By Rishar Saleem
The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) is a global body for professional accountants and is a “not for profit” organisation. ACCA offers qualifications and sets examinations to enable individuals to access the accountancy profession.
To talk about their qualifications and also the scope of accounts and finance related studies in Sri Lanka, Ceylon FT met Dr Afra Sajjad the regional head of education Middle East, North Africa, South Asia (MENASA) and business relationship manager Nilusha Ranasinghe, of ACCA Sri Lanka branch at their office 424, R.A. De Mel Mawatha Colombo 3.
Overview of ACCA
Speaking on the history and the overview of ACCA international, Dr Afra Sajjad said that ACCA had a long history which dates back to 1904 and that it had been in existence for over one hundred years. That was an era where if someone wanted to study accounts and finance he had to pay instead of getting paid for auditing. This, she said, was a kind of deterrent for people, who do not possess enough financial means to spend, to gain accounting and auditing knowledge as envisaged by the founder of ACCA that led to the setting up of ACCA. She further said, “This is to give an opportunity no matter what is your background is, no matter what your financial means are, and no matter to which ethnicity or religion you belong, if you have the ability, ambition and attitude. We give an opportunity to have a world class career anywhere in the world”. Adding to this she further said that this course which was only available in the United Kingdom (UK) initially was now available in many parts of the world.
Talking of diversity of ACCA she said, “ACCA was the first accounting body to enrol a woman as a student and a member and also the first accounting body to have a female president.” Having said this she also was quick in responding “because we believe woman or man does not matter; whoever has the ambition and ability could fit into this shoes”.
Talking on the further values of ACCA she said integrity is another of ACCA’s value. Stressing on another ‘first’ by ACCA she said that they are the “first accounting body to come up with all 9 modules which is a must if anyone wants to have ACCA completed.” She added that this was “just to give basic understanding of ethics to our members before they go to the professional world to assume work as leaders”.
Extolling the virtues of Innovation she said, “ACCA is the first accounting body to adopt International financial regulations (IFRS), also to come up with computer based exams and accountability holding all staff members accountable” and that “accountability to the public and to the members was a must for all accountants” and that their members were given a through grooming on these as well.
In this back drop she said, “ACCA was now a global body and had its presence in more than 85 countries all over the world, and that exams were conducted in more than 170 countries. We have more than 900 diligent staff members working for us all over the world and in South Asia we are present in Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. We also have operations in other south Asian countries including Afghanistan.”
Sri Lanka operation
Nilusha Ranasinghe speaking on Sri Lankan operation said, “We have been in operation for a long time and the office was established only in 2002”. Clarifying the meaning of ‘long time’ she said “There has been qualified members’ long time before the operations began here. Proper marketing and other corporate campaigns exactly took shape only after the office was set up”. Speaking on ACCA qualification she said, “We have seen since the marketing efforts started here people of Sri Lanka know the value of ACCA qualifications as it is a fully fledged finance and accounting qualification it is not sector driven and it is not a management qualification; it is not a business qualification. The world is moving towards IFRS and more and more Chief Finance officers (CFO) and accountants will have to know the International Financial Reporting Standards and the only qualification which offers this was the ACCA. More and more younger students and cooperate sector heads have seen the value of ACCA and our new suit of qualifications. ACCA globally which was launched last year in Sri Lanka brought in flexible entry rules as well as exit rules for students.” Further speaking on the portfolio of qualification she said that ACCA now offered a Diploma, an advance Diploma a Degree from oxford brooks and then ACCA for optional qualification.
Explaining the term ‘flexible entry’ she said, “before the new suit of qualifications was launched the minimum qualification to register as a ACCA student was 2 credit passes for the A/L and two 2 credits passes for O/L Maths and English, and one more credit pass and all together 5 credit passes; but with the new suit of qualifications launched the entry levels were made flexible where the students who completed their O/L s can check in our web site for their English and Maths they can do it and enrol for either intermediate level, introductory level, or diploma level taking into consideration their Maths and English knowledge.
Marketing efforts for ‘foundation in accountancy.’
Talking on their marketing operations of the foundation of Accountancy programme she said, “A student who has completed his O/Ls can enrol to introductory, intermediately or diploma level depending on his skills which complement their A/L studies”. This is time saving in years. She further said “This helps a student to gain an additional qualification while in school. This could depend on the skills of the student; may be intermediate or a Diploma”. She explained that the research they have carried out among A/L students proved this, and indeed was helpful to them in their A/L accounting paper.
Dr Afra speaking on this said, “If students complete an introductory, intermediary and the Diploma they can get exemption for 3 papers of ACCA. It is possible to complete in 2 years and at the end of this period you are equipped with an advanced diploma qualification and a B.Sc in advanced Accounting from Oxford brooks. This is food for thought — at 18 and 19 years you come out of school and you will have an advanced diploma which places students in a pathway a for a professional qualification which will take them places and right now we have 147,000 members and majority of them working in the corporate sector, very large number of them are in the private sector in audit firms; 10% of them also working in the government sector and a large number of Sri Lankans with this qualification are working outside the motherland.”
Answering a question how a student after A/L gets motivated to do ACCA not CIMA and ACA she said, “No need to convince the strength of ACCA its members and global spread of total of 444,000 student population itself is ahead of CIMA and ICA and convincing a student to ACCA is not needed based on the strength that ACCA possess. A number of our members are working in some of the elite corporate sector companies such as Shell, Proctor and Gamble, Standard Chartered Bank. Our members working in such elite institution are higher in number than those with CIMA and ICA.”
“In ACCA within one and a half years time students can obtain a degree. It is a degree and a professional qualification. This is what the job market looks for you walk with ACCA any company will recruit you because you are a complete professional” she said.
Nilusha further said, “We encourage our students to work unlike in other qualification they need not to wait for certain period of time to work and can study while working. In ACCA we believe in 3 Es. That is Exam, Ethics Experience. We believe exam alone will not make you a complete accountant.”
Dr Afra explains by saying that “ACCA has stability and does not have internships, students can work anywhere they prefer not necessarily audit firms. It is a flexible approach. We help you with your dreams and ambitions from the day one”.
The difference of ACCA
Explain the difference among other accounts bodies such as CIMA and ACA and others Dr Afra stated “ACCA gives a complete overview of complete management accounting 29% of our syllabus covers management accounting, financial management, strategy, financial reporting, auditing, law, taxation, and we have a paper risk, ethics and corporate governance. Here we give a complete knowledge of money laundering corporate governance and risk management. ACCA is application, evaluation, analysis and knowledge.”
Competition within the industry
Both the managers said there was no competition from any other accounting body or with any university in Sri Lanka what so ever. “We are working very closely with university of Sri Jayewardenepura. We have in fact signed a MoU with them. ACCA (UK) has given them exceptions for nine subjects. We work very closely with all the universities. We do not look at anybody as competitors.
Regarding their tuition centres Nilusha said, “We have one accredited tuition centre at platinum level, we are very keenly looking at an island wide tuition providers network. We have been very successful doing that and a lot of interest created by more people wanting to come into the accredited channel and very soon we will be seeing more tuition providers. As regional centres Jaffna and Kandy we have tuition. Definitely in Jaffna we can look an accreditation. Of all these centres we have a vigorous monitoring system to maintain the quality. The word platinum is not just a word your pass rate has to be above global pass rate.”
Dr Afra said, “ACCA has embarked on a number of projects which we think of as a benefit to a market like Sri Lanka. In IFRS diploma certificate we provide adequate skills knowledge, expertise to the people who are professional accountants and do not have the knowledge of IFRS, for those who are already there will help with any kind of expert knowledge needed. We are very committed in providing this diploma to the professional who need this knowledge. We know the financial sector of Sri Lanka is progressing and we are committed to nurture the young accounting professional to gear up with the IFSR knowledge and expertise which is the need of the hour.”
For young people in Sri Lanka we would advice them to take this diploma and be well equipped with the necessary knowledge which is essential in working in the financial sector. Foreign investors are not only looking at the bottom line of profit but also the people and the planet; hence we encourage companies to stick to environmental friendly reporting. We are providing them a frame work for any institution, investor foreign or local. This is how we are serving. Profits of course are for share holders but the environment is for the stake holders. Environment reporting is an initiative in Sri Lanka which has been very successful. This is our contribution to the financial sector.
“We have a fully fledged web site which is very useful to the students. We are also on facebook which indicates we not only talk to students but listen to them too.”
“Accountants of today are no more a back office crowd; they are the driving force of an organisation,” was the final note of the officials of ACCA.