The accountancy industry is finally trying to push back against accusations that it is old-fashioned and stuck in its ways. It is embracing technology and digitisation, and it is working hard to improve diversity in the profession.

This is clear from initiatives such as Access Accountancy. This is a group of firms and professional bodies with a vision to work “towards everyone having an equal chance of accessing the accountancy profession”.

The members of the group have committed to measurable outcomes. They strive to bring fresh ideas and change to the industry and welcome ambitious young people into the profession no matter what their background or start in life.

The UK’s future prosperity depends on the expansion of professions, and part of this is about recruiting bright new talent to develop into the business leaders of tomorrow. The accountancy profession needs to become more representative, at all levels, of the wider socio-economic development of society.

Social mobility in accounting has decreased in recent years. In fact, the profession has had the largest decline of all in social mobility between the 1958 and 1970 cohorts. If this continues, then the future accountant will come from a family richer than seven in ten of families in the UK. Access Accountancy is aiming to turn this around.

The Bridge Group survey

Charitable policy association, The Bridge Group, recently conducted a survey on behalf of Access Accountancy, revealing that while actions have improved the understanding of young people from more challenging socio-economic backgrounds, there is still much to do.

It has found that the more diverse companies are more likely to win over top talent, therefore improving employee satisfaction and producing a more positive return.

The research consisted of detailed analysis on the socio-economic backgrounds of applicants and hires across ten firms and three professional bodies, and work experience placements across nine firms.

From 2015-2016, 40% of applicants had parents with no experience of higher education, 12% were eligible for free school meals, and 14% for income support.

Over three quarters, 76%, of those surveyed attended a state school, however those from Independent Schools had a 14% higher success rate compared with those from state schools. Candidates from higher income backgrounds had a higher success rate than those from lower backgrounds.

Access Accountancy’s aims

Based on these findings, the following aims have been set for all signatories of the Access Accountancy initiative:

  • Identify a board member who has accountability for socio-economic diversity. Collect and monitor socio-economic data of applicants and hires on an annual basis.
  • Provide a proportionate number of places on internship programmes to students from under-represented groups. Provide a target number of 30-hour work placements, depending on the size, to students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • Do not use A-Level or equivalent grades as the only filter for talent when hiring new talent. Where A-Level grades are used, ensure they are considered in the context in which they are achieved.
  • Give very careful consideration to the extent to which online tests are a precise tool for assessing required competencies.
  • Consider, wherever possible, the introduction of regional assessment centres outside London.
  • Take part in externally validated reviews of Access Accountancy.
  • Generating interest in accountancy by delivering common messages in more target schools and colleges.

Who is involved?

Currently there are 28 members of the Access Accountancy initiative, and this includes a combination of accountancy firms and professional bodies.

There are seven professional bodies – ICAEW, AAT, ACCA. AIA, CIMA, CIPFA, and ICAS.

The majority of the accounting firms are in the top 20, but there are some smaller firms such as Kreston Reeves, Blick Rothenberg, and Duncan & Toplis that are also part of the group.

Members of Access Accountancy have displayed their passion for improving diversity.

Sacha Romanovitch, CEO of Grant Thornton and outgoing chair of Access Accountancy said: “Investing in social mobility is a win-win and a great example of business doing well by doing good.

“It leads to greater equality of opportunity, a wider pool from which to draw talent, improved organisational performance, and a more productive economy.”

Rachel Hopcroft, Head of Corporate Affairs at KPMG and incoming chair of Access Accountancy spoke about the need to do even more in the coming months and years to reach the group’s vision.”

“Critically, we will work to engage more businesses in our efforts as only by working together to break down barriers to social mobility will we be able to bring about the fundamental change that is required.”

What has Access Accountancy already done?

The group has already introduced some useful initiatives. To ensure that the best young candidates are coming into the sector, AA signatories are improving their targeting and widening their outreach and work experience programmes.

Focus on the progression of students on these various schemes into more permanent roles in the firms has also increased.

Recruitment methods have started to change as well. Some firms have scrapped A-Level requirement in certain roles, and others have introduced contextualised recruitment, in which candidates’ backgrounds will play a part in the final choice.

Many firms are already publishing in-depth reviews of their workforce, which will allow them to look at the extent to which they are adopting best practice around diversity, and make any necessary improvements.

How can it help you?

Access Accountancy is currently offering tangible ways to help people get into the accounting profession. If this applies to you, there are multiple ways it can help you on your career journey.

The ‘Current Opportunities’ page advertises the work experience placements that are currently open. The placement will last for 30 hours or more no matter what the firm is, and activities will vary depending on where you go.

The group also provides information on the routes into accountancy, explaining that it is possible to enter the profession from school, university, or from strategic degree programmes. It also sheds light on the different professional bodies, and the qualifications that can be gained from them.

Other online resources include an interactive map of the UK, showing you all of the different places where work experience is available.

There is a useful and growing blog containing articles and videos on people’s individual experiences of work placements so you can make a more informed choice of where to go.


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