Developing the durable ACA

Lawyers, medics accountants – name any profession and there is a common thread that is the foundation of any professional body – education.

Without education and training a professional body ceases to exist.

As a member of the English ICA, I would still proclaim it the leading business qualification as a result of its education and training. But over the last 15 years it has seen its lead whittled away by the other accountancy bodies – notably CIMA – as well as the rise of the MBA.

The chorus of complaints about content and structure has grown louder: the syllabus was too crowded and irrelevant: too much learning by rote, not enough analysis: smaller firms stopped training students finding it too expensive and interfering too much with the ever-increasingly difficult business of earning fees.

But the body blow – and maybe the wake-up call – came when it become clear the big firms were prepared to jump ship. An English ICA without students from the Big Five was unthinkable. Once the institute realised the scale of the problem it acted with commendable speed. It realises that last week’s launch of the new ACA is probably the most important task it will perform in a generation.

The future of the institute will stand or fall on the success or otherwise of this reshaped and revamped qualification. Hence the institute has been careful both to consult widely and be seen to consult widely – it says it has approached ‘firms of all sizes, training organisations, members, students and other key stakeholders.’

It has also been careful to ensure this new benchmark qualification has been endorsed by those who make the decisions on which qualifications new students take.

It is a real problem to try to develop a professional business education which not only maintains a consistently high standard over time but also gives the qualified accountant the tools and techniques to handle a dynamic and constantly changing business environment.

Doubtless there will be teething problems – remember this revised qualification is for students embarking on training contracts this month – but the core objective of the new qualification is to combine the traditional skills of the chartered accountant with modern business-focused learning. ACAs will study for a more relevant qualification but by spending less time in the classroom and more with clients.

Over the last half of the 20th century, the English ICA was successful because it gave its members the education and training which provided the foundations for rewarding careers in practice and in industry and commerce. Whether this new ACA will be as durable in this century remains to be seen.

Peter Williams is a freelance writer and director of Kato Publishing

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