The pain and pleasure of results night has become something of a rite-of-passage for young accountants, and some are likely to mourn its passing.
But in these internet-driven days, it seems likely that arriving mob-handed at a mainline train station late on Friday night to see whether your name is included in the final exam pass lists in the first edition of the next day’s newspaper is a tradition whose days are surely numbered.
Not that results night will become any less emotive. Perhaps the hordes of trainees, bonded by hours of shared suffering, will be sitting around in pubs together waiting for the moment for their results e-mails to be simultaneously delivered onto their web-enabled phones.
But the way in which trainees get their exam results is not all that will change.
Rapid advances in technology, globalisation and other forces reshaping the business world mean the trainees of the future are likely to have endured a significantly different training process from their predecessors.
Some changes are already well underway. All of the major UK accountancy institutes are now putting the finishing touches to major revamps of their training programmes.
But what about further into the future? What will accountancy training be like 20 years from now – will it even exist?
According to Clare Minchington, head of education at ACCA, the core technical competencies of accountants will always be ‘people will always need to know how to prepare accounts’, she argues.
But she emphasises that accountants will have another major role to play in the business world of the future.
‘Information overload will be horrendous,’ she says. ‘Accountants will have a crucial role in carving their way through it all.’
Minchington says software will take care of the bookkeeping, but predicts accountants will be able to clear the path through the masses of information facing them and their employers.
However, there have been some who have suggested that these and other changes in the business world could lead to the word ‘accountant’ becoming outdated.
CIMA’s president, for example, has even mooted dropping the word accountant from the institute’s title.
Minchington concedes that there is a possibility that one day accountants may choose to rename themselves.
But she argues: ‘As an accountant I would prefer that we kept our name and redefined what it means to be an accountant.’
Many of those who take pride in their profession are likely to agree.
CIMA director of student development Robert Jelly agrees that financial management will still be a critical skill in 20 years’ time.
But, like Minchington, he argues that learning other skills will be just as important.
‘People management and leadership will be on an equal footing,’ says Jelly. ‘The other thing will be an awareness of what is an appropriate organisational structure to fit into the changing environment.’
He also predicts an increase in cooperation between bodies such as CIMA and other professional groups – for example those representing lawyers and human resource experts – as multi-skilling becomes more important.
The financial professional of the future, he says, will have to develop a ‘web’ of skills.
‘Things will move on and people will have to be adaptable.’
Those contemplating entering the profession, he says, should not be put off by these changes as they will make life for the financial professional of the future more exciting.
Jelly also predicts an increase in the importance of what he describes as the financial equivalent of call centres.
Some business already outsource all or part of their finance function.
BP Amoco, for example, outsources to both Andersen Consulting and PricewaterhouseCoopers.
‘This will pick up pace just as companies have outsourced other things,’ says Jelly.
CIMA is this month launching its revamped qualification during what it is calling ‘Global Management Week,’ – during which it is holding a number of events to raise interest among business leaders in its qualification.
In particular, it is highlighting the need for professionals to acquire skills in both financial and people management – to create what it calls ‘the multi-disciplinary manager’. It runs from 25 and 29 of September.
It is significant that CIMA has chosen to emphasise the world ‘global’ in its promotional activities, underlining its move to position itself as a global qualification.
This response to the gathering pace of globalisation is not an unusual one for a body offering a professional qualification.
Professional bodies across the world are having to sell themselves as internationally-recognised and relevant.
ACCA is also busy expanding its already significant overseas presence and has also revamped its training scheme. Its buzz phrase to describe its approach is ‘globally recognised – locally relevant’.
Those that survive will be those that gain and keep this reputation.
This is not just to attract potential students, but to keep on board the employers who, much of the time, foot the bill for such training.
The English ICA, for example, has already lost large numbers of students over the concerns of their employers – Ernst & Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers – about their exam training.
Another way in which the UK accountancy bodies are seeking to deal with the challenge of globalisation is by seeking alliances with overseas bodies.
One of the best recent examples is a recent initiative in which the English and Scots ICAs are involved. It could result in a new global accountancy qualification.
Talks between eight international institutes earlier this year – the English and Scots ICAs and institutes in Ireland, the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa – resulted in them announcing their intention to create a global qualification bolstered by country-specific qualifications.
2003 has been mooted as a launch date.
Managing technology will also grow as an integral part of any accountant’s training.
But rapid advances, particularly in internet-based communications are also likely to have a major impact on the way trainees learn, and the way in which they take their exams.
‘Two thousand people sitting two feet apart in an exam hall twice a year will come to be viewed as bizarre and archaic,’ predicts ACCA’s Minchington
She also predicts a growth in computer-based testing.
But all those involved in training are keen to emphasise that the human element should not be lost – and indeed in some ways is likely to become more important as the need for people management skills increases.
Ernst & Young’s Martyn Sloman is a man who knows more than most about the effect of technological advances on learning.
Aside from being the firm’s director of management, education and training, he is also writing a book, Preparing for e-learning, which is due to be published by the Institute of Personnel and Development next April.
He says that for the first time we are now seeing the serious possibilities for technology-based learning.
In the past, he says, computer-based training, for instance by using CD-Roms, was an inflexible tool.
But he says advances are allowing businesses to buy much better training systems and distribute them to learners among their staff.
But he warns that e-learning will only be effective if it is done properly, and that embracing it takes a lot more than just chucking an existing training programme onto the internet.
Training managers, he argues, will have to think about what sort of learning should be delivered on computer.
Many areas, for example presentation skills, should definitely not be delivered without a human trainer.
With this, and the increased emphasis on leadership and personnel issues, it appears that anyone who fears the accountant of the future will be a computer-screen drone need not worry.
Global CAs set for 2003
ACCA’s web-based training
REVAMPS CARRIED OUT BY THE FIVE MAJOR TRAINING INSTITUTES
All the major UK institutes have recently carried out major revamps of their training schemes:
This week launches its new ACA qualification. It consists of two stages.
The professional stage covers accounting, audit and assurance, business finance, business management, financial reporting and taxation, while the advanced stage includes a ‘test of advanced technical competence and an advanced case study’.
A revised three-level syllabus sees a reduction in detailed audit and accounting regulation and increased emphasis on business processes and core practical skills in accounting and finance. A new subject has been developed at level two, Business Systems and Assurance, covering the emerging new markets, e-commerce and business controls.
ACCA has unveiled details of its new syllabus on which students will first be tested in December 2001. The first part will test the basic principles of accounting, the role of financial information and an understanding of key managerial issues. The second will cover all core technical skills which financial professionals should have, regardless of where they work.
The third part looks at key aspects of an accountant’s role in the strategic management of a business. Optional papers will cover audit, advanced taxation, performance management and business information management.
CIMA will this month be promoting its revised syllabus which students will be tested on from May 2001. The three-level process ‘builds on the unquestioned strengths of the current qualification by combining a strong financial and management core with a practical knowledge of business, financial and information strategy’. CIMA is also introducing computer-based assessment in its first-level exams.
The public sector institute relaunched its qualification last year with significant changes, including a 60% reduction in the price of the course, unique public policy and accountability and health service financial reporting topics, and syllabus and assessment techniques designed to produce accountants who can transfer their skills across boundaries. It has also introduced a new fast-track process to allow members of other bodies to qualify for CIPFA.
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