“Let’s remove artificial barriers to the accountancy profession,” urges Portia Mkhabela

Head of ACCA South Africa, Botswana & RMM says transformation means rethinking how the profession operates.

“The word transformation can be interpreted in a different context from a global perspective,” says Portia Tsakane Mkhabela, head of Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) South Africa, Botswana & Remotely Managed Markets. “However, in my context, it refers to changing the landscape in driving access to the profession through making decisions of selecting routes that will open up the industry, while addressing current Fasset Sector Skills Plan challenges of accessing the profession to the highest level.”

(Fasset is the Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA) for the Finance, Accounting, Management Consulting and Other Financial Services sector.)

“At ACCA, we believe transformation is critical because it forces us to think differently about what the world requires from us as a professional body, to do things differently in developing the accountancy profession the world needs. From our perspective, and in the work we are tasked to implement, one fundamental question we always ask ourselves is, ‘How do we remove artificial barriers to the accountancy profession and allow entry at various levels?’ We believe we need to continuously improve and revisit our strategy as an organisation on how best we service our clients by responding to the current challenges we face within our country and neighbouring states.”

Portia says that ACCA believes that access to financial literacy at a young age will shape how we change the current inequalities to access this profession. “The current administration and credit regulation facilities could be used effectively through a collaborated effort to educate our nation on how best to handle personal and business finances,” she says.

“The journey that ACCA SA is undertaking in growing our offering, will not only offer multiple pathways into a career in audit for interested professionals, but also broaden the market – providing more options for our SMPs and upcoming professionals, particularly in terms of building capacity with the introduction of mandatory audit firm rotation requirements – and open up dialogue throughout the sector.

“ACCA operates from a global perspective and we focus on research and professional insights from an international perspective, with qualifications that are recognised beyond South Africa,” she says. “We pride ourselves in producing professional accountants who meet the needs of employers around the world.”

Unpacking the concept of transformation
In its report, Transformational Journeys: Finance and the Agile Organisation (undertaken by ACCA and Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand in collaboration with Generation CFO), ACCA looks at the emerging role of the finance function professional.

While the word “transformation” in South Africa is often used in the context of the pursuit of racial and gender equity, it also relates to broader change, from digitisation to audit reform and beyond.
“Transformation itself can be defined as a movement from an ‘as-is’ to a ‘to-be’ state,” ACCA notes in its introduction to the report. “Across organisations, it has many dimensions.”

The study found that companies of all sizes and all finance professionals are at a crossroads. However, finance professionals have a clear role to play in transformation. “The nature of that role is dependent upon the extent to which they have a vision of how finance itself can contribute to the organisation of the future,” the report notes. “Finance teams need to be more forward thinking. Not just reliant on the story of the past, but to envision and communicate the narrative of the potential of the future.”

Closer to home
For Portia, transformation is deeply personal. “We cannot talk about transformation if we don’t address inclusivity,” she says. “The role that basic education plays becomes key in instilling financial literacy at school level. Our collaboration with the Association for the Advancement of Black Accountants of Southern Africa (ABASA) will address transformation and inclusivity at various levels of the profession. As a training and development specialist, I personally understand the challenges underpinning lack of career guidance, but also information on the accounting and auditing profession.”

The next area that she believes needs focus and attention is ethics. “It’s key in what we do and while we talk about financial management, we need to also talk about ethics, because we need to build a pipeline of future leaders who understand the value of being ethical in all areas of their lives, including in the institutions they will lead in the future – people who understand that ethics is not a subject we come across at school or university, but it is a fundamental principle that all of us must possess from our homes, which will then be displayed in the various roles we occupy in a work and business environment. Ethics start at home and are not learnt, but instilled in who we are as human beings.”

From an ACCA perspective, her drive to educate the public is supported by ACCA’s free online platform, ACCA-X, aimed at those who are just getting started with finance learning. “These free introductory courses prepare you for ACCA Foundation level FA1 or MA1 exams,” Portia explains. “This course is suitable for beginners, and for small business owners who need financial literacy to support their business. Anyone accessing this programme does not need prior knowledge of accounting, however the course will empower any one to have much needed knowledge on accounting. This is a programme that has been developed by Harvard and MIT.”

Key to the programme is supporting the teachers that are training students in economics and accounting at school.

Access to mobile data must be a reality to support the transformation of the sector and allow access to important education tools and Portia believes that telecommunication companies have a role to play in supporting “data free” access for courses such as ACCA-X to enable more people to access the programme.

“If we are serious about transformation and addressing UN SDG objectives, then we need to open up such platforms for ease of access,” she says. “Access to information and career availability should be regarded as a right in supporting the transformation agenda of our countries.”

Transforming the public sector
ACCA is working with the Local Government Sector Education and Training Authority (LGSETA) to assist in supporting the transformational agenda with municipality finance staff.

“The project was launched in 2020, and to date we have a total of 153 beneficiaries who have been trained on International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS),” Portia says. “The LGSETA has made it possible for beneficiaries to improve their skills while we drive them towards formal ACCA designations. This project is addressing the current audit findings confirmed in the AG 2020/21 reports. The importance of interpreting financial statements, governance and financial reporting by municipal workers is key in addressing the current challenges. This is how ACCA is contributing to capacitating the public sector and improving financial management competencies in collaboration with the LGSETA.”

In conclusion, Portia encourages finance professionals, as well as those who consider themselves partners to the industry, to explore how they can play a substantive role in the future direction and development of their organisations, countries and in the global evolution of the sector. “We need to do our best to prepare for the way the world is changing, and be ready to play our full role in the transformation process and to help secure long-term organisational success,” she says.