John Cook – Don’t dilute the brand image.

The English ICA has never really taken on board the special meeting vote in 1996. On that occasion, 14,821 of the 21,491 members voting supported my resolution to reject an exam structure requiring ACA students to select advanced options rather than study across the board.

Yet the institute’s website still proclaims: ‘Changes being implemented include the introduction of compulsory and optional examination papers …’ A further bid to bring options (now called ‘electives’) back on the agenda comes up at the June agm. I have put down a motion that the case for our examination platform is at least as compelling today as it was in 1996.

I hope members, whatever their views, will vote on this crucial topic.

The debate goes well beyond education and training. It impinges directly on the ACA brand, which every member believes he or she owns personally, as distinct from the brand images of firms. It is interesting that concurrent with the examinations debate, the institute is employing brand consultants to evolve a strategy for market positioning of the qualification.

I wish the project well, but it has less than happy antecedents. In the early 1990s, the Henley Centre for Forecasting produced an English ICA ‘market needs analysis’ which was never ‘owned’ by the members – not least because it was never shown to them. Branding techniques can be successfully applied to people-oriented organisations as well as to baked beans, but a very special approach is needed when the beans can answer back. Top-down imposition of a brand image from Moorgate Place will not work.

The heart of the English ICA brand lies with the ACA qualification, the point of admission to membership. Its strengths come from its similarities, and in particular the combination of the rigour of a common set of examinations with the cut and thrust of work experience in the provision of services to a variety of clients.

John Cook MBA FCA is a chartered accountant based in the Wirral.

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