'Accountants are now leaders'

As the financial crisis of 2008 unfolded, one of the reasons that came to the fore was professional misconduct that ruined companies and individuals. “That is when the role of accountants came to be understood as quintessential to not just finances, but in more diversified fields. Many of the scandals that emerged were because people were not professionals. They were unqualified but at greater positions of responsibility without the ethical code to guide them. That is when you could see how professional conduct could add value to development,” says Helen Brand, chief executive of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), the global body for professional accountants.  

Started in 1904, ACCA has 1,78,000 members and 4,55,000 students in 181 countries with a qualification — equivalent to a UK Master’s degree which is designed to develop the “complete finance professional”. “There is a lot of interest in global business services. Leadership capabilities can drive sustainable economy. I have seen the evidence that professional accountants are able to provide that leadership. If there isn’t financial acumen embedded within a system, a start-up or even a well-established business will fail,” says 50-year-old Brand.

She adds, “Professional accountants lie at the heart of any business across sectors. Whether the public sector in government enterprises or the corporate in private sector, they can be seen as finance leaders and advisors to business.”

Brand believes that the role of chief financial officers (CFOs) have “become bolder”. “The voice of the CFO has become bolder than it has ever been post the 2008 financial crisis. Accountants are now leaders in their own right. In fact, I was always passionate about development. Consequently, I realised how the accountancy profession specifically could help in that development, whether through international accounting standards, the capabilities that individuals obtained or ethical dimensions,” says Brand who has worked with IFAC (the International Federation of Accountants) in an advisory capacity over many years and is a founding member of a performance monitoring council - International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC).

One of the few women to lead a global professional body, Brand strongly advocates for the role of women as leaders. “I am really delighted as a woman to be in a leading capacity. One of the most important aspects for women is to have role models. The more role models that women can look up to, more significantly they will become a part of the culture. It is mandatory to establish the fact that women do lead. I do like an inclusive and collaborative form of leadership which is an advantage for both men and women,” she tells Metrolife.  

With ACCA becoming the first international professional body to publish an integrated report on its performance in 2011, she is also a pioneer in developing the profession across Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and the Middle East. “I think, the world is more emphatically global, interconnected and volatile. There are constant shifts. Lots of significant players have come up. But the economies of China and India are going to be more impactful. In fact, at present, a very interesting fact is the economic growth in India. Projected to be the world’s third largest economy by 2020, which requires a huge amount of financial capability, this profession is only looking to better itself. In fact, Indian accounting standards are very much in alignment with international auditing standards,” says Brand on her recent visit to the capital.  

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