Membership bodies, business development, and strategy: interview ACCA’s Stephen Shields

Anthony Haynes writes: As regular readers of this blog will know, we like to focus on membership organisations (a core market for FJWilson) and we like to publish interviews. This week I’m delighted to say that we’re again combining the two. Stephen Shields is Director of Global Employer Relationships at ACCA. We’re grateful to Stephen for the following interview.


Stephen Shields


Stephen, what kind of organisation is ACCA?

ACCA is a professional membership body. Unlike many such bodies, we’re highly international. In fact, we’re global. Our reach extends not just throughout mature economies but also into numerous developing economies.

Though we’re a membership body, we are much more than just a “club”.  At the core, we exist to create public value and to build a strong, ethical and dynamic global profession.


And what do you do at ACCA?

With my team – I lead a team of six – my job is to develop senior-level relationships with multi-national employers.

We do this at multiple levels. ACCA’s structure mirrors that of many of the multinational companies we deal with. That is, we are organised around the following levels:

  1. national
  2. regional (that is, supra-national regions)
  3. international

My work focuses on employers above the national level. Much of it involves direct engagement with employers’ regional and global decision-makers.

Central to this work is demonstrating to employers how the ACCA brand helps build their business through the world-class skills of our members and students.


Where is your business developing – what’s the pattern of growth?

Most of our qualifications to date have been examined in English, and therefore have been widely adopted in Commonwealth countries for a long time.  But they’ve long been popular too in countries outside the Commonwealth, including many non-English speaking environments, which underlines the important skill value that these qualifications provide.

One of the most exciting areas of growth for us is emerging markets. We’re seeing regions such as central Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, ASEAN and Latin America for example, becoming increasingly important.

Growth also comes from developing our presence beyond the capital cities. If you want to exert influence and contribute to the profession in, say, Russia or China, you can’t just have activities in Moscow or Beijing. So we’ve put a lot of energy into developing ACCA’s presence in other locations within major markets.

In addition to geographies, the finance profession is growing in certain sectors: one such sector where ACCA is already very strong is that of outsourcing and shared services.


In what way is your business development strategic?

The way we approach business development is not just about going out trying to recruit more members and more students. All our business development activity is rooted in a strategy based on ACCA’s core principle of adding value.

Our business development depends on being able to add value, both to our members and their careers and also to the profession as a whole.  And adding value really means being able to demonstrate how we do this.  So ‘How do we add value for our members, our students and employers?’ and ‘How can we show that?’ are questions we’re constantly asking ourselves.

Overall, we don’t just measure our success by the numbers of new ACCA students or members. Important measures for us include our reputation, influence and our size.


You mentioned earlier that you focus on developing relationships with employers. Where does the notion of ‘relationships’ come in?

The idea of relationships comes from the fact that for employers, we’re not suppliers – we’re partners.

If we were just suppliers, we’d be spending all our time talking to employers just about the virtues of employing ACCA-qualified staff. And that in turn would mean we would be talking only to HR and training managers.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing that – and ACCA does indeed spend time doing those things. But we also talk to employers about their businesses as a whole – what are the issues that are affecting them?  We explain to them how our professionally-qualified members really add to the entire finance spectrum within an organisation.

This broader focus requires us to talk to senior decision-makers. Increasingly we’re finding that these are people who have come in fact from a financial background – CFOs commonly become CEOs, for example. The issues we discuss with them are issues such as: what is the future of audit?   How does finance transformation affect their future strategic planning?  How do they see areas such as non-financial reporting developing in the years ahead?  Why is diversity a business case for a sustainable business?



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