Increasing access into the accounting profession and training more middle-level accounting personnel were key issues for the Nigerian profession in the 1980s—and continue to be key issues in many jurisdictions. In 1989, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) took action to turn these issues into opportunities to help more young people join the accountancy profession by introducing the Accounting Technicians Scheme.
Recognizing the strategic nature of the ICAN scheme, and the importance of regional cooperation, integration, and commitment to strengthening and consolidating accounting standards and practice, the ICAN scheme was adopted by other professional accountancy organizations in 1997 under the aegis of the Association of Accountancy Bodies in West Africa. Now known as the Accounting Technicians Scheme West Africa (ATSWA), it currently runs in five countries: Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Gambia and Sierra Leone.
- Provides a recognized qualification and status for the accounting and auditing staff employed in the public sector, industry, commerce and in various offices of practicing accountants;
- Helps meet the need for middle-level accounting personnel in local and national economies, especially for accounting and finance departments;
- Gives status to Accounting Technicians;
- Provide a pathway and opportunity for Accounting Technicians to progress towards professional qualification as Chartered Accountants.
Recent Initiatives to Support the Scheme
In the recent past, the scheme did not attract the right numbers to breakeven but due to various initiatives and efforts by ICAN, which coordinates the scheme’s activities in Nigeria, the position has changed positively. One of our initiatives is the “Catch-them-Young programme” aimed at building students’ participation in scheme’s examination. The programme, which targets secondary school leavers, covers seventy District Societies, or Branches, across all Nigerian states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
The Catch-Them-Young programme educates secondary school leavers on career development in the accounting profession through committed efforts to embrace the scheme. The programme has helped a great deal to grow the scheme’s numbers exponentially.
Also, the scheme has been introduced in some universities to year one students across Nigeria. This initiative yielded two benefits. First, more university students keyed into the scheme from year one and some were able to complete their professional exams before graduation. Second, direct entry status into tertiary institutions heightened the recognition of the scheme because many of the universities that introduced the scheme to their year one students also accept scheme graduates into their degree programmes. This further encouraged more students to register for the scheme.
Another initiative that boosted participation in the scheme is establishing a separate governance structure (the Association) for Accounting Technician graduates within ICAN. This has created a sense of belonging, self-worth and determination for our scheme graduates. The Association reports to the ICAN Council though the Registrar/Chief Executive. Benefits of the Association include:
- Formal admission as Associate Members of the Association of Accounting Technicians Scheme and the right to use the qualification AAT after their names;
- Freedom to run their own elections for officers who will run the Association’s affairs including the financials, fashioned in line with ICAN’s structure; and
- Freedom to organise their own annual general meetings and annual conferences.
These initiatives help further grow our numbers as siblings and friends see the benefits weaved around successful scheme graduates and are encouraged to follow the same path.
ICAN also engages in dialogue with the government to secure an enhanced entry level for AAT holders into the civil service. ICAN was able to successfully secure a Grade Level 6 as an entry point into the Nigerian Civil Service, an attestation of the recognition accorded to the qualification, which further encourages more students to register for the scheme.
In addition to all the above, ICAN’s aggressive marketing of the benefits of the scheme’s Certificate to public and private sector stakeholders yields a lot of recognition for the qualification, which in turn results in increasing numbers of students’ registration.
Beneficiaries of the scheme include supporting regional economies through the increased productivity and mobility of a well-trained and disciplined work force. The individual technician as well as the organization they work also benefit.
The Scheme’s Examination
The scheme’s examination takes place twice a year in March and September. The examinations are divided into three parts with each part consisting of four subjects.
- Basic Accounting Processes and systems
- Business Law
- Communication skills
- Principles and Practice of Financial Accounting
- Government Accounting
- Quantitative Analysis
- Information Technology
- Preparation and audit of Financial Statements
- Cost Accounting and Budgeting
- Preparing Tax Computation and Returns
For uniformity of the process, a Harmonization Committee was established to ensure moderation of common, non-country-specific questions with composition and roles designated among participating countries. The examination process, policies and management are equally harmonised by member countries.
Possible Expansion Across Africa
There have been efforts to expand the scheme to the entire African continent. To achieve this would require:
- Harmonising relevant guidelines, rules and regulations;
- Effective regional oversight function;
- Periodic scheme peer review and evaluation;
- Alignment of professional bodies in Africa and commitment to the scheme;
- Emphasis on quality assurance control; and
- Strong institution to enforce the implementation of the scheme.
The scheme’s intent may be difficult to achieve across Africa without looking at areas that require attention, including:
- Robust marketing drive across Africa
- Overcoming language challenges, including translating materials into French and Portuguese;
- Collaboration on mentoring;
- Development of study texts and relevant materials for study;
- A standard framework to be used by professional bodies in the region;
- Curriculum integration; and
- Consistent compliance with IFAC’s International Education Standards (IES).
Accounting technicians are now an important part of the accountancy profession in Nigeria and the other ATSWA countries. The benefits of the programme are felt by the technicians themselves, employers, and society at large, and are an essential element of a strong and sustainable profession.