for ACCA as a qualification; and if so, from where do you see this demand coming, both from a gender and demographic perspective?
Dilani: We provide opportunities, free from artificial barriers, for people around the world – whether they are students or members – in their careers. We respect and value differences, and embrace diversity in our people and output. We believe accountancy is vital for economies to grow and prosper, which is why we work globally to build the profession and make society fairer and more transparent.
As a brand beyond a qualification, ACCA has gained recognition in the education sphere, among both corporates and students. In your view, what has been the driving force behind this?
Mahendrika: The ACCA brand is really about the distinct kind of leadership we bring as an organisation. Our brand is our reputation; it is what we stand for in the hearts and minds of our customers and stakeholders. It is the experience we deliver and the value we create. The brand is at the heart of our business and informs how we behave as a business.
Core to our brand is our brand promise. We work towards shaping the future of the profession, enabling individuals and organisations to unlock their potential. We do this by thinking ahead, connecting markets, supporting communities and driving global standards. We create opportunities for those with the courage and imagination to succeed.
What do you think are the challenges in ensuring the brand lives up to its expectations, and how do you overcome these challenges?
Mahendrika: Bringing our brand positioning to life in today’s rapidly changing world is a challenge we constantly face. However, we overcome this challenge by refreshing our visual identity and brand communication style regularly based on our brand personality.
To “Think global and act local” is another challenge. We always use the brand communication style based on our brand’s personality. However, we ensure the visual identity and tone of voice is changed accordingly to appeal to our market.
Today, education is no longer a mere qualification. Instead, it’s shaping the 21st century workplace. How is ACCA adjusting to this change?
Nilusha: ACCA as a forward-thinking professional body has been constantly innovative. We have been embracing change all throughout to ensure the qualification stays relevant and impactful. From paper-based exams we moved to on-demand exams, which are computer-based. With the introduction of computer-based exams, students are now being tested on their word processor and spreadsheet skills in addition to writing and numeracy proficiency. This year, we are introducing an integrated case study at professional level, which is a first and is based on the requests that have come from employers globally. It’s not the standard case studies that most qualifications have where one would get an industry to study and evaluate. It’s more comprehensive and will focus on employer-related business skills. We have also introduced an Ethics and Professional Skills Module (EPSM), which requires around 15 to 20 hours of module assessment, and is an interactive module that is recognised with a standalone certificate of EPSM from the global body. It immediately raises the bar in terms of one’s employability.
Ruchera: At ACCA, we believe that a qualification is of no use unless one is employable, and employers accept and respect the qualification and its content. ACCA develops strategic, forward-thinking professional accountants that the world needs. Our core qualification is the ACCA Professional Qualification, which is designed to develop vital accounting knowledge, skills and professional values. It creates professional accountants who build successful careers across all employment sectors, maximising the capability of finance departments and senior management teams.
There is growing demand for ethical finance professionals. As ACCA celebrates its membership, we also support the journey towards membership through various tools. The newly launched EPSM is now a requirement for affiliates to complete and to achieve full membership. In fact, we want students to complete it before attempting our new strategic professional level exams.
Nilusha: We firmly believe that the 21st century workplace is not only about paper qualifications; it’s about transferring knowledge into action irrespective of which job function you may be in. Our vision for 2020 embraces this, as we see a growing number of ACCA-qualified professionals going beyond the profession of accounting to be at the helm of successful organisations.
Gender diversity in the workplace is being embraced widely in the business world. While Sri Lanka may yet lag far behind, the need for diversity seems to be growing. What are your views on this?
Nilusha: Unlike in the past, females today pursue ambitious careers and are competitive. At ACCA, we have seen this trend in our global and Sri Lankan numbers. If you look at the percentage of females pursuing higher education and a career, the numbers are growing. Females are also more business-driven. If you look at Sri Lanka, we see many female entrepreneurs who are quite successful. Take the corporate world; there are plenty of females in decision-making positions across various business functions. Therefore, it’s a positive change, and I think females can add value to any business irrespective of the position they are in.
Is there any particular reason why females are more attracted to the education sector?
Nilusha: Females, I think, are more
attracted to the education sector because of their nurturing role. A female has more empathy and an inbuilt ability to be a mentor, which I think attracts them to the education sector. As a mother, teacher or an influencer, that instinct to build and nurture comes naturally; therefore, all one needs to get is the technical knowledge. Education as a career also provides that work-life balance and flexibility that can be attractive to females.
How often does the syllabus change to adapt to changes in the financial framework in the country?
Nilusha: In the past, the syllabus changed only once in three to five years. However, we did realise that it was imperative to adapt to the fast-paced world if the qualification is to be relevant. Hence, currently, we do annual updates to the syllabus to ensure students are kept abreast of the changes. In addition, for members, we have our continuous professional development programmes. As a global profession, it’s important that both our students and members are attuned to changes from a local and global perspective.
Ruchera: We value our relationship with corporates, members and their constant feedback, which help bring about changes to the qualification. Employers also provide opportunities for ACCA trainees to obtain work experience, as they believe that there should be a balance between theoretical knowledge and the practical aspect. Soft skills and the right attitude are key when corporates hire employees. ACCA supports its students by providing soft skill development programmes in collaboration with employers in order to make a greater impact. Our Approved Employer Programme recognizes employers’ high standards of staff training and development. We are committed to ensure our students, affiliates and members have the right skills, ethics and competencies to add value and drive business growth across the globe.
Nilusha: At ACCA Sri Lanka, we have a core management group that works together with all stakeholders to ensure the brand delivers on its promise. While aiming to be the preferred qualification among students, we want to ensure that the learning and development aspect remains strong as our membership continues to grow. As a professional education body, we work closely with corporates, students, learning providers, members and other stakeholders, as we believe that if ACCA produces a member who fits well into the corporate world, then we succeed in our mission.
How does ACCA stay current with the initiatives undertaken across its business agenda?
Mahendrika: ACCA has led and shaped the profession throughout its history, and the qualification has fuelled successful careers, which is evident among our members. To stay current, we continuously innovate and evolve, and this is reflected in our brand positioning – the world’s most forward-thinking professional accountancy body.