Joining the club
When the Association of Accounting Technicians Australia joined forces with the Institute of Public Accountants earlier this year, it was the consummation of a close and longstanding relationship.
On the face of it, the integration of the Association of Accounting Technicians Australia and the IPA Group seems like a no-brainer. Both professional bodies had been working literally side-by-side for the best part of two decades, sharing the same office quarters in Melbourne since 2009.
In 2017, the two bodies entered a service agreement, something which IPA chief executive Andrew Conway said was done to “enhance their capacity to provide end-to-end service for the sector”.
Now that service agreement has turned into a full-blown integration. This leads to the next obvious question likely on the mind of its members.
Why now? Why not at any other point in the last 20 years of their relationship?
In response to that enquiry, Mr Conway, AAT’s chairman Daryl Koch and CEO Rochelle Park sent out a joint statement to all members addressing precisely that question. Unfortunately, like so many answers to questions along the lines of “why in 2020?”, the pandemic and its knock-on effects were major factors in making the integration happen.
“Whilst this integration is necessary in terms of consolidation, sustainability and growth in the pursuit of common aims; it has been brought into sharper focus by the recent economic uncertainty which permeates each and every aspect of our lives,” the message read.
Other compelling arguments for the integration are just as straightforward, including a clear strategic fit, a shared commitment to the SME/SMP sectors and greater strength in numbers.
Further, Mr Conway explained that significant new benefits would be offered to technician members, including a comprehensive member pathway for student members seeking a career as either an accounting technician or a public accountant.
“This process is similar to the transition of the IFA (UK) into the IPA Group in late 2014,” he said.
The AAT Board approved the integration in May and by July, the integration became official.
Growth through integration
Accounting technicians have carved an ever-greater role in the profession since the global Association of Accounting Technicians was founded in 1980, currently having around 128,000 members and students spanning across around 100 countries.
When it comes to how the body has grown its base over the years, one has to only look at the inherent skill set of accounting technicians and bookkeepers and place it against the major threats facing modern society. Modern technology has created a category of “criminal finance”, in particular money laundering, a more serious threat than it ever has been, with many of its victims being the very clients that public accountants serve – small businesses.
In recognition of this threat, the AAT in the UK – not affiliated with the AAT in Australia – looked to raising the standards expected of members in combatting money laundering.
It promoted professional compliance with money laundering regulatory requirements by developing and improving the guidance and resources available to members.
As a result, the increased scrutiny and development of a wide range of supporting resources have seen awareness and compliance grow continually year-on-year. In perhaps a reflection of the growing global influence of accounting technicians, the AAT (UK) became a full member of the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) in 2012, the first accounting technician member organisation in the world to do so. Further, IFAC shared a framework for professional accountancy organisations in February 2019 to support a competent, skilled and future-ready accounting technician workforce.
“Based on the association’s competency framework, An Illustrative Competency Framework for Accounting Technicians is a conversation starter,” said IFAC’s director of quality and development, Joseph Bryson.
“IFAC hopes that every professional accountancy organisation with an interest in the accounting technician qualification shares their experiences and helps to grow this important segment of the global accountancy ecosystem.”
When it comes to global engagement, the AAT (UK) hosted its fifth annual global roundtable in Canada in November last year. Other global efforts include the training of 100 disadvantaged students to achieve the AAT (UK) Level 3 qualification in Malaysia with government assistance, vocational training efforts in Botswana, and helping members in the Gulf region help businesses get on top of new value-added tax (VAT) regulations. Further, the AAT (UK) became an affiliate member of the Confederation of Asian and Pacific Accountants (CAPA) in 2015. The framework for what would become CAPA was first established in 1957 by the then-president of the Philippine Institute of Certified Public Accountants, governor Gregorio Licaros, also the governor of the central bank of the Philippines. Currently, CAPA represents close to 2 million accounts across the Asia-Pacific region and is in fact the largest regional grouping of accountants in the world.
A brighter future for members
Through these partnerships and engagements, the AAT (UK) has embraced the strategy of expansion via partnership.
It is unsurprising then that the AAT in Australia has followed their lead by joining the IPA Group, reassuring its members of what it is able to offer to them.
The IPA currently offers members in practice a dedicated suite of technical and management resources; a comprehensive package which includes practice management software; a wide range of office supplies; access to experts in tax and a broad range of other topics; relevant continuing professional development and other education opportunities; preferential professional indemnity insurance cover; and many more products and services to assist them in either running their practice or being effective accountants working in business.
A greater examination of the findings of the AAT’s first-ever survey of members in 2019 revealed some insights into why the integration had to happen in 2020. Approximately a fifth of the AAT members also held a membership with the IPA. As for what members valued the most from the AAT as an organisation, 75 per cent of respondents said either continuing professional development opportunities or relevant news and industry updates.
Almost 54 per cent of its members were still looking to grow their practices. It also found that keeping up with changes in technology was the most pressing challenge, with over 40 per cent citing it as an issue, followed by unbillable hours and hours of work. But what is most intriguing were the cited challenges further down the list, such as insufficient clients, meeting deadlines, staffing and mental health. The pandemic has very likely pushed some of those challenges into greater prominence.
Currently, the major item on the agenda of the AAT in Australia is the development of a new education pathway for eligible members through a new designation and certification program. It hopes the new designation will become the accounting technician certification of choice for TAFE students seeking a career as an accounting technician, as well as opening the door to future opportunities.
A message on the transition process from both the IPA and the AAT said: “This will align to comparable global designations as the value provided by accounting technicians and recognition of this value grows.
“The AAT cannot achieve this alone and this integration will preserve AAT’s history and provide a sustainable base for ongoing development and leadership of the profession for decades to come.”