The Global Accounting Champion

In a conversation with Kameshwar Upadhyaya, Helen Brand OBE, CEO, Association of Chartered Certified Accountants talks about globalisation and converging accounting standards.

Helen 2

Tell me about the impact that Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) has been able to create globally.

ACCA’s vision is to be the number one in developing professional accountants that the world needs.

I think we are very clearly on track, with 170,000 members and 436,000 students in 171 countries around the world. We have 92 offices and centers. Last year we opened our office in Myanmar and this year we have set up our new office in Tanzania. So from this, you can see the global reach of ACCA. Our strategy is hard wired to provide competent finance professionals to serve the business and economies in which they work.

From 12,500 members in 1970, ACCA has grown to 170,000 members in 180 countries in 2014. How did you manage to facilitate this growth?

Whenever we do anything at ACCA, we consult widely. We make sure that we get the data which shows the trends in the business and society. We also talk to the CFOs and CEOs of world’s leading organisations about what is it that they require from the professionals. What do industries need, what does corporate need, what does the government need in terms of the financial skills that professional accountants bring? I think we have been very responsive to that. So, we have grown by listening to the market needs and seeking to remain relevant.

Which are some of the skills that were crucial to the way you lead the organisation?

I think I have been very aware of the need to be authentic in my leadership. You can learn from the best practice of the people around you, you can admire what they do, but I think it is important to the internal and the external stakeholders to feel that you are genuine about what you are talking about and not adopting a persona that is different from your own. If you have the will to serve them, then people really listen to what you have to say. They are willing to follow your vision when they believe pit in their hearts. So, I have consciously chosen this approach to leadership.

Another skill which I think is very crucial is open communication. To lead my team in the organisation, I have tried to make myself as accessible as I can. I try and choose as many people as I can to throw challenges at. I am not very interested in their job titles but I am interested in what they can do and contribute to the organisation.

Since we have a global workforce, my willingness to travel is also important because you have to be on the ground to understand what people need. We have also used technology to bridge the distances. ACCA has an internal and external social network which is very effective at engaging and informing,  while also understanding what is happening at the ground level.

You have been with ACCA for almost two decades now. Which has been your most daunting challenge?

Being a global organisation is always a challenge. There is so much diversity in the world; so many political, economic and social dimensions to the environment in which we work. Our success is based on being relevant, remaining relevant, understanding the big next drive and not being complacent. So, to account for all this and yet maintain a consistent presentation of what we say, what we stand for, and what we offer, is my biggest challenge.

How do you see the implementation of International Financial Regulatory Standards (IFRS) in India affect business?

For a long time, I have held the view that a single set of global accounting and auditing standards is essential to the development of stable and sustainable economies. A globalised world needs a common language of finance to present the progress of business to its diverse stakeholders and investors. With India putting a great deal of emphasis on the ‘Make in India’ campaign, to attract investment and establishing multinational businesses, a common financial language will be crucial. So, I think both the systems and the skills and capabilities of people who will implement IFRS will have to be of global standards. And that’s going to be the main impact.

How strong is ACCA’s presence in India?

ACCA India has been largely driven by the demands from employers, and so far we have seen great business within the short span of time in the corporate sector. We have also seen tremendous growth in the past two years due to the relationship with universities. Over the last year, we had about 18 universities sign a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ (MoU) with ACCA, where their graduates will be able to access our qualifications after graduating.

What is your vision for ACCA in India?

We would like to make substantial contribution towards sustainable development of the very exciting Indian economy. My vision is to see ACCA as a partner in the economic success of India.  I intend to realise it mainly through skill development. As India’s economy grows, there will be a further demand for more qualified finance professionals for its businesses and its public sector, and that is where I think ACCA can help.

What do you think about the emerging role of women in the developing economies?
Helen Brand finals-5637

Helen Brand OBE

I am very excited about the developing role of women and I think it is very strongly emerging in the emerging economies but there is a long way to go.

I think it is incredibly important for women to play a pivotal role in any economy. The reason is that if women are not involved then you operate at only half of your potential; you do not utlilise the other half of your leadership and business talent. For organisations, I see it as the business driver to involve women. They add to the diversity of views and thinking into the work place and ultimately into the boardroom. Diversity is one of the core values at ACCA. Our foundation rests on the premise that we shouldn’t have to be rich or a traditionally male profession. 50 per cent of our stream population is female; 48 per cent of our global membership is female. I am a woman and I am leading ACCA.

What are your hopes and aspirations for India, world’s largest democracy?

India is known for its potential, and for its entrepreneurial spirit. Everybody can see the potential and all the excitement and optimism in India. With the democratic call at the core of its being, and the talent and capabilities that it possesses, India will be a power of good in the world.

How can India be a role model for other developing economies in Africa, Latin America and Asia?

I think it’s the impetus on education in India that can be a great role model for developing countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Here, great importance is laid on education, training and skills development. Other emerging markets can learn a lot from it in terms of creating a diverse talent pool. They will also benefit from emulating the dynamism, the entrepreneurial spirit, and Indian government’s commitment to bring in reforms and make the environment in India business friendly.

How can Indian organisations make the best of globalisation?

To be truly global, you need to be open and collaborative. I think it is with a collaborative spirit that organisations will make the most out of globalisation. Additionally, critical to succeed at the global scene is the ability to take calculated risks. You have to risk investments to harvest your opportunities. It is important for them to not only understand the global market but also to understand its linkages with the local market. Being a large country, India has a great domestic market for businesses, but I think there are even more immense opportunities for Indian businesses to go global.


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