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The new ACA: The accountant's flexible friend. By Shaun Robertson, ICAEW

7th Sep 2007
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Shaun Robertson, Head of Learning and Professional Development with the ICAEW explains the ins and outs of the new ACA qualification.

August saw the launch of the new ACA by the ICAEW. In response to feedback from various stakeholders, the Institute has worked to improve the design and relevance of the qualification. The changes made will ensure that the ACA maintains its worldwide reputation for quality and is well placed within the accountancy profession to continue to provide well-trained finance and business experts.

Hopefully your ACA qualification has helped you throughout your career and if you would like to help pass your knowledge on we are always looking for new training providers to train the next generation of chartered accountants. There are many benefits to being an authorised ACA training provider. As a training provider you have the ability to attract high calibre individuals from a variety of backgrounds. In addition the ACA teaches students the depth and breadth of skills in finance and business that they need to succeed, to enable them to make a difference to the bottom line of your business. In being a training provider you get highly skilled individuals whose reasoning is based on sound ethical judgement and who can add great value to your organisation.

During the new ACA research and consultation process the ICAEW involved and obtained the views of many stakeholders, both nationally and internationally. The new ACA is now much more flexible for students, employers and tutors and is better suited to meet current and future business needs across the world. It aims to maintain our reputation as the provider of one of the best qualifications for business leaders across the world and we fully anticipate that the increased significance on ethics throughout the syllabus will position the Institute as the leading ethical upholder in the accountancy world, and that qualified ACAs will continue to be valued and acknowledged for the highest ethical conduct and professional behaviour.

The changes to the qualification
Holders of the ACA should rest assured however - the qualification is still seen as the premier business qualification. Prospects for chartered accountants remain excellent, with 67% of FTSE 100 qualified accountants acting as Finance Director or CEO having the ACA qualification. It’s important though that the reputation of the ACA is maintained and that it continues to attract those who will run and lead the businesses of tomorrow.

So what’s different about the new syllabus and structure? The enhancements made to the Professional Stage are to ensure that trainees are equipped with core technical knowledge and skills early on in the training contract. In addition, those of you that train ACAs will have the flexibility to choose a route through the modules relevant to the work that a trainee will be undertaking with you at that time so that trainees’ exam study is better aligned to the knowledge they need in the workplace.

Computer-based assessments for elements of the syllabus are also being introduced. The six knowledge modules of the Professional Stage will be assessed electronically (e-assessment) and students taking one of these assessments will attend an ICAEW approved test centre, answering the questions online under exam conditions. They will be able to access their results the next day via the exams section of the students’ personal area of the website. E-assessment will enable trainees and employers to schedule their assessments at times and dates convenient to both parties - no one is restricted to specific exam date sittings.

Trainees will also be able to gain credit for prior learning. If trainees have met the learning outcomes for one or more of the Professional Stage papers as part of academic or professional studies, they may be able to apply for credit, and if successful they will not need to sit that paper.

Enhancements to the qualification will also be reflected in the Advanced Stage. We will be making a clear distinction between the business topics and associated technical content covered in each of the two technical integration modules.

The Advanced Stage, as previously, comprises two technical integration modules and a case study. There has been a rationalisation between the two modules, which each now have a more clearly defined focus. The first - Business Reporting - asks trainees to apply technical knowledge and professional judgement to business scenarios taking a compliance approach. The second - Business Change - focuses on strategy, requiring trainees to demonstrate their planning skills and ability to give advice in a business context. Both modules require trainees to apply their professional, technical and ethical judgement all at the same time. With the emphasis on the provision of technical advice, these new modules will ensure that trainees are able to demonstrate professional as well as technical skills.

What hasn’t changed is the commitment to ethics. Professional accountants have a responsibility not only to their employer but also to act in the public interest, observing and complying with the highest ethical standards at all times. The new ACA includes new structured training in ethics and the new syllabus integrates this into eleven of the exams. This is to ensure that trainees demonstrate the highest professional standards from the outset.

Advice for current training providers
Overall, employers with trainees studying under the existing syllabus, our recommended advice is that trainees should ideally complete the existing Professional Stage and then convert to the new Advanced Stage. In order to assist our existing ICAEW students, we will be running both the current and new examinations for a certain period of time.

Those trainees on the existing Professional Stage should aim to finish the current accounting, audit and assurance, financial reporting and taxation exams before June 2008 in order to minimise the impact of the conversion.

For Advanced stage students, the current Advanced Stage Test of Advanced Technical Competence (TATC) exams will be available in July 2008 and November 2008 but only for re-sit students. ACA trainees who have not attempted the TATC exams prior to 2008 will be required to transfer to the new Advanced Stage exams. This is an automatic process handled by the institute. Students who have passed either business life cycle or business environment when the TATC exams are withdrawn after November 2008 will be awarded credit for the business reporting module but will be required to pass the business change module.

For AAT-ACA Fast Track students, the current AAT-ACA Top-Up units are available until December 2007 and all other existing Professional Stage exams are available until June 2008. Students who pass relevant ‘ICAEW Taxation’ Top-Up units by December 2007 will have met the Professional Stage requirements for tax and those who pass the ICAEW ‘Audit & Assurance’ Top-Up unit by December 2007 will have met the Professional Stage requirements for audit & assurance. Information on what will happen beyond December 2007/June 2008 can be found at

Neither employers or students need to do anything as the conversion process will be handled by the ICAEW. There will also not be a dramatic change in the style of tutoring. Our aim is to have a seamless transition which will ensure no student is unfairly disadvantaged during the switch from the old to new structure. All transitional arrangements for students and employers can be found on our dedicated ACA website.

The new qualification
The new ACA will continue to uphold the highest standards of our profession. The exams will be tough, rigorous tests of skills and knowledge to maintain the quality and reputation of the ACA. This is why the minimum entry requirements will remain the same, the interview process for training contracts will be as stringent as ever, and resources including mentor, client services, support materials and student societies continue as before.

This new syllabus will enable the next generation of chartered accountants, as with current and previous generations, to challenge people and organisations to think and act differently, to provide clarity and rigour, and so help create and sustain prosperity – an asset to any employer.


Replies (3)

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By AnonymousUser
06th Mar 2009 11:03

2007 till now?
If the student and member base did not increase in tandem with ACCA, I suggest ICAEW just absorb members from CPA Ireland, ACCA, CIPFA (RQB).

This move will make ICAEW higher growth for the time being.

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By AnonymousUser
13th Sep 2007 12:00

Full Marks For Spin!

The Institute PR men have certainly not held back in talking up the ACA qualification in the above advert.

Just hope it works out for them in the real world.

The Financial Reporting Council releases its latest Key Facts and Trends in The Accountancy Profession in November. Lets just hope that it shows the ICAEW have finally started to reverse the long term trend which has seen its own student numbers falling whilst the other 5 UK chartered accountancy bodies have been enjoying increased student numbers during the same period.

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By neileg
17th Sep 2007 13:28

See what a new logo does for you!
Fresh thinking, inspired by the new sense of direction that a quality logo brings.

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