This article was first published in the June 2016 international edition of Accounting and Business magazine.

Although now a relatively seasoned chief executive, Helen Brand is still taken aback by the impression ACCA makes on others. ‘When I explain what ACCA is and stands for, and what our members do and where, people are invariably deeply impressed,’ she says. 

‘The values on which ACCA was founded – opportunity, diversity, accountability, integrity and innovation – have rarely had greater relevance to business and society,’ explains Brand. ‘Because of this, ACCA has that credibility and consistency, which means that people want to work for us and partner with us’.

And Brand realises what a gift this is. ‘Other chief executives I meet from all sectors envy ACCA’s values and our adherence to them, and they are genuinely in awe of how we manage a global brand that still creates local and national impact. I know I’m incredibly lucky as a chief executive because I get to lead an organisation where everyone involved is passionately committed to our vision of creating professional accountants the world needs,’ she says.

Brand’s career has been built in professional bodies, starting at CIMA where she rose to director – international development. By this point in her career, in 1996, ACCA had just launched a member consultation on its future and this led to a lightbulb moment for Brand. She found that ‘the scale of ambition and the clarity of the argument ACCA put forward was so compelling, I immediately knew that I wanted to work for that sort of professional body. I contacted ACCA and said I wanted to be part of its future. Luckily, ACCA said yes and I’ve now been with this fantastic organisation for 20 years’.

Brand was appointed as chief executive in 2008, following a global search and a rigorous recruitment process. ‘It was competitive and tough and I was thrilled to be appointed,’ she says. ‘I’d joined ACCA with the goal of becoming chief executive one day and leading on the delivery of its strategy – but only if Council felt I was absolutely the best person for the role.’

Her proudest ACCA moment was receiving an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday honours list in 2011. ‘I still don’t know who nominated me – and I suspect I never will! But I was absolutely clear that it was an accolade for the whole organisation, one that recognised what a force for good ACCA is in the UK and globally.’

Momentous year

This year has been one of the most momentous in ACCA’s recent history. ‘2015–16 has been about putting some of the essential building blocks in place so we can deliver Council’s strategy to 2020,’ says Brand. ‘This has seen us move from two to four exam sessions a year – a major undertaking when you have 462 exam centres in 149 countries – and it’s been a really smooth transition.

‘We have also launched ACCA-X, our digital learning solution, to give students access to high-quality, low-cost study. And we accepted our first students and members onto our ground-breaking, globally available MSc with the University of London, combining the ACCA Qualification with a Master’s in Professional Accountancy. 

‘Taken together, they represent amazing change. And they are at the heart of what we do: ACCA’s Qualification is recognised on more educational frameworks around the world precisely because of its relevance, integrity and rigour.’

Enhancing value

‘As I’ve been reporting to members through AB, we‘ve also had a strong focus on enhancing the value we offer our members, through initiatives like redeveloping the members’ section of, launching digital versions of AB, re-launching our ACCA Careers jobsite and working to communicate more clearly and directly with members on what we are doing to meet their needs. A further example is our new report, Professional accountants the future, looking at the key qualities that professional accountants will need going forward.’ 

Leading effectively relies on close engagement with ACCA’s Council. ‘I have a continuous dialogue with our officers and individual Council members as that vital conduit for the views
of the entire membership,’ says Brand.

It’s this drive to innovate and stay ahead that continues to excite and motivate Brand. ‘I never stop learning and growing. The opportunities and challenges ACCA works with are constantly evolving and hugely stimulating. Since day one at ACCA, I’ve been amazed by the contribution our members make to how the world works. And that pride just gets greater every year, as I see more of what ACCA enables through our members and students’.

Look out for ACCA’s integrated report in early August, including a summary of performance in 2015-16 and strategic priorities for 2016-17.