This article was first published in the June 2018 International edition of Accounting and Business magazine.

From September, the ACCA Qualification takes the next step in its evolution with the introduction of the Strategic Business Reporting exam. It is a significant move, closely allied to the launch of a new Strategic Business Leader case study, which together with our specialist Options exams will form a redesigned upper level of the exam journey for ACCA students.

This top level of the ACCA Qualification – now called Strategic Professional – aims to help form the professional accountant of the future. It will build on changes in the qualification that have already been implemented: the new Ethics and Professional Skills module and the introduction of more work-relevant computer-based exams.

These innovations are the result of in-depth research that sets out the biggest drivers for change and the future skills that will be needed by tomorrow’s professional accountants. The result of conversations with more than 2,000 C-suite and senior finance professionals across the world, ACCA’s Professional Accountants – the future report showed that the increasingly globalised, digitised and uncertain business environment means professional accountants will have a more vital role to play than ever.

The changes we are making to the qualification will help to ensure students are equipped with the best professional skills and technical ability to respond to these challenges.

The Strategic Business Reporting exam will take corporate financial reporting to a new level. Replacing the existing P2 Corporate Reporting exam, it is designed to expose students to the wider context of finance and business reporting. It develops the vital skills they will need to explain and communicate the implications of transactions and reporting to all stakeholders. Equipped with these enhanced reporting skills, they will become ‘persuaders in chief’ to the board, ensuring that directors are equipped with the knowledge to take the best course of action.

Drivers of change

To provide some context for this change, it is necessary to understand the drivers of change that are exerting pressure on the accountancy profession and the wider business and financial communities. ACCA research indicates that regulation and governance, digital technologies, stakeholder expectations and globalisation are all combining to shake up the way that organisations report their financial and non-financial performance.

Explaining these changes and the impact they will have on the organisation will fall to the professional accountant. The scope of corporate reporting will increase; more regulation, more disclosure and an increased awareness of how financial reporting interconnects with non-financial reporting mean professional accountants will need to communicate a more comprehensive view of corporate reporting.

The bigger picture

Financial reporting will remain at the core of the exam, as strong technical skills and ethical mindsets will be pivotal to success, but corporate reporting is becoming more holistic – less about the numbers and more about the organisation’s ‘story’.

The changes to the qualification will equip students with the skills that are required to present this big picture, carefully selecting details so that stakeholders do not drown in information.

This is why ACCA has evolved the former corporate reporting syllabus, which already incorporated a holistic approach, into the new Strategic Business Reporting exam, with a requirement to examine corporate reporting from different perspectives.

Among the 10 key competencies required by a professional accountant, according to Professional Accountants – the future, is the ability to communicate a holistic view of corporate reporting, presenting the big picture of an organisation’s performance and progress, rather than focusing on the detailed numbers.

The changes to the ACCA Qualification, the Strategic Business Reporting exam and the Strategic Business Leader case study (which you can read about in more detail in my article in the March edition of AB) will equip our members with the skills to reaffirm their competencies in these areas. It is an evolution that will ensure the professional accountant remains relevant in today’s and tomorrow’s business reporting world.

Judith Bennett is ACCA’s director of professional qualifications