FRC stats illuminate the accounting profession

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I thought I’d share this informative article by Kevin Reed, a freelance journalist and consultant at practice advisers Foulger Underwood

There is little fanfare around the Financial Reporting Council’s ‘state of the accounting profession’ annual stats. This is, perhaps, because they show movement in accountancy – whether the number of students or ratio of the big firms’ audit to non-audit fees – as somewhat ‘glacial’.

However, the lack of reporting of the Key Facts and Trends in the Accountancy Profession’s statistics means that interesting and important indicators of the profession can be overlooked.

And for practitioners, understanding the direction of travel of the market beyond anecdotal evidence must be useful. You are numbers people, after all.

There’s a lot of ground to cover, so I’ll undertake this project in a series of articles. Firstly, let’s look at the institutes.

Studying the stats

The ACCA has grown 17.6% in member numbers between 2013 and 2017 in the UK*, compared with 5% growth for the ICAEW. However, the ICAEW still has many more UK and ROI members, at 126,560 compared to the ACCA’s 94,622.

But while the ACCA’s overall numbers have skipped up, it has negative growth (-3.7%) in UK students over that period, while the ICAEW has upped student numbers by 35% between 2013 and 2017.

Globally, the ACCA has by far the upper hand. It has 414,562 students worldwide, compared to the ICAEW’s 27,866. Notably, CIMA has increased students worldwide by 4% to 127,241 during that period.

Attaining membership

There has been much work on both the ICAEW and ACCA qualifications during recent years, but it’s interesting to note that the ICAEW has seen a decline in students attaining membership in the last two years – down 2.7% in 2016/17. The ACCA has increased its number by 5% in the last year. While difficult to create a link between quality of students vs. quality of training and qualification, it’s an interesting set of numbers nonetheless.

And where do these students and members work? While the UK is, anecdotally, a big stomping ground for the ACCA in smaller practices, globally more than 60% of its members are in industry and commerce – just 21% in practice.

Practice v Commerce = Students v Members

In contrast, more than three-quarters of ICAEW students are in practice, which falls off to under 25% following qualification. Though we know that the big accountancy firms see qualifieds move into industry, there’s clearly an opportunity for smaller practices to consider how to attract them following their studies.

The ICAEW’s female member numbers have stayed stubbornly low – at 28%, compared to 46% for the ACCA. So, if looking at the gender balance in your practice then – based on those factors – there will likely be more ACCA members on the jobs market, than from the ICAEW.

The ICAEW has improved its proportion of female students – to 43% in 2017 from 39% in 2013, which will have gone towards the small improvement in female member numbers.

Age gap

The ACCA has a younger member/student distribution than the ICAEW – more than a quarter are under 34 and a further 25% are under 44. Only 38% of ICAEW members and students are under 44.

However, there is another important aspect when it comes to time: how long has the student been studying? Worldwide, more than a fifth of ACCA students have been studying more than five years, compared to 5% of those with the ICAEW. Does this mean ACCA students aren’t as good as the ICAEW’s? Again, caution must be taken in what to read from these figures. We don’t know the background or circumstances of these students, and the FRC itself notes that there is “no common basis” to determine the length of time between registering as a student and achieving the requirements for membership.

Turning to technicians

Finally, let’s take a look at the ‘technician’ qualification offered by the Association of Accounting Technicians – a qualification that can provide a route into the other accounting organisations. These numbers have dipped across the board.

Growth in member numbers for the UK and ROI was -5.2% between 2014 and 2017. Student numbers fell 9.3% during that period.

Under-25s represent the majority of AAT students, at 35%, while more than 30% are in the 25-34 age bracket.

Conclusion

At a time of unprecedented technological and client-focused change upon the accounting profession, understanding where the next generation of accountants is coming from, how long they take to study, and which bodies are producing them, is vital.

Does audit experience matter for your practice? Or time spent in commerce? Do you think younger students and institute members are more important than experience?

And, finally, do you need qualified accountants? Are you better hiring people with broader or more ‘people’-focused abilities? A topic for a future blog of mine, for sure.

These considerations, among others, will determine the profile of potential candidates for your practice.

Kevin Reed is a freelance journalist and consultant at practice advisers Foulger Underwood.