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Are accountancy qualifications still worth it?

13th Jul 2015
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“It’s not what I gained, it’s what I didn’t have to do,” says Paul ScholesThe 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? 


Replies (113)

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By Paul Scholes
14th Jul 2015 11:19

These are extreme cases

and I have no doubt that there are just as many criminal cases amongst unlettered accountants.

At lower levels we'd be talking about the application of proper levels of ethics, integrity, conscientiousness, independence, carefulness etc all of which, I've heard many in the past say, are more likely to exist in lettered firms than unlettered ones.

This has never been my experience, these qualities are present in a human or the're not, yes they may have lain dormant for a bit and need refreshing but anyone not possessing them or unable to practice them is just as likely to be dismissed from an unlettered practice as a lettered one.

Several years ago one of the big 4 announced they had just recruited a new head of ethics with their prime role to "teach" ethical behaviour to their clients.  It's a sad indictment of western business life that people have to be "taught" how to behave ethically.

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By Francois Badenhorst
14th Jul 2015 11:21

This has been really insightful stuff

I really wasn't anticipating this reaction, but I'm glad that everyone has chimed in. I've learned a lot.


Cheers guys. 

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Replying to Red Leader:
By Paul Scholes
14th Jul 2015 14:11

Just so we all know who to blame

FrancoisB wrote:

I really wasn't anticipating this reaction, but I'm glad that everyone has chimed in. I've learned a lot.


Cheers guys. 

I just answered the questions, it's all Francois's fault!

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By johnjenkins
14th Jul 2015 14:04

@ Paul

Totally agree about ethics. Somewhere down the generations values went out of the window. I'd like to blame Gordon Brown but it was evident in Maggie's time. Certainly there was evidence in the poll tax era.

What is really sad is that no one wants to put it right.

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By gilbertdeclare
15th Jul 2015 01:56

Chartered Status


The  IFA   is trying to  increase its status  and they  will  be  seeking   a Royal Charter in due  course.  This intention  is in the  public  domain but  not much publicity  has been given to it.

Following their merger with one of  the  Australian  accountancy bodies the IFA   appears to have  broken  its  links  with  the ICAEW.   The  IFA  has  also  been  approved   by the  CAA  &  IATA   ( air travel  regulators).    As the  Australian body  is  recognised  by  their  financial  services  regulator  could this  lead  to  similar recognition  for the  IFA  in the UK?. 

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15th Jul 2015 20:32

stand off
Let's organise a series of 'trial by combat' type events. Teams from the different bodies must prove themselves the most competent in various aspects of accountancy. Whichever body or non-qualified group wins, can change their name to the coveted "Chartered" of course with the (I'm sure disinterested) blessing from the monarch of the day. Everyone by prior agreement must join the new single body
The annual fee will be £100. Problem solved as usual.

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By johnjenkins
15th Jul 2015 10:54

If you look

at it with a bit of common sense then there is only the need for one body for the quals and another for the unquals. The Institute of taxation does ok with it's Intermediate (ATT).  Someone please tell me WHY we need all these different bodies when it is the Accountants that interpret things differently.

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By Vaughan Blake1
16th Jul 2015 11:34

Beware though!

Before giving up your qualification I suggest that you read Jim Harra's Q&A re HMRC/Agent relationships.  Goodness knows where things will end if his thought process is extrapolated to its logical conclusion, and a qualification could then make your life much simpler!

I just bet that the sign up sheet for HMRC's new digital self-service wizardry will have a 'qualification?' box to complete. 
There won't be a box marked 'tick here if you were a qualified accountant but relinquished your membership due to becoming disillusioned with your institute'.  It would take up too much space!

It may be that HMG/HMRC's perception of qualified v QBE, rather than that of your clients becomes more relevant.

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By The Minion
15th Jul 2015 11:28

I may be wrong here but maybe

the reason that there are so many different bodies is because those who would decide to merge would be the very ones whose jobs would be on the line, unless of course they all became one and everyone kept their old jobs.


They could then have huge meetings in lots of different places and would need a huge support structure and never decide anything.


They could call it Every Chartered or EC for short...

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Replying to Lucy N:
By nickja
16th Jul 2015 15:56

It might have been a bit stronger than rotter.....

.....    There have been occasions..... Better stop there, Imight incriminate myself!

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By johncharles
30th Jul 2015 14:47

The Accountancy bodies are acting like God

They offer absolutely nothing to their members and act like God. They take your money with nothing in return. You make a slight misdemeanour and you get held to account and have to pay your fine and their costs, and there is no hiding from them as they employ agents to trace you, and they take your hard earned qualification off you and black mark you on the internet so that for five years you cannot find employment elsewhere. I have quite a few friends that have been treated this way by the ICEAW and ACCA and they have struggled on benefits and now these are being taken from them by this government and the DWP. A few of them have voted with their feet and gone to live in other countries.  

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By Moezus
18th Jan 2017 12:04

From my personal experience I would say ACCA is a complete waste of time. After A-levels, I started ACCA part time whilst managing family business. After completing all the 9 fundamental papers which 'apparently' makes you part qualified according to some people, I can't even seem to land a job. I've got excellent GCSEs, mostly A*s and fairly decent A-levels, yet I'm finding it difficult to even get interviews due to having a lack of to no accounting experience. Even a lot of trainee roles just look for AAT studiers rather than ACCA students. Completely regret wasting so much time and money on ACCA. The only accounting qualification which I believe is worth doing is ACA.

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By boaters
19th Jan 2017 12:49

Its lovely that someone can write and be controversial. The qualifications are still the pinnacle of the professional and there is very little difference between ACCA and ACA. The digitisation of book-keeping is of course making it easy at one end to work without letters but knowledge and advice has to be gained. And that is where the qualification excels. A degree or A levels admits you to the rat race, no more than that.

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