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Emma Meets: Sarah Beale, Chief Executive at AAT (Association Of Accounting Technicians)

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Emma Peterson,  Director FinTech Awards Wales & Finance Awards Wales Meets:

Sarah Beale

Chief Executive

The Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT)

Continuing this new 11 part series of ‘Emma Meets', Emma Peterson, Director of Recruit 121 Finance & Accounting Solutions, finds out more about the sponsors of the up and coming Finance Awards Wales 2022. Finance Awards Wales is designed to recognise, attract and invest in the talented finance professionals working in Wales, showcasing the best of the best in the finance industry. In this edition, Emma meets Sarah Beale, Chief Executive at the AAT.

Can you give me an overview of your company and what you do?

The Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) is the world’s leading professional body for accounting technicians and has blazed a trail for inclusive access to accountancy training for more than 40 years. Our internationally respected qualifications are open to everyone, regardless of previous education, age or background. We work to raise the profile of accounting technicians in the UK and around the world, who play a  role in building stronger economies, and in establishing, maintaining and raising professional standards of accountancy practice. Currently we have around 125,000 members and students in over 100 countries. Our students come from a wide range of backgrounds, from school and college leavers, to a raft of people seeking a change to their career, including those wanting to run their own business.

What has been the biggest challenge the company has faced and how have you responded?

Like many organisations across the globe, AAT was not immune to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and we navigated our business and our services through unchartered waters, so that AAT remained sustainable, and we supported our members and students in the best ways.

We experienced some challenges because of this, including changes to our examinations procedure. In May 2021, following a successful pilot, we launched our remote invigilation offer for a range of assessments. This enabled us to introduce additional flexibility for students, allowing them to choose to sit selected assessments at home should this be their preference. The ability to offer remote invigilation functionality remains, not just because of the residual uncertainty of a pandemic, but because that pandemic has in effect changed people’s working and learning expectations.

During Covid-19, businesses also needed robust financial counsel more than ever – so we made sure our students and members were armed with current knowledge and the relevant skills to help them navigate a rapidly changing landscape.

One positive arising from the pandemic is a step change in people’s awareness of, and commitment to, better mental health. AAT has always demonstrated a strong commitment to this and was quick to ensure additional support for colleagues throughout the pandemic. Like many businesses we are assessing the implications of hybrid working, balancing an unprecedented level of home working and flexibility that is now a ‘new normal,’ with the social and business requirements of personal interaction.

How do you feel the Welsh economy will fare over the next 12 months?

Like the rest of the UK, the Welsh economy is facing several economic challenges over the coming months due to the rising cost of living and concerns around inflation, as well as residual impact of the pandemic and Brexit.   This points more than ever to a need for strong financial skills –such as AAT qualifications –Accounting technicians will be critical to this recovery and we would encourage businesses to consider looking at AAT qualifications and the skills they can provide for their workforce.

What plans do you have for your business in 2022?

We regularly review and update our qualifications to ensure they reflect what employers and the industry needs. In September 2022, we will launch our new suite of qualifications – Qualifications 2022 – including the new versions of our accounting and bookkeeping qualifications across levels 1 to 4. In addition to updating the technical content, we’ve also incorporated increased learning around key business topics such as sustainability, ethics, communication and technology and sustainability – all areas that we know are becoming increasingly important for accounting technicians now and in the future.

We will expand our influential role, challenging and seeking changes to education policy and funding to support our students’ and members’ needs, well as fiduciary polices around taxation.  We will also continue our call for regulation of the profession, to ensure the public are protected and poor practice by unqualified accountancy providers is stopped.

Additionally, we will continue our focus on delivering routes into the accountancy profession for everyone, regardless of age, background or previous experience. This includes pushing for more support for apprenticeships and skills-based learning, as well as spotlighting the achievements of our members and students.

Finally, in the Autumn we will share our long-term aspirations and vision for AAT, presenting what we would like to achieve and become by 2030. We see a role and contribution for AAT that is much broader than qualifications and membership alone.  In addition to developing further our members community, we want to have a greater impact on the wider profession and society, delivering our charitable objectives and continuing our work to influence government policy.

Why did you choose to sponsor the Finance Awards Wales 2022?

AAT has a strong track record in supporting thousands of students based in Wales to develop new skills and gain the qualifications needed to enter the accountancy profession. Sponsoring the Finance Awards Wales helps shine a light on the sector and its role in enabling exciting and rewarding careers. It also demonstrates both the need for highly qualified finance staff across all businesses and the remarkable work of individuals and businesses across Wales. We’re delighted to sponsor this year’s Awards and hope that the success of the winners and nominees will inspire others to join the accountancy profession and boost the existing talent pool.

If you have sponsored the awards previously what were your highlights from last year’s ceremony?

We were delighted to see Jordan Harley, an AAT apprentice with Blaenau Gwent Council, winning in the ‘Accounts Technician of the Year Award’ category. Jordan has been hugely successful in his journey as an AAT apprentice and in his work as an Accountancy Trainee – achieving a final grade of Distinction with 94% in his AAT Advanced Diploma in Accounting qualification – and is now aiming to become a professional member of AAT. We hope that he will be a great example to businesses in Wales who are considering taking on AAT apprentices of the benefits they can bring, as well as to those considering an apprenticeship of where it can take their careers.