75 years of thought leadership

ACCA thought leadership - then and now

In 1947 a new publication left the printing presses of The Fiscal Press Ltd of 234 Strand, London WC2. Modestly titled Some legal aspect of charities with particular reference to the income tax acts this was the first in a long series of ACCA research reports. 

Over the years our research has pushed forward the state of debate on topics from accounting for water resources to the effect of tax havens on the taxation of corporate income. 

That 1947 report was the first formal output of the technical research committee of ACCA, which had its foundations in the technical advisory committee formed in 1943, 75 years ago. 

In 1952, ACCA partnered with the Economist Intelligence Unit to publish Accounting for inflation. The thrust of that report set the tone for much of what was to follow. 

High profile and rigorous, the report was unafraid to propose the (then radical) concept of asset values and depreciation charges based on replacement cost. The proposals laid many of the conceptual foundations for later work in the area. 

Throughout the 1950s the work of the technical research committee expanded. Specialist sub-committees were set up to focus on specific topics. Publications proved popular with members and other readers. By 1964 there were over 17,000 copies of ACCA's The taxation of income from property in circulation.

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In the early 1980s the technical and research committee and staff technical secretariat was restructured with a full-time head of research appointed, and a conscious goal of commissioning papers of high standing and quality in areas of concern to the profession. 

Projects at that time included work on financial reporting by central government, with a steering group chaired by a former chair of the UK parliament's public accounts committee, and a paper in Indexation and capital markets supervised by no less than the director of the IFS, John Kay. 

1987 saw the publication of Information technology and the accountant: A comparative study, a theme still very relevant to today's work, and in 1990 ACCA broke ground again for the accountancy profession with Professor Rob Gray's study The greening of accountancy

Building on that work, ACCA instigated awards for sustainability reporting, a world first, which spread to over 20 countries, and saw a Queen's Award for Sustainable Development in 2002. 

Taking things still further, ACCA has been at the forefront of the integrated reporting movement, as the first international professional body to examine integrated reporting in the ACCA Qualification and the first to produce an integrated report on its own corporate performance. 

As we move further into the 21st century, the changing shape of business and society is reflected in research into robotics and AI, and the importance of the human element in accountancy. In 2017, ACCA partnered with IFAC and CAANZ to launch ground breaking research into one of the hottest policy debates, public trust in tax, with unique research across citizens of the G20 countries, revealing for the first time what people actually think about tax (rather than what newspapers, politicians or NGOs said they thought). Perhaps our most influential series of reports, the Professional accountants -  the future work has informed not just our conversations with policy makers and stakeholders, but the shape of the qualification itself.

"...the aim of research is to make 'a positive contribution to the development of the accountancy profession, by making an impact on government policy and legislation, and by helping to make material available which is of practical utility to members.'"

Mike Walsh

Our mission

Today's professional insights team is a world away from the early beginnings of the technical advisory committee. But the roots of our work go back further even than that. A bold innovator in the accountancy profession for over 110 years, ACCA's Royal Charter has as the first of its principal objects and purposes the advancement of 'the science of accounting, financial management and cognate subjects'. 

The mission goal of advancing the public interest is reflected in the core value of innovation… but why did ACCA choose these a fundamental principles of its very existence?

In the words of Mike Walsh, head of the technical department in the 1980s, the aim of research is to make 'a positive contribution to the development of the accountancy profession, by making an impact on government policy and legislation, and by helping to make material available which is of practical utility to members.' 

Thanks to the solid foundations set in that period of professionalization of the research function, experts from ACCA staff and membership now engage beyond national government level, or even regional bodies such as the European Commission. Working alongside global bodies such as the UN and the OECD, PI team members are at the forefront of policy and regulation to form frameworks which will benefit the whole of society. 

As Mike put it: 'any professional body's technical and research reputation has an important bearing on its status, significance and influence'. Over the last 75 years, the outputs of the technical and research teams at ACCA have contributed increasingly to our mission to be a global leader in the profession – and we’re looking forward to 75 more years of the same!

Written by Jason Piper