The program’s currency and longevity are key motivators for CA ANZ, and several changes from entry through to graduation will be phased in by June 2020. This follows board approval in mid-2018, and a tentative design completion date of May this year.
A key selling point of the CA Program is that it promises to make graduates more attractive to prospective employers. Players like the big four accounting firms are increasingly accepting non-degree qualified candidates, and similar pathways are not out of the question for the CA Program.
“Employers are looking for a broader base from which to draw candidates where students come from,” Simon Hann, group executive for education and learning at CA ANZ told Accountants Daily.
“It’s not on the immediate agenda for us, we still very much require university education… but I wonder in the future, as people question the value of university degrees, whether we are going to have to consider other ways to bring people into the program,” he said.
“It’s a consideration, and it’s contentious from an education perspective,” he said.
Mr Hann stressed there is no intention for CA ANZ to lower the bar for entry and completion.
During a consultation phase for the program’s reformation, “overwhelming” feedback from past candidates was the program should not be made easier, and that it’s intensity and standard is part of its appeal.
“The plan is to modernise it, not to make it easier,” Mr Hann said.
Eyes on public practice
The CA Program’s curriculum is currently heavy on technical content. This will remain a focus, but other components of an accountant’s reality will also be introduced.
Most notably, CA ANZ is looking to up its focus on public practice, which has been the traditional domain of CPA Australia and the Institute of Public Accountants (IPA).
“We have a significant number of accountants that are in public practice. How we bring public sector content into the program, which is currently largely ignored, is a focus” he said.
“There’s no public sector focus in the program, that’s something that CPA Australia has done quite well,” he said.
Other learnings that will be introduced will be related to cyber security, working with technology, and softer skill sets for client interactions.
The CA Program already has a focus on soft skills and emotional intelligence, but CA ANZ is looking to assess progress and learning outcomes in a more meaningful way.
“The challenge with soft skills is how do you measure them?” Mr Hann said.
CA ANZ is looking to micro-credentials for more details assessments of students’ soft skills, which involve assessing tangible outcomes of a candidate’s personal and professional skills.
This is partly motivated by changing technologies and the significant role artificial intelligence is playing in automating compliance and technical functions, requiring accountants to rely more heavily on their soft skills to win, retain and best serve clients.
It also reflects employers' expectations for graduates to be agile, personable and dynamic in their approach to managing clients.
Active employment not compulsory
CA ANZ has traditionally required candidates to be in active employment when they undertake the program.
Practical experience is still a compulsory part of the CA Program, but candidates don’t need to be working and studying at the same time.
Removing the active employment component of the CA Program is a bid to keep up with market expectations. Flexible workplaces are an increasing expectation of workers, and flexible learning options are filtering into tertiary institutions.
The active employment policy was changed last term, and is effective immediately.
Ditching paper exams
Digitising the CA Program’s learning experience is a key focus for CA ANZ.
Students will be able to complete exams online, in place of the current paper-based written exam.
“When else in your career would you need to hand write for three hours?” Mr Hann said.
Digitised exams will also mean students get their results faster. The current process of hand-marking paper exams has a heavy administrative focus.
CA ANZ is also exploring options like video-based learning, and is open to partnering with third-parties with infrastructure and content. It is part of the Global Accounting Alliance, and has had early indications from its Canadian counterpart that they are open to sharing education resources.
“We will certainly licence where it’s fit for purpose from other organisations, and look at strategic partnerships with other bodies,” Mr Hann said.
Similar alliances with local accounting bodies, like CPA and IPA, are not on the cards.
Mr Hann assured Accountants Daily the ongoing timetabling headaches for students will be resolved with the evolution of the CA Program.
For the last two years, students have faced the prospect of delayed graduation, because the CA Program’s timetable didn’t allow for enrolment into a final capstone unit immediately after completion of technical modules.
Mr Hann expects the digitisation of coursework and exams will reduce reliance on term structures and rigid timetables.
The CA Program has a “small, but growing” international focus. As the CA Program evolves, Mr Hann said Asia will be a focus region.
Currently, Australia and New Zealand is its focus market for graduate intake.
“Becoming a CA has created career opportunities that are quite global. People have been able to use their CA badge or designation to create opportunities to work and travel,” Mr Hann said.
“If global opportunities are part of that remit, that needs to flow all ways,” he said.
The bottom line
At the moment, there are no plans to significantly increase the cost of the CA Program.
“I’m not seeing any major price changes at this point. That still needs to be worked out,” Mr Hann said.
Mr Hann also said he’s not banking on an immediate “membership explosion” when the new program rolls out.
The CA Program is a significant source of revenue for CA ANZ. In 2018, students paid $1,225 per subject, with five subjects to be admitted. They also paid an annual fee of $340 to be an affiliate member.
Enrolments for the CA Program have been steadily increasingly. In 2015, CA Program enrolments stood at 20,741. As at November 2017, they totalled 23,056.
Since its merger with the New Zealand branch, after previously being a standalone Australian operation named The Institute of Chartered Accountants, CA ANZ’s bottom line has taken a hit.
The association posted deficits of almost $8.2 million and $6.77 million in 2016 and 2017 respectively.
Before tax, CA ANZ posted a $2.2 million surplus in 2018, after Mr Ellis’ cost cutting mission last year.
According to CA ANZ, the reduction in expenditure of $7.3 million over the 2017 results came from redundancies and staff reallocation, reducing staff costs by $1.5 million; lower education-related costs of $4.1 million; reduced travel costs of $1.8 million; and reduced marketing and advertising cost of $1.2 million.