Comment – End of the road for ACA?

The English ICA?s recent green paper proposes long-overdue changes to the exam syllabus.

Already there are predictable voices raised against it, but unless these proposals are adopted, the ACA qualification will lose most of its value, and the flow of students into the profession will slow to a trickle.

For at least the last 30 years, ACA has been the ideal route for graduates wanting a qualification and a business career, while leaving their job options open. This created a ?virtuous? circle. People who trained for ACA with a reputable firm went on to high-powered jobs either in public practice or industry.

This visible success attracted disproportionate numbers of top-quality graduates to the profession. Because of the high calibre of the entrants and the value added by the mixture of practical experience and academic learning, employers fell over themselves to employ qualified ACAs, which reinforced the visible sign of success.

Anything which breaks this virtuous circle will destroy the qualification and the profession with it. And right now that virtuous circle is on the brink of disintegration. The reason lies not with the exams but with the market which is demanding different skills. It wants young people with an international overview who understand business, and are capable of analysing and synthesising its issues.

Market research shows industry and public practice are looking further afield to find those skills and are valuing MBAs and other qualifications as highly as ACA. So far, we have only seen a trickle of what is to come, but this trend is about to turn into a torrent.

Within my own firm, the new business advisory and consulting services – the key growth areas – bring in people with other qualifications. Even within audit and tax, a significant amount of the work which used to be carried out by ACAs and students is now done by computers, by other professionals or para-professionals.

The virtuous circle is about to collapse and it could flip very rapidly into a vicious one where ACA offers only mediocre prospects to mediocre candidates.

The alternative is a bright and exciting future – the ACA qualification re-affirmed as the best preparation for a career in business finance, ACA as the training of choice for thou-sands of top graduates, ACA as a key element in the virtuous circle that has served our business community so well.

This is not a big firm versus small firm or industry versus public practice issue. The members of the English ICA?s long-term syllabus review working party were equally representative of all and we were unanimous about the way forward.

The choice is stark. The time for bickering over the ?evil of options? or whether to special-ise before or after qualification is over. Support this proposal now or be prepared to watch the rapid decline of the ACA.

The author is training partner at Price Waterhouse and sits on the ICA?s education and assessment committee and syllabus review working party

Related reading