Learners from the financial institution dominate nominations list for ‘Young Accountant of the Year’ at ICAEW Middle East Excellence Awards – By David Thomasson, Managing Director – Phoenix Financial Training
I RECALL seeing an advertisement in the press during one of my visits to Dubai in 2006.
The advert said that a major distributor based in Jebel Ali was looking for an accountant-cum-receptionist. I felt this summed up, at the time, the way accountants were often perceived in the UAE (and to an extent within the region) and just how far there was to go to educate the business community here in terms of the benefits that qualified finance professionals can bring to both companies and indeed government organisations.
It is seven years since I saw that advertisement – have things moved on from then or is the UAE still in dire need of a new understanding when it comes to professional accountancy?
UK standards of training
We established Phoenix Financial Training here in Dubai in August 2006 – the stated aim was to bring UK standards of training and customer service to the UAE and eventually the wider region.
We deliver examination based training for UK qualifications such as ICAEW (English Chartered), CIMA (the UK qualification aimed primarily at Management Accountants working in business rather than practice) and ACCA (the UK based, globally portable qualification which offers a high degree of flexibility to candidates wanting to have options on how to pursue their careers in all fields) and have delivered over that time many hundreds of newly qualified accountants into the UAE job market and beyond.
It is important to remember that as a training provider we only do part of the job. Our focus is on delivering first class tuition to support these (largely) young people to pass their examinations – however to become a recognised member of these Institutes it is necessary to not only pass exams, but acquire around three years of relevant practical experience and it is thoroughness of this combination that potentially adds so much for businesses.
Technical practice of accountancy
Why are qualified accountants so valuable to businesses? Again going back to the classified pages it was (and unfortunately still is) common practice to see companies looking for a candidate who possessed ‘a degree in accountancy or an MBA and also fourteen years in the role of Chief Accountant or Financial Controller in a clothing wholesaler based in the UAE’ I want to pull this apart a little to reveal the problems we sometimes face…
1. The degree – The universities here, and indeed around the world, do a fabulous job in educating young people and this something includes specific further education in the financial field however it should never be presumed that a college degree teaches young people to be accountants – the focus is entirely different, being based far more on concepts and theories, rather than the technical practice of accountancy.
This is sometimes doubted in some parts of the world but it should be remembered that in the very highly competitive UK market the ‘Big 4’ happily recruit graduates from all disciplines – their view is that they, along with the training provider, will teach the young people to be accountants.
What they want are the best people and the name of the degree (be it accountancy or geology) largely does not really count, indeed I have often heard them comment that they may positively discriminate against Accountancy graduates on the basis that they want to train the students from scratch with no preconceptions.
2. The MBA – Whilst the MBA is a brilliant qualification and provides true insight into the workings of a business and its environment, it is still a very general qualification and is most certainly not a substitute for three years of technical accountancy training.
I see the depth and breadth of material our students have to cover in all aspects of Financial Reporting, Management Accounting, Budgeting and Control along with related disciplines in the areas of Treasury, Taxation and Auditing and know that a generalist qualification, irrespective of the level it is pitched at, is no substitute for the integrity of this training. MBA qualified staff have their place in businesses but not as accountants.
3. The fourteen years ‘in the same job’ – This is simply a replacement for the professional qualification they should have. If they have been doing this same job, in the same industry, in the same location for 14 years why would they want to come and do the same thing – if they do then, is this the type of person you want? A thorough technical training focuses on building skills that are transferable across industries and processes.
So what is the answer? The huge benefit of professional qualification training in accountancy and finance is not only based in the skills and knowledge acquired, but the developed confidence to be able to deploy these attributes into a variety of situations.
The professionally qualified person can move comfortably between roles and industries – their underlying understanding of the way business and finance works and the systems and processes necessary to manage and report on this will allow them to easily adapt to all situations and requirements.
Young, ambitious achievers
At Phoenix we have been at the forefront of developing such people now for six years and we are confident that the businesses and entities they join feel the benefit every day of employing these talented young professionals in their business.
At the recent ICAEW Middle East Awards we were proud to see four of our previous and current students making up the nominations list for ‘Young Accountant of the Year’. In themselves they define a microcosm of the growing band of young finance professionals in the region.
- Nauman Mian – a dedicated young man who has completed his ACCA and decided to ‘top up’ this qualification by studying for, and recently achieving, his ICAEW qualification in addition. Nauman has shown huge determination over recent years to balance work, family and study pressures at the same time as developing his professional skills. He is currently CFO of Bayt.com here in the UAE.
- Muhra Al Mulla – a young Emirati lady who is now combining recent motherhood with her studies toward the ICAEW qualification while pursuing her career at Deloitte. Muhra is one of a select handful of students working under the auspices of the ICAEW Emiratisation study scheme and is exhibiting phenomenal skills in balancing all aspects of her life including her duties as wife, mother and employee whilst progressing rapidly through the qualification.
- Nanditha Ramanathan – an extremely competent, intelligent and mature young lady, Nandita has lived here in the UAE with her parents since the age of one. She has completed her ACCA qualification and is currently working with KPMG in their Management Consultancy department. Nandita is a confident and talented public speaker who will, I am sure, go on to achieve great things in her finance career – she hopes to move on to her MBA studies in the near future.
- Anam Sami – Anam is an intellectually gifted young lady who is a relatively new recruit to the KPMG ranks here in Dubai. She has already achieved two global first prizes in Law and Auditing as part of her ACCA studies in the last two sittings and recently scored an almost unprecedented 100% in her Law paper. Both her employer and Phoenix are incredibly proud of the global footprint she is establishing for the region with these results and she still has five papers to go.
For us at Phoenix, perhaps the most rewarding thing is to see the cultural, gender and ethnic diversity of this nomination list and the way this reflects the tremendous strength that this brings to to Dubai.
This diversity is one of the many reasons that, for so many of us, find Dubai to be such a wonderful place to live, do business and bring up children. However, the nomination of Muhra (who then went on to win the ‘Young Accountant of the Year Award’ for 2012) is a sign of how things are developing in the UAE.
There has been a positive drive on the part of all of us involved in professional financial education in the region to encourage particularly local nationals, to see Accountancy as a valuable and meaningful career option.
Emiratis taking up accounting
For many years now, given the opportunity, I have stressed to young Emiratis that the UAE is a country rich in resources and capital and it is incumbent on them to spend time developing the skills to enable them to look after their own finances, without placing a long lasting over-reliance on expatriates like myself.
This has been a long road and there have been times when it seems like little progress has been made but now to me all of a sudden we are seeing more young Emiratis in the classroom across all of our qualifications. Muhra is just one, albeit excellent example of this.
The young Emiratis we are seeing are extremely able and talented and as in her case, often incredibly determined. Despite the strong bias amongst many areas of the local community in seeing fields such as Human Resources and Marketing as comparatively attractive, there is now a growing realisation, I think, that finance is at the centre of everything in business and commerce and being a qualified professional accountant opens one’s career up to many and varied opportunities including the highest levels.
Professionals as bean counters
Things have changed in the region and in particular in the UAE. To a certain extent it was understandable up to 2008 to see accountants as bean counters simply adding up how much money businesses had made in the previous year. After all, in those days making money for the hugely entrepreneurial local and international businesses in the region was relatively simple.
Financial planning and strategy, budgetary control and planning didn’t seem to be required but the Financial Crisis changed all of that.
The businesses that survived and grew, and indeed are now thriving again, recognised the need for a huge step change in the financial integrity of their businesses and it is these young finance professionals that are now at the forefront of helping businesses to put the much needed financial strategies, controls and reporting mechanisms into place.
Ensuring financial integrity
The UAE has the financial resources and talent to play on the world stage but if it wants to do this, I am firmly of the opinion that we will need to have the necessary financial skills embedded into our businesses and indeed Government departments to ensure the financial integrity of our expansion.
Phoenix now conducts financial qualification based training for Government Departments and Sovereign Wealth funds in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi, in addition we produced well over one hundred newly qualified accountants in 2012 alone – they are much needed.
The receptionist-cum-accountant job adverts are still there but let’s hope it is not for much longer. For Phoenix in 2013, it is going to be more of the same – we will continue to try to spread the word and turn out great young professionals – we have had the award winner in 2011 (Mitali Botadra) and now in 2012 so we will be hoping for a hat-trick in 2013.