There are more than 800 accountants in the Emirates, and 3,000 students, overseen by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA). During a trip to Abu Dhabi this month, Helen Brand, the group's chief executive, discussed why this profession increasingly appeals to women and what a business should consider when hiring an accountant.
What does it take to become ACCA-certified?
It's not simply a question of passing technical exams. As important as they are, we have exams, ethics and experience to have the letters ACCA after your name. It's not a one-off qualification that you then live off for life. Every year you have to learn more, develop yourself more and commit yourself to that code of ethics. Then, ultimately, we discipline members. We have an independent regulatory function [where] we'll take your membership away if you don't abide by [the] code of ethics.
How attractive is this profession to women?
We were hearing stories from women about the flexibility that it's allowed in their lives to still be valuable but on a part-time basis - and then they're actually brought back into the workforce because they hold up a professional qualification that allows them to do that. Globally, 44 per cent of our members - and 49 per cent of our students - are female. Here in the UAE, it's about 21 per cent [of members] who are [female], and a larger percentage of the students are female.
Is there something small businesses should keep in mind when hiring an accountant and trying to implement transparency measures such as a code of ethics?
We've surveyed this globally many times: the most trusted adviser of small businesses is their accountant, and they'll be looking at business strategy and governance as it's required within that smaller environment. We very much believe in "think small first", so ACCA will say "let's build frameworks that suit a small entity, then build them up for larger [businesses]". When you try to have the big business framework and apply it to small [firms], it doesn't work. It's burdensome, it's too bureaucratic. It actually deadens entrepreneurial spirit.
There have been financial scandals in recent years. What are some weak spots you see in the UAE in the accounting profession?
There have been scandals and financial crises everywhere in the world, so I wouldn't want to single out UAE. But I think what's different here are the frameworks and regulations applied, partially, whether in a particular [free] zone, private entity or public entity. I know there's a new companies act coming through. That will help in terms of codifying. Many organisations are pursuing best practice because it gives them access to finance, establishes trust in the marketplace, which is so important to attract investment - but it's not being driven by any kind of regulation.