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Weighing up the Value of Accountancy Qualifications

As another year unfolds, I find myself at the familiar crossroads of deciding whether to renew my ACCA (Association of Certified Chartered Accountants) membership. Having been a qualified member since 2006, the annual ritual of paying my membership fees prompts a deeper reflection on the real value of this qualification in today’s dynamic market. What would my advice be to 20-year-old me starting out on the path to qualification and beyond. 

The Cost of Commitment: A Financial Perspective 

Over the years, my investment in ACCA has not just been a matter of time and effort, but also a substantial financial commitment. The thousands of pounds spent raise a pivotal question: what tangible benefits have I received in return? This isn’t just about the monetary aspect but also about the opportunity cost. Could these resources have been more effectively utilised elsewhere? 

As an employer you are often expected to cover the costs of you employee’s annual membership which puts a further burden on small practices and business owners. 

It’s not just just me that feels we are simply paying for the four little letters after our name and not a lot else. 

The Cost of Commitment: A Personal Perspective 

With my eldest son approaching his 18th birthday, I find myself reflecting on a pivotal time in my life. During the first two weeks of his existence, I became a ghost in our household due to the looming finals I had to face. Back then, passing all three exam papers simultaneously was a requirement. In those early days, Emma, my partner, selflessly gave up our bed to sleep in the front room with our newborn baby, ensuring I could enjoy a good night’s rest before heading to the library for intense study sessions.  

So much of my energy and focus had been poured into reaching that stage in my professional journey that I had decided to give it a single, determined shot. At that point, I was already earning well and had firmly established myself in a senior management role. Passing those finals might have seemed like a personal vanity project compared to the other significant events in my life, but I couldn’t dismiss the importance of all the hard work and dedication I had invested up to that point.  

Becoming a qualified accountant is not merely an individual pursuit; it’s a collective effort involving the entire family. Each member sacrifices something in the hope that our lives will improve collectively after the pivotal “event” of qualification.  

This is what resonates with me every time I contemplate the idea of not renewing my membership. It’s not just about me, my time, my effort, or my sacrifices, but also those made by my family and friends. Those four seemingly small letters that come after your name represent something much larger – a testament to the shared commitment and support of everyone who has been a part of this journey with me.  

The Professional Edge: Benefits Beyond the Balance Sheet 

The value of an ACCA qualification isn’t solely measured in pounds and pence. It’s also about the professional credibility, the global recognition, and the network of peers it offers. These are intangible yet invaluable assets in an accountant’s career. The ongoing professional development, access to industry insights, and a platform for continuous learning are significant pluses. But do these benefits align with the evolving demands of the accounting profession? 

Market Relevance: Adapting to the Changing Landscape 

The accounting industry is not immune to the waves of change. With the advent of automation, AI (Artificial Intelligence), and changing financial regulations, the skillset for accountants is rapidly evolving. Does ACCA keep pace with these changes? How effectively does it equip its members to stay relevant and competitive in this transforming landscape? 

My own recent experience of attending the ACCA Roadshows and Accounting for Future 2023 leads me to believe that our professional bodies have been hijacked by software vendors who can put on a show. It is better to be seen to be doing something than do nothing at all but I’m not sure the investment of time was worth it. 

It is not just the UK though Australian titan of accounting Heather Smith who is heavily involved with the professional bodies had this to say on the matter: 

“Look at the number of conferences and micro courses out there. Clearly, we have educational needs which are slow to be met by the accounting professions.” 

The Alternatives: Exploring Other Paths 

It’s crucial to consider the alternatives. There are other qualifications and professional bodies, each with its unique offerings. How does ACCA compare to these in terms of cost, relevance, and global recognition? Is there a more cost-effective or beneficial route for accountants seeking professional development and recognition today? 

The ongoing commitment to holding a professional qualification extends to completing 40+ hours of CPD (Continued Professional Development) each year, holding a Practicing Certificate which comes at additional cost and covers rules and regulations around AML and beyond to ensure standards are maintained. This also governs the level of Professional Indemnity Insurance required. This all costs money and takes time. Who benefits? Clients don’t seem to know the difference between qualified or not.

Is a qualification from a professional body even needed? 

Heather Smith from Australia has just run for the ACCA Global Council Elections sums up this point nicely. 

“As soon as someone wins an award, or finds themselves on a top 50 list, their professional qualification is shoved aside, and they promote this accomplishment. Why is that? Does the award, or mention on a list demonstrate that they are a future focused modern accountant, over their qualification? I suspect it does.  

Perhaps the smart ones in our industry are those serial award winners, who’ve elevated their platform so much, with awards and stylised selfies, that no one notices they don’t actually hold a professional accountancy qualification. They didn’t do the exams, they do not have CPD requirements, they do not have hefty insurance bills, or membership dues. But no one really notices do they?” 

ACCA Member Benefits 

Here is a rundown of the member benefits as ACCA promote them: 

  1. You’re part of the world’s most forward-thinking professional accountancy body 
  1. Global employers seek ACCA members because of the high standards they meet 
  1. You’re trusted as a source of good by societies around the world 
  1. ACCA think ahead to ensure you stay at the cutting-edge of the profession 
  1. Your commitment to ACCA’s ethical values makes us a powerful force 
  1. You can shape the future of the profession 
  1. Continuous learning helps achieve success throughout your career 
  1. You can work abroad and make worldwide connections 

Check out the full glossy ACCA Member benefit brochure. 

Personal Experience: Weighing the Pros and Cons 

Reflecting on my personal journey with ACCA, the benefits have been multifaceted. From gaining a solid foundation in accounting principles to networking with like-minded professionals, the experience has been enriching. However, you must consider whether these benefits justify the ongoing costs, especially for those who have proven themselves in their careers. 

Being a qualified accountant, especially with a widely recognised qualification like ACCA, comes with its own set of advantages and challenges. Here’s my detailed list of the pros and cons: 

Pros of Being a Qualified Accountant 

1. Professional Credibility: A recognised qualification like ACCA enhances your professional credibility, highlighting your ability and commitment to the field. 

2. Global Recognition: Qualifications from reputable bodies are recognised globally, opening international career opportunities. 

3. Higher Earning Potential: Qualified accountants often have access to higher-paying jobs compared to non-qualified peers. 

4. Career Advancement: The qualification can lead to faster career progression, as many senior roles in finance require or prefer a formal accounting qualification. 

5. Networking Opportunities: Membership in professional bodies like ACCA provides networking opportunities with other professionals in the field. 

6. Continuous Learning: These programs often require continuing professional development (CPD), ensuring that you stay updated with the latest industry practices and regulations.  

7. Diverse Career Paths: With a formal qualification, you can explore various roles in finance, audit, tax, consulting, and even leadership positions. 

8. Job Security: Accounting skills are always in demand, offering a level of job security. 

9. Regulatory Compliance: Qualified accountants are often more equipped to ensure that businesses follow financial regulations and standards. 

10. Entrepreneurial Opportunities: The qualification supplies the knowledge and credibility to start your own practice or consultancy. 

Cons of Being a Qualified Accountant 

1. Cost of Qualification: Obtaining and keeping a qualification like ACCA can be expensive, considering exam fees, membership dues, and study materials. 

2. Time Investment: The process of qualifying and staying qualified (through CPD) requires a considerable time commitment. 

3. Stress and Workload: Especially during busy periods like tax season, the workload can be high, leading to stress. 

4. Rapidly Changing Landscape: Keeping up with the frequent changes in financial regulations and accounting standards can be challenging. 

5. Technological Disruption: With the rise of automation and AI in accounting, there’s a constant need to adapt and learn modern technologies. 

6. Risk of Obsolescence: As the industry evolves, there’s a risk that certain skills might become obsolete if not continually updated. 

7. Competitive Field: The accounting field can be highly competitive, especially for top roles or in certain sectors. 

8. Limited Exposure to Non-Financial Roles: Being pigeonholed as a “finance person” could limit opportunities in broader business roles. 

9. Regulatory Burden: A qualified accountant often has to navigate a complex web of regulations, which can be burdensome. 

10. Work-Life Balance Challenges: High-demand periods can lead to long working hours, affecting work-life balance. 

The decision to pursue and keep a qualification like ACCA should be weighed against these factors, considering your personal career goals and circumstances. The value of such a qualification can vary greatly depending on individual aspirations and the specific demands of the job market you’re in. 

The Verdict: A Decision Unique to Each Professional 

The question of whether an ACCA qualification is worth it in today’s market doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all answer. It depends on individual career goals, the stage of one’s professional journey, and how you use the perceived opportunities provided by the qualification. For some, it might be a gateway to career advancement and global opportunities. For others, especially seasoned professionals, the return on investment might not be as clear-cut. 

One such person that felt it was not worth the money was Dan Hully of RORA. Dan gave up his membership to ICAEW in January 2021.  

“For me it’s not just about the fees and the benefits, it’s about the impact these bodies have on our profession and how it’s perceived. 

Today accounting has a real image problem. If you ask any member of the public, they’ll be familiar with the ‘boring accountant’ stereotype. 

One of the primary roles of the membership bodies like the ICAEW is to promote the profession to the public. It’s my belief that they haven’t just ignored the problem, they’ve actively made it worse.” 

You can read the full article Why I’m no longer a Chartered Accountant on LinkedIn. Believe me it is well worth a read. 

Conclusion: A Call for Thoughtful Consideration 

As I weigh the decision to renew my membership, the deliberation goes beyond financial calculations. It’s about assessing the ongoing relevance, the benefits it offers in terms of professional growth, and how it aligns with my career aspirations. This decision-making process is a personal one, and I encourage fellow professionals to undertake a similar assessment. After all, in the ever-evolving world of accountancy, staying informed and adaptable is key to success. 

My advice to 20-year-old me would be the same as it was back then. Work and study hard, learn and give yourself the best chance of succeeding. A professional qualification will open doors for you but as you get older don’t worry if those doors close behind you as you won’t need them anymore. You will be able to open you own doors.