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6 Chief executive’s strategic report

Through a period of extraordinary demands on our members and future members, ACCA’s firm focus has been on supporting them to the very best of our organisational ability.

It has been abundantly clear that in a time of such uncertainty and volatility, professional accountants have been more heavily relied upon than ever. The work undertaken by accounting and finance professionals within, and for, enterprises has taken on even greater significance. In every sector, they have been the backbone of organisational sustainability and competitiveness.

We have been acutely aware that the pandemic has created both individual and professional challenges for our ACCA community. In addition to the health effects, a significant number of our members and future members have experienced direct economic consequences as a result of Covid-19.

Our approach has therefore been two-fold – developing both the personal and the professional support that is most needed by those we serve.

Introducing a monthly rolling relationship survey of members and future members has – as intended – enabled us to move more quickly in identifying emerging needs and introducing solutions. Providing tailored support to those in specific sectors has proved to be particularly effective. With SMEs relying on advice from their professional advisers in order to stay afloat and pivot their business models, we have had a strong focus on SMP support and development. This learning, together with activity to develop a more tailored public sector members’ proposition, will be built on in the coming year as we work on more segmented offerings by employment sector and other segments.

For future members, our priority has been enabling them to continue their ACCA Qualification journey. This led to us accelerating our existing strategic plans for remotely invigilated exams and rolling these out in record time where centre-based exams were not possible due to local and national lockdowns. And while every ACCA student had at least one exam sitting disrupted during the year because of the pandemic, the hard work our teams put in on new examining solutions meant that they could still make progress towards membership. We also continued to work closely with our learning partner community who have responded magnificently to the new demands the pandemic has placed on them.

Supporting and retaining our current and future membership base is of course central to ACCA’s financial sustainability. Focusing on ensuring that our ACCA community sees real value in staying with us is therefore paramount. At the same time, we’ve challenged ourselves in terms of efficiency throughout the year and refocused activity and spend to areas where it has delivered the most value to members and future members.

Our three areas of critical strategic focus in 2020-21 were:

1. Member and future member support and retention: our members and future members are at the heart of ACCA and it was critical that we demonstrated that we understand and support them, retaining them so we can keep delivering the trusted professional accountancy community the world needs. Every member and future member we retained helped keep ACCA financially sustainable.

2. Exam delivery and innovation: it was critical that we successfully ran as many exams in as many markets as possible: this lies at the heart of ACCA’s financial sustainability as well as that of many of our partners. It was also key to the confidence, progression and retention of our future members. We had an organisation-wide focus on innovation and redeployment of resources to support the exam effort.

3. Financial sustainability: our focus on exam delivery and innovation, and member and future member support and retention has been essential to support ACCA’s continuing financial sustainability. In addition to this, we introduced a range of mitigating actions to reduce our operating spend and investments as a way of offsetting the revenue impact of exams cancelled so far. We also took proactive steps to plan for a sustainable future, exploring a range of possibilities and adopting a deeply cost-conscious approach to spending.

We set four targets against our areas of critical strategic focus:

Critical strategic focus measure 2020-21 year-end target 20-21 year-end result Achievement
Critical strategic focus measure Member retention 2020-21 year-end target 94.7% 20-21 year-end result 97% Achievement Met
Critical strategic focus measure Future member retention 2020-21 year-end target 82.1% 20-21 year-end result 83.8% Achievement Met
Critical strategic focus measure Inclusion: % agreeing that ACCA acts with members’ and future members’ best interests at heart 2020-21 year-end target 70% 20-21 year-end result 67.4% Achievement Not met
Critical strategic focus measure Surplus/(deficit) before tax 2020-21 year-end target -£8.9m 20-21 year-end result £20.3m Achievement Met

Our strategy to 2025 talks about the need to change continually. This has been reinforced by the global context and the level of disruption through which we and our members are operating. It is essential therefore that ACCA is optimally organised and as efficient and effective as possible. On this basis, we reviewed our organisational design in 2020-21 to enhance impact and consolidate activities so that we can improve our agility, effectiveness and decision making, as detailed on our Governance, leadership and people section.

In addition to efficient delivery, we have also intensified our focus on our overall purpose and impact by announcing our specific commitments to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. These commitments and the rationales for them are outlined on our Strategy to 2025 section and we’ll begin reporting against them in detail in 2021-22. In this way, the value we create and protect through our members and our work as an organisation will be our guiding light to 2025 and beyond.

To all those across our ACCA community who have contributed to this purpose over the past 12 months, thank you - and we’ll continue to be by your side and endeavour to deliver for you to the best of our ability as we move forward together.

ACCA Chief executive Helen Brand ACCA Chief executive Helen Brand's signature

Helen Brand OBE, Chief executive