We speak with the CEO who called the Professional Body Sector Review a “thumping good read”! Helen Brand of the Association for Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) tells us about her contribution to this year’s Review, leading a global professional body and supporting young people into the professions.
In the 2015 Sector Review, you shared the challenges you face as the CEO of a global organisation. What is the key to successfully leading an international organisation?
It’s hugely important to have one unified organisational strategy that’s relevant in every market: an effective strategy that everyone in the organisation identifies with and recognises the individual contribution they make. If you can give people a sense of ownership for how the organisation is being developed, through your strategy, there is no limit to what they can offer and how their talent can be developed. Also, just being a diverse international organisation, with offices and people across the world, brings a fantastic creative energy and helps us all innovate. The key is to listen, recognise that great ideas can come from anywhere in your organisation and provide the support and space to bring them to life.
Your academic and early professional background was unrelated to the world of accounting. Do you find that coming from a different background makes you a more dynamic leader?
There’s no single way to do a job and there’s certainly no single way to be a chief executive. There are leaders I admire who have a strong technical background in their industry and equally excellent leaders who do not. What my academic background in politics gave me was a belief that individuals can make a difference in the world and I went into the world of work motivated by that fact and wanting to make the most of my talents. I also had the benefit of being president of the student union at university so I had early exposure to a lot of the skills leaders require – decision-making and being accountable for those decisions, public speaking and effective communications for example, all of which gave me self-confidence and a belief that I could be a strong and effective leader. Above all, you have to be interested in the world around you and feel you can play your part to improve it.
This year’s Sector Review looks back at 50 years of change. In your 6 and a half years as CEO of ACCA, what has been the biggest change you’ve experienced with regards to the changing landscape of the professional body sector?
There are lots I could mention but the way online has changed everything we do is probably the most influential. Digital really has transformed everything in the educational space. It has led to new forms of competition, new forms of marketing and a need for mastery of the whole digital universe in order to be successful. The explosion of digital communications and offerings has also raised expectations around quality and speed of service for professional bodies, as members and students inevitably make comparisons between your offerings and those of commercial providers. Most excitingly, though, it’s opened up a whole new era of global social learning, which ACCA is in a position to take advantage of.
In the light of the European Commission’s plans for more openness regarding tax in the EU, how do you think greater transparency impacts on public trust? How has the Integrated Reporting initiative ACCA has adopted contribute to greater openness?
There is now so much visibility and scrutiny of a company’s affairs, it’s actually very difficult to hide information and any deliberate non-disclosure inevitably affects societal confidence and trust. Integrated reporting recognises that the governance arm of any organisation needs to show it has the best long-term interests of that organisation at heart and is investing in its reputation. The fact that corporate reporting has moved in this more holistic direction is really positive – not least because the FRC is now mandating a strategic report for public listed entities in the UK which require them to present far more rounded and forward-looking information than was previously required. And while ACCA isn’t an organisation that is required to produce an integrated report on its performance, we also want to show we operate in the public interest and be as open as possible about how we are safeguarding the future of our professional body.
With rising costs to study in the UK and a renewed focus on helping young people into the professions, how has ACCA adapted the way it supports young people?
ACCA was founded on principles of open access and we’ve long championed a wide range of routes to the profession, including non-graduate entry and opening up the profession to mature students from any background. In the UK, we were a founding member of Access to Professions, an initiative from 19 different professional bodies committed to further opening up the professions to non-traditional entrants and creating opportunity. Access to Professions is about showcasing a range of routes to different professional careers and, for us, showing young people and those who advise them that there are many different and viable routes to becoming a professional accountant.
ACCA is the world’s leading body for professional accountants, with over 110 years of experience,innovation and excellence. ACCA champions opportunity within accountancy, demonstrates excellence through its qualifications, and acts as a driving force within the accounting profession to constantly improve working practices.