Career development: integrated reporting

Integrated reporting isn’t just a new way of communicating business performance, says Clare Minchington, ACCA’s executive director – strategy and development. It’s a lever with which young accountants could accelerate their careers, develop strategic roles early on and make a difference in society.

What do the talented people now entering the accountancy profession want to achieve in their lives and their careers? What about those who have not yet chosen their preferred career path? Members of Generation Y seem increasingly keen to work in meaningful roles on strategic projects early in their working lives. Can employers help them to do this?  Such questions have been raised in recent years as employers and professional bodies such as ACCA try to understand what attracts and motivates young adults as they enter the workplace. Integrated reporting may provide a solution.

ACCA looked at such issues in its 2010 report, Generation Y: Realising the Potential, based on joint research with Mercer. This found that young accounting professionals born between 1980 and 1993 are seeking career paths that are ‘aspirational, fluid and evolving quickly’. They are more attracted to employers that offer the best career development opportunities. They are interested in roles that are challenging and support interesting finance careers.

The Generation Y report also suggested that younger finance professionals are relatively brand conscious and take an interest in corporate social responsibility (CSR) issues. Employers noted that candidates seek out information on organisations, their culture and the alignment of values. Such findings are backed up by Interbrand’s 2013 Best Global Green Brands report, which found that 66% of employees internationally think it is important or very important for their employee to take positive steps to address environmental issues; similarly, 56% place importance on their employer influencing its supply chain to positively impact society. In the fast developing economy of Brazil, these percentages exceeded 80%.

Further research indicates the need for today’s employees to feel they are making a difference themselves, including the findings of a substantial survey by US-based not-for-profit organisation Net Impact. As highlighted in its Talent Report: What Workers Want in 2012, 72% of college students said it was important to select a job in which they felt they could have an impact. Individual employees increasingly want to know that what they do really matters, within their employing organisation and, by extension, within the wider society.

These studies tell us that young professionals are ambitious in terms of wanting to build interesting careers; they often want to work for organisations with sustainable values; and they want to be able to make a difference themselves within their chosen organisation. This is why the development of integrated reporting is so exciting.

Integrated reporting creates opportunity

Integrated reporting could provide a new opportunity for young finance professionals to have an impact in their organisation, encourage sustainable long-term performance of that organisation, and enhance their careers in the process. It provides an opportunity for leadership.

The International Integrated Reporting Framework, released in December, states in its opening passages: ‘The cycle of integrated thinking and reporting, resulting in efficient and productive capital allocation, will act as a force for financial stability and sustainability.’

It is worth emphasising the ‘integrated thinking’ element. Integrated reporting isn’t just about ‘reporting’; the framework and processes involved encourage coordinated planning and communication across multiple departments. Integrated reporting aims to promote a more cohesive and efficient approach to corporate reporting that communicates the full range of factors that materially affect the ability of an organisation to create value over time. Those who become involved in leading integrated reporting programmes will therefore need to be working with other teams and experts from across the business. In so doing they will gain business insight and contacts, enhancing their own current effectiveness and future prospects.

Integrated reporting also aims to enhance accountability and stewardship for the broad base of resources and relationships used and affected by an organisation. These are referred to as ‘the capitals’ and take many forms – financial, manufactured, intellectual, human, social and relationship, and natural. Integrated reporting also seeks to promote understanding of their interdependencies. This is a new way of thinking about business – one that will benefit from a fresh approach and new talent. Organisations that will successfully implement the Integrated Reporting Framework will require proactive individuals with excellent communications skills, cross-functional insight and a drive to coordinate diverse teams. Independent and creative thinking will be a benefit here.

In addition, integrated reporting aims to support the creation of value over the short, medium and long term. It isn’t about enabling the quick profit, but involves looking at the ways value can be generated and sustained into the future. Its goals are therefore harmonious with the growing importance being placed on CSR and sustainability issues. Those who take a leading role in implementing and maintaining integrated reporting in their organisations will be playing an important part in providing greater transparency over its sustainability; their work will inevitably influence key decisions on the strategic direction of the organisation and the future use of key resources of all kinds.

Natural leadership role for accountants

If we accept that integrated reporting could be a powerful force for driving both organisational success and individual careers, why are professional accountants the right people to take the lead in delivering it?

Introducing and embedding integrated reporting into organisations will require numerous skills and capabilities – ones that professional accountants already posses. There are clearly numerical and analytical aspects, which lie right in the professional accountant’s comfort zone. The Integrated Reporting Framework takes a principles-based approach, which is familiar to accountants who apply judgment in many areas of their work.

Finance teams are already experienced in reporting to shareholders and other stakeholders through the annual report and accounts. Integrated reporting will also require credibility, which means that the internal controls surrounding it must be robust – this too is an area in which finance professionals are skilled. Finance leaders have also become increasingly involved in shaping organisational strategy, so taking up the integrated reporting baton should be a natural additional step.

For ACCA professionals in particular, integrated reporting will align perfectly with the knowledge and skills developed when completing the ACCA Qualification – including corporate reporting, management accounting, risk and governance. ACCA focuses on developing Complete Finance Professionals – people who see the bigger picture, as well as the finance detail, and who can communicate clearly and work well with colleagues from other disciplines. The elements of integrated reporting already feature within the ACCA Qualification, but will gain even more prominence in future. From this year [2014], integrated reporting is being fully embedded within the ACCA syllabus.

Given the potential power of integrated reporting and the promise it offers individuals to enhance both their organisation’s performance and their own careers, individuals from many disciplines may want to take the leadership role in its implementation – not just finance and accounting leaders. ACCA professionals therefore have an opportunity to seize the early-movers’ advantage, building on the momentum created by the new Framework and capitalising on their relevant capabilities. Integrated reporting provides young ACCA professionals with a new and unique opportunity to build challenging and interesting careers, through which they could have a real impact on the sustainability of their organisation and the society in which it operates.

"For ACCA professionals in particular, integrated reporting will align perfectly with the knowledge and skills developed when completing the ACCA Qualification – including corporate reporting, management accounting, risk and governance."