As 2021 reaches its conclusion, it’s more important than ever to take a moment to think how finance professionals can play a role in a sustainable economic recovery, writes ACCA chief executive Helen Brand


 

We started January in full pandemic lockdown, November saw the world’s leaders at COP26 in Glasgow move forward on tackling the climate crisis, and as we approach the end of 2021 the world is bracing itself in the face of a new variant of the Covid virus.

The profession has undoubtedly proved its worth and boosted its status in the C-suites of organisations globally in this first full year of the health crisis. Our skills have proved pivotal at organisations from microbusinesses to small and medium enterprises and large corporates – as well as in the public sector.

First, the profession ensured survival as organisations hunkered down through successive stages of health-driven economic restrictions, followed by re-emergence in the summer and the desperate need to build back revenue and growth.

The accountancy profession’s role has been enhanced, as shown in our global report with PwC Finance Function: Seizing the Opportunity. This report highlighted global finance teams’ increased profile and relevance as a result of the pandemic, and listed ways for us to retain this extra influence.

This showcasing of financial skills has translated into a resilient jobs market for finance professionals. LinkedIn data we shared in October showed that one in six UK accountants had accepted a new job in the previous 12 months, a testament to the value of the finance profession during a pandemic. To further boost global members’ prospects, we launched our new Career Navigator tool to help them find and match skill requirements for new job opportunities.

Sustainability

Climate crisis remains the highest-profile issue for accountants and in 2021 we have started to make good on our own commitments to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. We made a public commitment to nine SDGs 12 months ago, focusing on the ones where we felt we could make the most significant contribution, in areas such as education, equality and becoming net zero by 2030.

In the build up to COP26 we were able to give the issue of sustainability a major focus. We were one of 13 accountancy bodies that joined forces to reach net zero as part of the Prince of Wales’s Accounting for Sustainability project.

ACCA welcomed the creation of the International Sustainability Standards Board, announced at COP26 in November, which I believe is a historic and vital step towards ensuring the clarity needed from corporate reporting on this issue. However, we know that many small businesses do not feel that they have the time or resources to become more green. As the driving force of the global economy, it’s vital that we engage small business owners in this debate and help them to make changes, but only 4% of accountants in the UK told us clients had asked for their support on sustainability.

Our own lives continue to be overshadowed by these global issues. Many organisations, like our own, have been slowly returning to the office since August and planning a long-term strategic switch to a hybrid work pattern.

These fundamental changes to our work routines will have big implications for the nature of work and the way we establish our own culture when people no longer automatically gather each day in the office.

Looking to 2022, it’s a strange workplace that confronts our Generation Z students who are starting their careers as the first cohort of digital natives. Our research shows these young people aged 18-25 are concerned about job security and well-being in these turbulent times. While they believe accountancy is an attractive profession, they question the wider integrity of business, underlining the importance of the profession’s focus on ethics and driving forward positive change.

In an ever-changing landscape, beset with multiple issues, the future of audit remains as a constant and unresolved issue for accountants and finance professionals. It’s still not certain what policymakers will do about the issue next year, and it would be nice to think that some clarity might arrive in the new year.

Above all, I would like to wish everyone a healthy 2022.