Accounting ExpertSpeak: Women well poised to take on the accounting world
Anthony Harbinson, President of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), spoke to AfricaMoney on the key role that accountants plays in a country, which goes far beyond ensuring that the numbers are right. Rather, accountants are a key part of the foundation on which economic success is built and, Mauritius, which boasts the maximum ACCA members in Sub-Saharan Africa, is well poised to build lasting economic success on the back of its highly certified and competent accountants. He also noted that with 50% of the ACCA members being women, he strongly believed that the future of finance is female-oriented. (Image: Wazna Gunga)
AfricaMoney spoke to Anthony Harbinson on the sidelines of the plenary session of the African Congress Of Accountants held in Mauritius on the 11-14 May 2015. Our accounting expertprovided valuable inputs during the discussion on public sector governance and reporting in Africa, where talks hovered around good accounting being the core of good governance.
Edited excerpts from an exclusive interview:
ACCA being a well-reputed professional qualification, can you tell us about the global trends? What are the regions where demand is on the rise, and are there any regions where demand has matured?
Demand remains high for finance professionals around the world, but particularly in the rapidly emerging economies. Accountants are a key part of the foundation on which economic success is built so it is critical that they are in place not only to ensure that the numbers are right, but also to advise businesses on accessing finance, on meeting international standards and on how to build business or ensure that organisations comply with global standards.
Mauritius currently boasts one of the highest numbers of accountants registered with ACCA in Sub-Saharan Africa. Do you think, just like Mauritius, the African continent will soon show greater uptake of ACCA qualifications, given that the continent is now growing at a faster pace?
Indeed, Mauritius has over 2,600 members (that is professional accountants having the ACCA recognition in addition to passing the ACCA exams) which is more than in any other territory in Sub-Saharan Africa. The ACCA membership in Mauritius also represents around 90% of the total number of professional accountants in the country, which shows the importance that accountancy professionals confer to ACCA. The African continent is full of opportunities in various economic fields and the expertise of accountants, at all levels, will be needed more and more as financial services develop as a sector in its own right, and also as a pillar for economic growth and activities of industry, agriculture and tourism.
What is the demand curve for professional accountants in different countries? Can you comment on the demand for professional accountants in Mauritius in particular – is it seen as over-saturated or will it continue to increase?
Professional accountants with the right set of qualifications, expertise, experience, soft skills and ethics, will always be in demand. This is because professional accountants, as the ACCA accountants, can deliver services in a very wide array of fields and at all levels. Many ACCA members play key roles not only in performing the accountancy functions, but also in providing financial advice and strategic decision-making inputs.
In this context, Mauritius being more and more a service-based economy, accountants are expected to continue to be in demand. ACCA students and members from Mauritius also have the opportunity to be hired and to work in other countries as ACCA qualification are international and are the same from whichever country they have been obtained. There are indeed several ACCA members who have qualified in Mauritius and who are working for major firms abroad.
What explains the increasing number of women showing their interest in the profession - Mauritius ACCA being famously headed by Madhavi Ramdin-Clark - while there is a perception that accountancy is more likely to be male-oriented?
I should point out that our CEO too, Helen Brand, is a woman. Given that nearly 50% of members are female and more than half of our students around the world are women, we actually believe that the future of finance is female-oriented. More women are entering and reaching the top of the profession, and as young women see theirsame-gender role models succeeding, they want to emulate that success. As an organisation committed to diversity, we are delighted to see people from all backgrounds succeed and become high-flying finance professionals, and we will continue to ensure that people can access rewarding and interesting careers without artificial barriers being placed in their path.
What, in your opinion, should be the importance of ethical values and norms for professional accountants in the world?
Ethics should be central to the work of professional accountants.In the case of ACCA, students cannot become members without completing a module on ethics, and members must maintain an ethical approach to the work they do.
The ACCA Code of Ethics and Conduct is binding on all members and students of ACCA, and any partner in an ACCA practice. The ACCA Code is based on the International Ethics Standards Board for Accountants (IESBA) Code.
We have five fundamental ethical principles set out in the ACCA Rulebook — Integrity, Objectivity, Professional Competence and Due Care and Confidentiality.
How can Small and Medium Enterprises benefit from professional accountancy training from the ACCA?
The key message I would give to SMEs, which are the engine powering domestic economic success, is to ensure they use the services of fully qualified ACCA members, who have the skills, experiences and networks to ensure they get the best advice and can access the finance they need to develop their business.
Many SMEs are too small to have an in-house expert, but it is strongly advised that they hire external expertise, since there are complex issues that their finance functions will need to deal with.We do, of course, offer a foundation level course for non-financial professionals.
Finally, being an ACCA expert, what would you say are the major challenges facing a professional accountant in a global context?
The key issue is enabling businesses to operate in an increasingly globalised business world, lies in understanding how the business world is changing. New economies are rapidly developing and there is a shift in influence away from the developed economies of the US and Europe to Africa, India and China.
Potential investors and business partners are based around the world, which means that operating under a global set of standards, and providing a level playing field, is critical.
Given its key role as a finance gateway between Africa and Asia, Mauritian finance professionals will be well aware of the challenges they face operating between markets.
- By Wazna Gunga