Are accountancy qualifications still worth it?
“It’s not what I gained, it’s what I didn’t have to do,” says Paul Scholes. The experienced accountant and long-time member of AccountingWEB tells Francois Badenhorst about why he gave up his ACCA membership.
AccountingWEB member Paul Scholes is one many visiting the site who have turned their backs on formal accountancy qualifications.
Scholes followed the normal trajectory into accounting. He qualified in 1977 with the ICAEW, but for reasons of business practicality shifted to the ACCA in 1990. He says in the early days of his career, membership of a regulatory body yielded significant professional benefit.
“When I first started as an accountant, I could liquidate companies, I could handle personal bankruptcies, and I could audit and give investment advice,” explains Scholes. “All those things were the preserve of qualified accountants when I qualified, so it gave you a lot of benefits in terms of work I could do that unqualified accountants couldn’t.”
The privileged status of qualified accountants changed somewhat when insolvency, bankruptcy and investment advice became separate disciplines. The change coincided with Scholes’s decision not to pursue those services any longer while continuing to act as an auditor.
As his clientele shifted more to small owner-managed businesses, Scholes says he “ended up with one weird little audit”.
“I was having to jump through all these different little audit hoops and regulation just for one business. So I asked the client to go somewhere else and I gave up my audit registration.”
Now completely disengaged from regulated activities, Scholes found himself in a professional quandary. “It occurred to me a year later as I was doing my return for the ACCA, I’m paying them £600 a year and not really directly getting anything from them at all.
“I just dropped it,” he says. Since 2013, Scholes has been, so to say, letterless.
According to Scholes, it hasn’t affected his business: 98% of his clients are referrals, people who’ve already been sold on his professional merits. These clients, in Scholes’s words, “couldn’t give a monkey’s that I’ve not got letters after my name”.
Professionally not much has changed. “I still do CPD, I still keep up to date. I still have professional indemnity insurance. I still have a continuity of practice agreement with another firm of accountants in case I die or go insane. I’m keeping up to date with logical business practices,” he says.
He’s convinced he made the right choice, but warns that it’s a personal decision all practitioners should weigh carefully. For Scholes, it comes down to professional and economic benefit: “Do they get clients coming from the regulatory body’s website? Do they get clients who searched on Google for ‘qualified accountant’?” he asks.
“If they’re getting business in this way or they are doing regulated work like audits, then keep going”.
And for those starting out professionally, Scholes recommends using every bit of ammunition they can. It’s a sentiment new sole practitioner Alex Falcon-Huerta echoed when speaking to AccountingWEB recently. “I value my experience and my qualification equally. You get a lot more insight by being qualified than just having the experience,” she said.
But even for the inexperienced accountant, Scholes counsels against just inattentively renewing membership. “If in a year or two’s time and you’ve got new business in and you ask them, ‘does it matter if I’m a member of the ACCA?’ and the client says ‘What’s the ACCA?’, then obviously it hasn’t made a difference at all.”
Scholes’s views revive the long-running debates about the status of the term accountancy and the accompanying professional qualifications. A lack of a regulatory body means no professional discipline, leaving the courts as the only way to win recompense against an errant accountant. Scholes is aware of this criticism, but argues accountancy is already unregulated.
“There’s still, weirdly, an idea among the public that if you call yourself an accountant then you must be regulated,” he says.
“I’ve spoken to members of my family and they’ve said ‘surely all accountants have to be qualified don’t they?’ I don’t think it makes much of a difference to the public anyway, as they’ve got the wrong perception.”
What do you make of Paul’s stance? Would you give up your membership?