Next question – what is qualified? Most members of the 6 bodies mentioned above have to pass examinations to gain professional qualifications so that’s OK; you can see from their CV when they gained membership or completed their examinations. But what does that give you? None of those 6 bodies include anything to do with charity accounting in their syllabus. ICAEW, ICAS and Chartered Accountants Ireland focus on training people for professional firms where they specialise in audit or tax. Is that what you need?
Oh, and what have they done since they qualified? All of these bodies require members to do Continuing Professional Development (CPD) to maintain their membership. Can you tell from their CV that they are still members of those bodies?
I’m not being awkward here, just exploring some issues that I’ve identified in the last 20 years in the sector as Finance Director, Consultant and Lecturer. Accountants from bodies that I’d never heard of that cost £150 to join with no exams, people who have done no CPD for 25 years and people with first-time passes at Chartered level who have never heard of SORP 2005 (the standard for accounting and reporting by charities).
Yet there are relevant qualifications. If you want someone who understands charity accounting then they need to have on their CV either the Diploma in Charity Accounting (available to qualified accountants) or the more intense CIPFA Certificate in Charity Finance & Accountancy. The latter Course, run by London South Bank University is an intense, one-year Course covering all aspects of the financial management of charities. We cover taxation – VAT and Gift Aid as well as employment taxes. We cover management reporting as well as statutory accounting, we look at both costing and pricing and this year we’re introducing specialist learning around Payment by Results and Social Impact Bonds.
Now isn’t that more what you want from your new Head of Finance? When you next draft your Person Specification for that key role, ask yourself what is most important – up-to-date knowledge and relevant qualifications or the apparent comfort blanket of a long-distant qualification and a deep understanding of commercial audit. I know which way I’d jump!
Nigel Scott is Course Director and Principal Lecturer for the MSc Civil Society (Accounting and Finance).