Chairman of ACCA’s member advisory committee in the UAE – Ahmad Darwish – who is also DP World’s money man, on how to anchor a solid financial future…
AHMAD DARWISH is a finance virtuoso who handles his numerous roles with the ease of a genius.
As the Manager for Management Accounting, Treasury and Asset Management in the finance department at DP World UAE Region (Dubai Ports World), he juggles other responsibilities outside of his normal day-job with passion and pleasure.
The young Emirati is also UAE’s Chairman of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) Member’s Advisory Committee, and was recently appointed as a member of Accounting Executive Advisory Board (AEAB) in the UAE University, the first and oldest of the government-sponsored institution of higher learning in the country.
Ahmad also serves as the Head of Chartered Accountants Committee in UAE’s Accountants and Auditors Association (AAA), a body tasked with the promotion and development of accounting profession in the country.
Accountant Middle East caught up with the top accountant for this exclusive interview where he tackles all things accounting and triumphing in the tough world of finance.
Q. Recently, staffing firm Manpower Group published its eighth annual Talent Shortage Survey, on the top 10 jobs that are the hardest for employers to fill, and for the third year in a row, ‘Accounting and Finance’ made the list. Why is there a ‘deficit of accountants’?
A. I think the reason for this is because the global economic meltdown that recently rocked the world of business placed new demand on accountants. The rule of business has far been changed and the reality now is that accountants working in business have been forced to handle a broad range of responsibilities beyond taxes, including financial planning, analysis, forecasting, internal controls and decision support.
Their role has come full circle and they are now expected to be trusted advisors who can interpret the numbers to direct corporate strategy. In my observation, these new tough responsibilities have contributed to many people either shying away or shunning the profession altogether.
Speaking of the global financial crisis, with economies around the world managing the after-effects of the downturn, there is no doubt that the role of accountants has broadened from being number crunchers confined in the back office. Can you share with us about these roles in today’s globalised world?
The days of the so called ‘number crunchers’ in the back room are over. The role of professionals has radically evolved as accountants are taking a more prominent charge in driving the direction of the organisations for which they work.
Whatever their specialties, professional accountants need to not only possess a gift with numbers and a penchant for detail but also be able to decipher the volumes of rules and regulations and communicate them to the business senior executives.
Businesses have become highly complex and the work of accountants or auditors can no longer be done in isolation. It requires an understanding of tax, IT and law – and the absence of these skills in a professional accountant will compromise the audit quality, for example. But alongside the technical skills, finance professionals also need to possess the ‘soft skills’, such as the ability to communicate with stakeholders is also becoming increasingly important.
On the same note, with the UAE government reacting to the financial crisis by implementing massive regulatory overhaul, what are organisations doing to come into compliance with these regulations?
Like I earlier said, professional accountants are continuously being assigned new roles by the unseen hands of business reality and challenges that are constantly changing. The aftermath of the global financial crisis has forced accounting department to reflect on its role, focus, contribution and size and how these should evolve in the future.
The deployment of new regulations by the government is mainly to shield organisations in the event of another financial tsunami and protect businesses from fraud and risks associated with the daily operations of businesses. Therefore the accounting function should also adapt and evolve to better serve the needs of companies in a cost-efficient way in the future.
What should be the relationship between accounting department and other assurance providers such as internal audit and external auditors?
The audit/assurance process continues to be extremely important especially following the recent financial downturn. The recent international corporate accounting scandals have raised the visibility of the profession. Take for instance the scenario where, to protect their lines of credit or other reasons they may have, accountants sometimes overstated their profits. This should not happen and therefore to safeguard the high standards, auditors need to come in and be able to make sure that statements are factual and reliable.
Similarly, businesses have become highly complex and balancing of the financial books can no longer be done in isolation. It requires ‘a second eye’ in order to keep its books tidy. As we look toward the last quarter of 2013 and beyond, we see this as the area with the biggest opportunity for the accounting function to add value to organisations.
By leveraging their core competencies, developing trust-based relationships, and providing deeper insights, accounting functions can greatly help organisations deliver value. How is your department aligning its functions to deliver value?
At DP World we look for professionals who are not only knowledgeable in traditional accounting roles, but also well versed in IT systems controls, internal controls, systems development and the working of the technology behind ports and terminals.
We hire professionals with skills beyond what’s required to get a basic accounting degree. Accounting and finance in particular have evolved from their initial traditional functions and developed into a broad field encompassing a number of disciplines including book keeping, auditing, taxation, forensic accounting, and new accounting standards, among others.
At the same time, DP World provides training to members of staff by helping them to develop their own business skills through a combination of leadership development, continuing education and mentoring programmes, which equips them with the right skills to become tomorrow’s leaders.
There has been doubt concerning the use and implementation of the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). A wave of changes has been urged on the part of the global standard-setters like the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) and the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) for the need for improvement and more transparency in the industry. How, in your opinion, have accounting standards been impacted for the long term as a result of the financial crises?
IFRS is a long-term project and now they are using the term convergence. Some countries have still not approved a go ahead to implement the IFRS by regulation. One of them is the US which is still using US GAAP. At the moment the progress is still at a snail’s pace as the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has only released two new staff papers which represent the completion of important phases of its work plan to supporting the announcement of a decision about the adoption of IFRS.
The IASB and FASB have been working together to achieve convergence of IFRSs and US generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) in order to come up with a common set of high quality global standards.
Well, my feeling is that they might approve compliance as the IFRS today keeps changing every now and then, and businesses are required to keep up with these amendments. It’s an ever changing landscape. The issue that we have is, majority of countries want to comply with IFRS but not wholly. They want to adopt some measures but cite others as cumbersome and inapplicable in their respective jurisdictions. Others want to comply but also want to add more to it.
Therefore you have a situation of add and deducts. There is really no full compliance. When you have listed companies using one set of standards and private companies reporting on other standards, more often you find differences, horizons and disparities.
ACCA has long campaigned for global standards to be adopted since they provide a level playing field for businesses, potential investors, suppliers or customers who can compare organisations on a like for like basis. It was also the first body to base its examinations on IFRS and we continue to play a leading role in the convergence debate around the world.
What is most important to you as the Manager in charge of Accounting when it comes to building a successful best accounting practice at DP World?
We promote the highest possible standards of integrity, ethics and governance to achieve our strategic objectives and we ensure that we attract qualified finance professionals who share with us the same values.
DP World’s portfolio consists of more than 65 terminals and new developments across 6 continents, so it is very complex from an accounting perspective. For instance, the emerging economies are just establishing their various institutions of accountancy while in most of the developed countries, the profession has been very well established.
The accounting function across our portfolio manages our financial books and applies standards seamlessly in cross-border markets as per IFRS. That seamless performance is necessary even to the other markets that the port operations are expanding to.
You serve in a number of accounting boards, including ACCA and you were recently appointed as a member of Accounting Executive Advisory Board in the UAE University. Are you going to use your influence to encourage more Emirati students to pursue careers in accounting and finance?
This is something I continue to pursue relentlessly. As the Chairman of the committee which advises ACCA’s International Assembly, its Council, Chief Executive and head of UAE, we have lined up initiatives where officials visit various colleges, universities and employers, to reach out to the Emirati youth.
There’s relatively a small number of Emirati graduates entering the accountancy employment market and I hope to continue with the same drive in my new role as member of Accounting Executive Advisory Board in the UAE University.
Accounting is an excellent career path for the intelligent and detail-oriented student and most of all, it offers a secure means of employment. I always encourage Emirati students to follow the advice of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai in becoming qualified finance professionals and be able to compete in all sectors to promote the sustainable growth of the UAE.
Talk to us about your various roles in accounting at DP World, ACCA and at ‘Triple A’. What do your responsibilities entail in ensuring effective governance environment?
At DP World, UAE Region, under the general direction of the Finance Director, I manage the financial activities and accounting functions, which involves overseeing all the management accounting, budgets, treasury work, developing and maintaining accounting principles, practices and procedures to ensure accurate and timely financial statements.
Similarly, as a board member of AEAB in the UAE University, we provide guidance to the accounting department and assist in the review of courses to make sure they are relevant and appropriate in terms of content and skill development.
In my role as the Chairman of the UAE’s ACCA Advisory Committee, I’m tasked with the responsibility of representing members’ views to ACCA’s International Assembly and its Council to enable it to set and implement the body’s direction and strategy. I have been with ACCA since it was established in the country.
Most importantly, I have to add that ACCA’s governing Council is planning to hold a meeting in Dubai in 2014, which not only shows its commitment to its members in the UAE as well as the entire region, but will enable Council members to meet regulators, employers and business leaders across the region.
I also head the Chartered Accountants Committee in the UAE’s Accountants and Auditors Association (Triple ‘A’), where we are planning to get the recognition of the global accounting bodies’ qualifications and map it into the UAE Educational Framework.
Plans are also underway to design an accounting qualification that suits the needs of the Arab society. As you are aware, all certifications available at the moment are foreign, and therefore there is an urgent need to have an accredited professional certificate that provides Arab accountants with the highest qualifications and one that is recognised globally.