INTERVIEW ARIF MIRZA, HEAD OF ACCA PAKISTAN

Aug 10 - 16, 2009

1. What is the ACCA's agenda in Pakistan, and how does it engage with different stakeholders to make them workable?

ACCA has an extensive network of almost 80 offices and other centers around the world. ACCA works with over 8000 employers globally. In Pakistan, our operations started in 1997 and since then we have progressed fairly well. We are committed to supporting over 41,000 trainees and members in Pakistan and our objectives mirror ACCA's global mission.

Our agenda, per se, is to ensure that accountancy modernizes and globalizes with the passage of time, according to the modern business and social demands. In pursuit of this, we are working on a thought leadership agenda. SME conference, held a couple of months back in Lahore, was part of the broader goal.

ACCA has also championed the cause of implementing global accounting standards. During the recently held G20 summit, ACCA challenged the group members to adopt global accounting standards. This is vital for streamlining global trade and business and ACCA Pakistan completely agrees with and manifests the desire to implement the same in our country.

We have been able to train thousands of young Pakistanis in the field of accountancy through our various qualifications, giving them a worldview, preparing them for the global market, enhancing their skills and competitiveness in the process, while also emphasizing the need for ethical practices. That is our agenda for the future as well.

2. How has the role of accountant changed?

Accountants are increasingly being recognized as guardian of the brand; people who ensure that the company adheres to good sustainable practices. Accountants are no longer just reporting to the shareholders, or working for attaining optimum compliance with regulations. They must play their part in maintaining and building the reputation of the company.

3. What kinds of skills are required by accountants to meet the current challenges facing businesses?

Accountants will require much more than just technical accountancy knowledge. Organisations are increasingly looking for finance and accountancy professionals who can represent the business, work with international clients, and work on the forefront of business activity to drive the business.

We have deduced from our global employer survey that while accountancy professionals are strong in technical areas, only a few truly demonstrate the required English language proficiency. They often struggle with presentation, conducting business with international clients and report writing. There is an acute need for accountancy and finance professionals to enhance their communication skills as well.

4. Are you looking at practical solutions that can develop and upgrade these skills?

There are some very important solutions. We have launched Cambridge International Certificate in Financial English (ICFE) in collaboration with Cambridge ESOL, a department of University of Cambridge.

Cambridge ICFE is a language qualification that assesses and validates English language skills in the context of finance and accounting, across four areas of reading, writing, listening, and speaking.

BC is our examination partner and tuition facility is being provided by School of Business Studies, Berlitz, College of Accounting and Management Sciences, and Centre for Financial Training and Research in Karachi while in Lahore we have Rise School, British Education Testing Services and University of Lahore. Our tuition partners in Islamabad are University College of Accounting Technology and Islamabad College of Accounting and Finance.

5. How do you see Cambridge ICFE being incorporated into the corporate financial sector in Pakistan?

Cambridge ESOL exams are globally recognized by over 50 well-reputed organisations including World Bank, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Coca-Cola, and HP. In Pakistan, we have launched ICFE recently. In last couple of months, well-reputed companies like ICI Pakistan, Packages Ltd, Khushhali Bank, and PTCL have endorsed ICFE. Some of these organisations will use ICFE as a training and recruitment tool.

6. Being professional accountant, do you think Cambridge ICFE can benefit finance students and trainees working towards accountancy qualifications?

According to our examiners, many students are inadaptable to professional exams due to lack of language proficiency. Cambridge ICFE can benefit finance and accounting students and professionals working in various industries or holding varied finance qualification like CIMA, MBA, ACCA, and other accounting bodies. Professionals working with IFRS or International auditing standards may also need ICFE.

7. What is your tip of the success in the prevailing market conditions?

These are challenging times, but there is a hope. Accountants and finance professionals have a very important role to play in making sure that best practices of financial management evolve and come into practice across the globe. Brilliant young minds are innovative and imaginative. Superior communication skills, grip of the philosophical underpinnings of the market's dynamism, mastery of the art of accountancy and positive attitude are some of the tools that will ensure success for all, young and old.

8. How can accountants make the business in these critical times survive and sustainable?

Accountants add considerable value to business by driving down costs and identifying drivers of value and profitability and never more so than in the current environment. They are instrumental in obtaining access to finance and strengthening the balance sheet. The professional judgement of the accountant is vital to steer business way through difficult trading conditions, while seeking to keep its eye firmly on longer-term goals.