The role of ACCA members across Europe varies from region to region. New ACCA Europe director Roger Acton tells Carolyn Canham about the challenges and rewards of working in partnership with branches across the continent.
Roger Acton says that rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) has a member engagement agenda for some parts of Europe and a thought leadership approach for other parts.
In Central and Eastern Europe, the average age of ACCA members is just 35. Acton explains: “Their experience of ACCA is one of an examination and an examinations body, so they would not necessarily have an appreciation that ACCA is a professional body of substance… I suppose one of the challenges then is to have students, as they become members, appreciate that there is a professional body there to support them through their career, so that it’s not just an examining body, it’s not just a body that produces a syllabus every few years.
“As you move further west, given that particularly audit is very different in Western Europe to Eastern Europe, I think ACCA’s strategy is going to be much more focused on accountants and finance professionals working in the financial and corporate sectors rather than exclusively in audit. I also think we would probably place greater emphasis on inputting into policy at the European level.”
Acton joined the ACCA in 1999 as the head of its Ireland chapter. Prior to that he was the chief executive of the Disability Federation of Ireland, an umbrella body for about 200 community groups and more than 100 organisations that provide services to the disabled.
Acton brought his interest in the volunteer sector to his position with the ACCA. In 2004, the association sponsored him to co-found Boardmatch Ireland, a project Acton describes as “a computer dating agency for young professionals… who want to get involved in the voluntary sector”. Boardmatch unites young professionals, based on their qualifications, experience and area of interest, with voluntary organisations. After two years of operation, the programme has 600 registered individuals, including several ACCA members, and has matched 105 professionals.
One of the aspects of Acton’s new role as ACCA Europe director that he is looking forward to is building on the ACCA base in Central and Eastern Europe. In terms of charity involvement, he says, members in Central and Eastern European ACCA branches are involved more in community fundraising events than board-level contributions. “The concept of being involved in the running of a charity is slightly different from the fundraising aspect,” Acton explains.
In the UK and Ireland, Acton says, members of professional bodies are more familiar with contributing to policy papers and trying to shape government policy in relation to issues that affect their work. But this is not the case in Central and Eastern Europe, where there has long been a planned, centralised economy until recent times.
“Previously the notion [in Central and Eastern Europe] was ‘there’s no point us getting involved because policy will be determined anyway’, so there was that fatalism in terms of policy development, which is now changing,” Acton explains.
“I think you would have found that people wouldn’t have got involved at board level or strategic level of not-for-profit organisations or voluntary organisations because they would have just been appointed by somebody and the policy would have been determined and that’s it.”
Acton suggests this is changing. “If they’re qualified and ambitious, they can get very good jobs and they are very forward-looking as a result of that, so they are now looking at maybe ways to influence policies whereas I think their predecessors may not have been.”
Still, the community fundraisers fit with Acton’s goals for ACCA in Europe. “It shows that there’s a nice connection between the local office, the professional body and members and students, and other stakeholders and the community,” Acton says. “One of the things that I’m very anxious that ACCA does become in Europe is totally integrated into the fabric of the local economies.”
The ACCA has experienced strong growth in several Central and Eastern European countries recently. Acton names Russia, other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Poland and the Czech Republic as countries where the ACCA has been received particularly well. “Romania in particular is a very exciting place, we’ve enjoyed good growth there and I think it’s vibrant. Bucharest is a very vibrant city with a lot of activity going on,” he says.
Acton says there is a lot of positive activity throughout all of Europe. All the members, students and other stakeholders are “all forward looking, they’re thinking about the future, so it’s nice to be in that sort of environment, it keeps you young”.