Is the quality of newly qualified accountants as high as ever?
Don Hutchison, head of audit, BDO Stoy Hayward
We are fundamentally in the business of buying brain power as much as
anything else. Dealing with that aspect first, I would say, in terms of
brainpower, that quality is there, and it’s fine in terms of potential. I think
the issue is when we start dealing with the quality of those people who we
recruit from other firms. That’s where it is different, and I would say quality
has declined in terms of the breadth and range of the experience they would have
had in other professional organisations compared with the way it might have
been, for example, when I trained.
In that sense, they are not quite the raw material, but they are coming to us
as a material that we still have to develop and shape to suit our own particular
business needs. So it wouldn’t necessarily be the case in every situation that
they automatically hit the ground running.
That has something to do with the way in which training has developed, the
way in which things are much more specialised and the fact that the kind of
cross-over opportunities that people used to have within professional firms are
not there to the same degree. Coming out of a professional firm as a rounded
individual, being fit for purpose – either for a larger firm or for the
commercial side – is the aspect that I believe has actually declined.
We push them into our own training and development programmes to make them
fit for purpose for our own business and you could argue that the professional
qualification is not a qualification in itself.
This is not a further education college; we are a business ourselves and we
want to hire people, and to develop people, that suit our business. The one
thing that has probably changed in
recent years is the degree to which the professional firms have fought much
harder to retain and develop their people and not just see themselves as a kind
of pass-through organisation for the next commercial opportunity.
There will always be people who come into organisations such as ours with
that kind of mindset. But as part of our recruitment process, we try to thin
that out as much as possible and to actually make our own propositions
sufficiently attractive in themselves for people to want to develop and want to
stay with us. That emphasis has probably changed in most of the major firms.
We are all really fighting hard to retain and develop our people – not simply
to act as some kind of pass-through, further education college.
How have the demands placed on newly qualifieds changed in recent
Mark Palios, turnaround specialist, former FA chief executive &
I may be a bit ageist on this, but in the 1970s accountants actually felt
they had actually made it once they qualified. In the 1980s, I think they found
that wasn’t quite the case.
Today, there is quite a healthy attitude towards taking responsibility for
your own career. That is what I see most in accountants who come out of the
large firms and the profession in general.
If I meet, say, chartered accountants, I expect them to be professional. I
expect them to be technically competent, to understand balance sheets and to
They are increasingly going to compete – especially in London – against
Chinese, Indian, Canadians, Americans, South Americans and so forth. They are
going to compete against people who have the language skills and against people
who have pretty good business analytics in that regard. That is the type of
skillset that is required in the City and that will drive a lot of the en-vogue,
if you like, career aspirations and training aspirations of these students.
We don’t have a global economy driven by just the US anymore; it’s driven by
China, India, Russia and the US. As a consequence, people are much more
flexible. For example, if you look at a business now of the size you would like
to deal with, the UK business has got an international dimension to it now.
The whole thing has become internationalised in the past 15 years and the
recent, much talked about investment into the City of London is great because it
increases opportunities for people. If business is active, then accountancy is
reactive to it. I am completely confident there will still be demand for
accountants going forward.
What I look for in somebody I am potentially taking on is leadership skills.
Have they actually led groups and people? Have they done things through people?
Have got the right interpersonal skills?
It’s not necessarily the remit of the institute to train anyone for that, but
that is the type of achievement I personally look for. You get a sense of that
during the interview; you would get a sense of that from the things he or she
has done outside of business. For me, it’s really almost a no-brainer that you
can actually work and lead people and manage people.
You might wonder what that has to do with accounts people? Well, it has quite
a lot to do with accountancy if you start to move on, because you are going to
have to start to run things and get people to deliver for you.
Chaired by Damian Wild
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