ACCA: strategic performance update

Ahead of its annual report being published in July, ACCA gives advance notice about its global performance for the 2020 / 21 strategic year

Given the continued uncertainty in the global environment, ACCA is once again providing advance notice of our strategic performance for the year ended 31 March 2021.

As members may be aware from our 2020 integrated report, we agreed with ACCA’s Council that we would concentrate on three specific areas of critical strategic focus (CSFs) in 2020-21. For these focus areas – member and future member support and retention, exam delivery and innovation and financial sustainability – Council agreed four measures which have been the focus for the entire organisation throughout the performance year.

Year-end performance against critical strategic focus targets
We met three of the four targets set against our areas of critical strategic focus for the year:

Critical strategic focus measure

2020-21 year-end target  20-21 year-end result 


Member retention




Future member retention




Inclusion: % agreeing that ACCA acts with members’ and future members’ best interests at heart



Not met

Surplus/deficit (before tax)




*subject to external audit confirmation.

Both member and future retention ended the year above expectation. Although our targets had been adjusted to take account of pandemic conditions, it is reassuring to see that members and future members see the value in maintaining their relationship with ACCA through difficult conditions. This result also reflects the work ACCA has focused on during the year to develop further member support and to enable students to continue learning and taking exams.

While our inclusion measure ended the year behind target, we saw improvement in both members’ (+2.6ppts) and affiliates’ perceptions (+4.0ppts) across 2020-21.  Student perceptions fell marginally (-0.6ppts) during the year, with every student having at least one exam session during the year disrupted as a result of the pandemic, despite the extensive exam delivery innovations and alternatives we introduced.

Our unaudited surplus for the year before tax is £20.3m. In budgeting to achieve a deficit of £8.9m, it was assumed that the first exam session of 2020-21 would be cancelled everywhere (except for China) with exam income broadly returning to normal thereafter.

Following the setting of our budget, we deferred operational expenditure into the second half of 2020-21 to build confidence in our performance during the first half of the year. Due to the ‘second wave’ impact over Q3 and Q4, we saw £8m of further disruption to our exam income during the year.

For members, we quickly looked to support those affected by the pandemic by accelerating the provision of free and low cost CPD and virtual networking opportunities. For students, we prioritised the speedy and timely delivery of remote invigilation of exams to enable them to continue their ACCA journey through the global health crisis. 

In summary, we delivered £15.7m of savings and, through the deferred and re-prioritised investment, we were able to reduce spend marginally by £0.9m during the year while moving quickly to support members and future members. Together with our savings programme, this enabled us to deliver an operational breakeven position.

Our reported performance is significantly higher than breakeven due to contingency and one-off items in the year as follows:

·         £9.2m mainly from recovery of our financial investments;

·         £6.5m unused contingency; and

·         £4.9m received in settlement of a dispute.

Our Balance Sheet at 31 March 2021 has also benefited from this outturn with our reserves improving to 61 days against a guide given by Council of 60 days, further enhancing our financial sustainability.

Full details of this performance will appear in our integrated report and consolidated financial statements for the year ended 31 March 2021, due to be published on 30 July.

Year-end performance across our balanced scorecard
Although we chose to focus on defined critical strategic focus areas in 2020-21 – and will be doing the same in 2021-22 – we nevertheless monitored performance across our entire balanced scorecard throughout the year.

This is to both inform where we need to focus our attention in future years and so that we have this complete performance picture to build on when conditions return to greater normality.

Early in 2020-21, we adjusted our performance expectations across the balanced scorecard to reflect the anticipated impact of the pandemic on our original projections.



2020-21 original expectation

2020-21 Covid-adjusted expectation




# of members





Innovation: % agree that ACCA shapes the accountancy profession





Integrity: % agree that ACCA promotes the highest professional and ethical standards





Inclusion: % agree that ACCA acts with members’ and future members’ best interests at heart





Market share




Business and society

Financial sustainability

£1.0m surplus

(before tax)

£8.9m deficit (before tax)

£20.6m surplus


Net promoter score (NPS)





# of future members





% agree that ACCA understands my needs as a members/future member





# of exam entries





% of students passing and exam in the year





% affiliate to member conversion




Despite the challenging environment, we grew our member file by 2.5 percent. Another notable highlight is the strong performance in our perception measures, with 83.8% of our community agreeing that we shape the accountancy profession and 87.8% agreeing that we promote the highest of professional and ethical standards.

On market share – which we measure in relation to the member numbers of our key international competitors – we have achieved a 21.1% share, marginally behind expectation. Our member growth rate, at 2.5% in 2020-21, is however the highest amongst those bodies we measure our market share against and represents strong performance in a volatile and challenging global environment.

We saw greater challenges in terms of our future members, where numbers dropped by 1.4% overall. And despite our intensive work on exam delivery we ended the year 235,575 exams behind expectation.

We will be publishing fuller information on our complete strategic performance in our integrated report on 30 July 2021.

Areas of critical strategic focus in 2021-22
The challenges our community is continuing to experience have informed our three areas of critical strategic focus for the coming year. By concentrating on delivery against these, we believe we'll enhance our resilience and ability to achieve our strategic aims – and, most importantly, help our members and future members weather the present storm. These focus areas are:

  • member support: we want every member to value and retain their relationship with ACCA. In 2021-22, we’ll support their careers and employability, and give them access to relevant information and upskilling opportunities so they can contribute to a sustainable global recovery.
  • student progression: we want every student to value and progress their journey with ACCA. In 2021-22, we’ll give our students all the support they need to confidently enter and pass their exams. To enable this, we’ll run exams in as many markets as possible, bolstering capacity through online exams with remote supervision.
  • a sustainable organisation: in 2021-22, we’ll keep innovating to meet the needs of our customers and investing in our future. Transforming how we operate will strengthen our flexibility and financial resilience, delivering organisational efficiencies. This will free us up to create maximum impact and seize new opportunity as we deliver the strategy to 2025.

All our insight and analysis points to continuing global volatility and uncertainty, particularly in the first six months of 2021-22. In addition to our critical strategic focus, we’ll review our plans at the mid-year point to ensure we’re delivering what our community needs and expects from ACCA.

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For media enquiries, contact:
Helen Thompson
M: +44 (0)7725 498 654
Twitter @ACCANews

About ACCA: ACCA is the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. We’re a thriving global community of 227,000 members and 544,000 future members based in 176 countries and regions that upholds the highest professional and ethical values.

We believe that accountancy is a cornerstone profession of society that supports both public and private sectors. That’s why we’re committed to the development of a strong global accountancy profession and the many benefits that this brings to society and individuals.

Since 1904 being a force for public good has been embedded in our purpose. And because we’re a not-for-profit organisation, we build a sustainable global profession by re-investing our surplus to deliver member value and develop the profession for the next generation.

Through our world leading ACCA Qualification, we offer everyone everywhere the opportunity to experience a rewarding career in accountancy, finance and management. And using our respected research, we lead the profession by answering today’s questions and preparing us for tomorrow. Find out more about us at