This article was first published in the March 2018 UK edition of Accounting and Business magazine.

This year sees the completion of ACCA Qualification – the future. This is a range of innovations to the qualification that is being introduced in response to the changing needs of employers and the expectations that professional accountants will be facing in the years ahead. 

We first introduced these in 2016 and have been making changes in steps. One of the most significant of these, launching in September and just made available for sign-up, is the Strategic Business Leader exam. This is an integrated case study based on a realistic business scenario of the sort that our next generation of members will face, combining core areas from across the syllabus including governance, risk and strategy, recognising that these areas are never separated in real business life. Crucially, it links with other core leadership areas such as organisational control, innovation and change management. It also makes use of new technology and data analytics.

The exam features real-world challenges, helping students demonstrate their skills and technical expertise. It reflects work situations where decisions need to be made, measured and communicated to the wider organisation, giving students and members the confidence to add value to the business and feel comfortable advising senior management on key business decisions. It is also designed to develop and test the strategic leadership skills that are increasingly important in the careers of professional accountants.

The Strategic Business Leader case study is part of a revised top level of the ACCA Qualification – Strategic Professional, which also includes an enhanced corporate reporting exam, Strategic Business Reporting. Replacing the current corporate reporting exam from September, it exposes our students to the wider context of finance and business reporting, giving them the skills they need to explain the implications of transactions and reporting to stakeholders. 

Ethics at the core

These changes follow the introduction of our new Ethics and Professional Skills module launched in October 2017, designed to ensure that ethics remain at the core of the qualification. It is unique in its focus on developing the complete range of professional skills that our research says employers greatly value (see box). Building on our pioneering Professional Ethics module, it continues to develop the vitally important ethical behaviour and judgment, complementing this with broader communications, commercial, innovation, analysis and evaluation skills. 

The first of its type in the market, this is available as a free CPD resource to members and is a great way to refresh ethical and professional skills.

The changes include new computer-based assessment in some of the exams, using real-work tools. New ACCA members will be better prepared for the workplace, as they’ll be computer literate, familiar with spreadsheets and other tools.

Members have seen how the qualification has evolved over the years and are more aware of the risks failing to recognise the shifting needs of clients, employers, regulators and trainees.

The innovations are designed to ensure that all members who hold the ACCA Qualification continue to be recognised as individuals who are ready to lead, adapt and help their organisation to succeed, with the right blend of technical, ethical and professional skills – and as professionals who can keep their knowledge up-to-date through our continued professional development (CPD) programmes. 

The ACCA Qualification already creates great professional accountants with the strong core technical and ethical skills needed across all sectors, and advanced sector-specific expertise. We are known for developing people who understand how finance works, with a global outlook.

The changes mean we can retain our emphasis on technical and financial competencies while increasing our focus on the professional competencies and skills needed by employers. These will ensure the qualification retains its premium position in the market.

The rigour of the ACCA qualification remains paramount. ACCA has built on its current exams and enhanced the professional skills competencies to ensure students remain relevant in the modern world. 

There is a further role that ACCA members can play here – acting as a mentor for the ACCA students who will be going through the new syllabus and exams. A mentor can unlock the potential of the next generation of ACCA members, and help secure our future reputation.  

The ACCA Qualification sets the standard for the profession; we remain committed to revising and adapting the qualification so that it is not only relevant today, but will remain so into the future. 

Judith Bennett is ACCA’s director of professional qualifications