Accounting ExpertSpeak: Mauritius makes ACCA proud with member achievements
AfricaMoney spoke to Stephen Heathcote in an exclusive interview where the Executive Director of Markets at the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) encouraged the new generation to consider accountancy as a viable career option.
Stephen Heathcote, Executive Director-Markets at ACCA, spoke to AfricaMoney about the challenges being faced globally by the accounting profession in a fast-moving world, where more and more people are taking short-cuts to succeed. Emphasising that the right skills set always pays off, our soft-spoke accounting expert encouraged the new generation to consider accountancy as a viable career option, and be prepared to invest time and effort to hone their talents in this sector. He highlighted Mauritius as a country where members’ achievements have made the ACCA proud, and have played an important role in taking the island economy forward on the global stage.
Edited excerpts from an exclusive interview:
What have been ACCA’s major achievements in the year 2014?
For ACCA, one of the things we really pushed in 2014 is providing access to people to professional accountancy certifications and facilities. When I think of 2014, it is all about the effort and resources we put towards building and creating a National Accountancy Body in the United Arab Emirates. We also opened up offices in more markets, thus building up accountancy capabilities in places like Myanmar in Asia and Tanzania in Africa. Further, we made our examinations more accessible by moving to computer-based examinations which means that people can take these examinations any time they want. Moreover, we opened up more exam centres across Africa, so that people do not have to travel to take their examinations. We are still investing in tuition support, to give people more opportunities for developing their career. And, there is one exciting news in particular that we cannot wait to announce, which is that we have an arrangement with UCL (University College London), one of the top universities in the world, where people can study the ACCA and then top up their studies by pursuing their Masters qualifications, which I think, will be a very attractive career avenue.
We have been working with employees and recognised their need to delve deeper into integrated reporting — how reporting can have an impact on staff, customers, the environment and business risks. We have included integrated reporting into our core examination process as well, to make it more relevant globally.
Finally, for 2014, I have been very pleased with our members’ achievements. Mauritius, particularly is a fantastic example of this, as we have members in the most senior roles. We have members who are Government Ministers, the Financial Secretary himself, Public Sector employees, leading figures in business and in the corporate sector — particularly in audit firms — and all these members have been playing a massive role in taking the economy forward on the global stage.
What are the main challenges affecting the accounting profession in the global market?
There are a number of challenges. I think one of them is to make sure that people view accountancy as an appealing career choice in the backdrop of rapid economic change. Economies are progressing rapidly, particularly in emerging markets in Sub Saharan Africa, like Nigeria for example. And I think for young people who are looking to propel their career forward as quickly as possible, it can encourage them to take short cuts sometimes. There may be other career choices that appear to be easier and seem to get them further at first glance, but we have to show them that accounting is a viable career even though they need to invest plenty of time and effort — starting with the need to take their examinations and become fully qualified, which takes at least seven years on an average. But, at the end of all this hard work, it opens up their doors to genuine leadership, and they are rightfully equipped with the relevant skills. So, one big challenge is to get that message across to people on their career choices. We need more accountants, so it is really important that we sell the value of the profession with our accountancy bodies and try to promote the profession.
We also face big challenges over relevance of accounting in the business world, so we have to actively demonstrate that accountants can help business grow. It means they have to understand the world and future developments such as incorporating social media and corporate governance into the accountancy fold.
Mauritius currently boasts one of the highest numbers of accountants registered with ACCA in Sub Saharan Africa. According to you, what are the prospects of ACCA members in Mauritius? Is there any danger that the island economy is over-saturated?
One of the reasons we came here is to really understand the need of the island economy and its people. So far, we have been talking to employees and the government as well and there is still a demand for professional accountants. Indeed, business are still struggling to get people with the right skills and talents because the Mauritian economy has been successful and continues to be very successful, particularly when it comes to financial services. So at this point, there is still a real need for good qualified accountants and a very good career choice for people.
So there is no real evidence that there are too many accountants. By and large, our members are landing good jobs in the present scenario. Going forward, it could change and if it does, we will have to adapt to it in terms of how many people are trained to become accountants. However, for now, I think there is an increasing demand for accountants, especially in the financial services sector. In Small and Medium enterprises particularly in Mauritius, there are many sole proprietors and more and more people are seeking financial advice to meet economic challenges. So, I think there is a real role for accountants in the financial sector and the SME space. As Mauritius provides more and more opportunities for organisations to grow into Africa, good accountants can help in investments in the rest of Africa and provide development opportunities, which can actually help in capacity building in other countries, in turn. From that platform, there will be opportunities for people to move to other countries as well, where they can represent their countries as brand ambassadors.
With more and companies focusing on sustainable development, what are your views on green accounting?
One certain thing about business is that it has to run in a more sustainable way and since we have faced the global financial crisis, there is a clear message about people running business without understanding the risks and without an active discussion over what are the risks — or engaging in what we call a reckless culture. Many large organizations have really suffered and some have even run out of business because of the global financial crisis. When we talk about sustainable development, the priority is running a business in a fair and equitable manner while thinking about both short-term and long-term goals, identifying opportunities as well as risks, and being able to balance both.
Green accounting is a wise move for Mauritius to focus on, as with the world changing rapidly, customers care about the supply chain around companies and how it operates based on their social values and where the products and services they are receiving come from. It is important for Mauritius to raise the standard and identify good and responsible business in which people can invest. Moreover if corporates are actively thinking about and showing concern for the environment, it is going to attract even more inward investment or FDI into the island economy.
Do think Mauritius should sell the concept of green accounting to its companies, especially conglomerates?
It is critical when you are positioning yourself as international financial hub to get long-term investments into the economy. Therefore, it is critical for companies coming to work here to apply green accounting, since here in Mauritius you have a sustainable economy.
Finally, what are the strategic plans of ACCA as regards to Mauritius for 2015?
When you think about the ACCA globally, Mauritius has a very critical position in our global world because it can create a bridge towards Sub Saharan Africa.
We are trying to innovate and focus on investment & development in Sub Saharan Africa, as we raise education skills capacity and capabilities. So Mauritius has a key role to play because it has set a good example for the rest of Sub Saharan Africa in terms of its professionals, balancing the economy and the political environment stability which has been here for many years. So we believe that our many members here can help to boost other countries and start looking at Mauritius as an example. We also want to make sure that our members feel valued and to promote them globally.