ICAS President, Clive Bellingham CA: Widening access to the profession

widening access

By CA magazine

1 June 2023

There are many routes into chartered accountancy, as Clive Bellingham CA knows from experience. The new ICAS President draws on the lessons of his own qualification to inform the challenges facing the profession today

For my first column as ICAS President, I want to tell a story that I recently shared with a group of students at Fife College – one that I’m sure a lot of CAs can relate to. Hopefully, it helps to explain what I see as one of the key objectives for ICAS, both during my term as President and beyond.

Around the age of 16, I went to see the careers adviser at Kirkcaldy High School. He didn’t ask me about my interests and didn’t consider what careers might appeal to me. Instead, he said, “You’re good at maths, you’re good at physics, so you should study maths and physics.” I took his advice and ended up reading both at the University of Edinburgh, only to fail my first year… miserably. Now, some of that can be put down to my enjoyment of the university experience, perhaps a little too much. But there was also a point when I wondered, ‘What am I going to do with this qualification?’ It simply didn’t interest me and that was reflected in my exam results.

A friend had recently started an HND in accounting at Fife College and that immediately sounded more interesting. I could see beyond simply getting a degree. I also had a keen interest in working abroad. I was born in Germany, because my father was in the army, and left when I was three-and-a-half. There is probably something in my DNA about travel and the lure of different countries and cultures.

So I got my HND – and then I looked at the other accounting bodies because I thought ICAS would be too difficult. My dad wasn’t an accountant, but the CFO where he worked was a CA. And because ICAS is the hardest route, Dad firmly believed that was the right path – and if that didn’t work out there would be another one. That turned out to be quite a pivotal moment! At the time, however, none of the Big Eight, as it was back then, would employ me because I wasn’t a university graduate. So I trained with Bird Simpson and Co in Dundee, passed my exams, became a CA, and joined Coopers & Lybrand.

Mobile networks

To this day, I often think back to that moment at school with the careers adviser. Things turned out well in the end, but so much of that comes down to how the cards fell – having parents who supported me, having a friend who did that HND, but there was also Gordon Jack, a partner at Coopers & Lybrand, who recruited me back in 1984. (He also recruited our new Deputy President, Alison Cornwell CA. Small world, eh?)

I told Gordon I wanted to spend a year in the UK before working abroad. He could have easily knocked me back, but he listened carefully as I told him what I wanted to achieve. And he also saw the benefit of his people moving around. The biggest firms are essentially networks and encouraging mobility within those networks is very important. I also believe that accounting is the only truly global language. Even back then, I was confident that if I could master accounting I could go anywhere.

Now let’s turn from my past to the future of our profession. When I talked to those students at Fife College about my career, I wanted to give them an example of somebody who didn’t get a first at Edinburgh – he didn’t even get past his first year! – to show them that there is more than one pathway into chartered accountancy. There are training programmes for school leavers, as well as graduates, and we support aspiring CAs from disadvantaged backgrounds through the ICAS Foundation.

The profession is opening up. Some of that is a response to the challenges the big firms face around recruitment. But we need to make more students aware of what the opportunities are, even if ultimately they decide against becoming CAs.

I am working with our Executive Director of Learning, Gail Boag, to see where ICAS can play a more active role in schools and colleges. If we can provide more pathways, and provide accreditation for certain courses, then the colleges can start to think about what courses they should offer students. I hope to have more to say about that in the coming months.

Creating more pathways into the profession is also a key component of our ICAS 2030 strategy. As Vice President, I volunteered to become chair of the strategic governance group – that made obvious sense because some of that 2030 strategy is going to be implemented during my presidency. Our strategy is a response to market forces, but we also want to be a driving force in shaping what the profession looks like in the future.

Becoming President means the fulfilment of a long-held ambition for me. I have always liked to be involved in things that are changing because change provides opportunity. So it is an exciting time for me – but also, and much more importantly, for ICAS. I can’t wait to see what the year brings.

Read the ICAS 2030 strategy

This article was originally published by ICAS at the following URL: https://www.icas.com/members/ca-magazine/ca-magazine-articles/icas-president-clive-bellingham-ca-widening-access-to-the-profession