Inside ICAS: Mark Allison - Quality through Education

Student writing on paper
Mark Allison By Mark Allison, Executive Director, Education

9 November 2015

Mark Allison, ICAS Executive Director, Education explains his role at ICAS and the high standards behind a CA qualification.

A few years ago we were teaching an introductory accounting class and feeding back results of a mock exam. The class had done particularly poorly. One student, with a straight face, announced that it was not possible for him and the rest of the class to have done so poorly as they had all been on a firm’s internal training course where they had been told every day, to the soundtrack of Tina Turner, that they were “Simply the Best”.

ICAS is world-class – but how do we prove it?

If you read corporate strategy documents, including ICAS straplines, you will see much use made of superlatives. Can ICAS really claim that the CA Qualification is world-class, gold standard, premium, excellent or indeed “Simply the Best”?

ICAS has 20,000 members who work in over 100 countries and much of the activity of the ICAS Boards, Committees and Executive Team is based around the maintenance of quality. To ensure high standards of quality ICAS needs benchmarks to measure against.

My role as Executive Director of Education

One of the principal responsibilities I have as Executive Director, is to ensure that the CA qualification is benchmarked against and meets or exceeds all reasonable comparable standards. Firstly I need to find these standards, and then to ensure that the benchmarking is thorough and objective.

This is important because the CA qualification needs to travel with you, as future members, to wherever your career takes you. It would be distinctly unhelpful for you to arrive for a new job in Berlin, Hong Kong, or Toronto and find that the qualification you had worked so hard to achieve, was not recognised.

A commitment to quality

Over the years we have developed our understanding of what it means to be able to claim high quality standards. At the simplest level this revolves around the number of reviews and checks on technical material. And sometimes we have not made enough of those checks and annoying errors appear.

On the wider scale, however, we are one of the few Institutes in the world that reviews and changes its syllabus every year. We also update the underlying teaching materials and exams annually as well. This makes the content and assessment of the CA qualification current - not something that all Institutes can claim.

Some years ago ICAS brought in the position of lay members to monitor the activities of boards and committees. These individuals are independent of the staff, and the members, and cast their professional oversight on what we all do. A simple application of Good Corporate Governance practice perhaps, but also an opportunity for ICAS to learn from the best practices existing in other arenas.

Independent recognition

We took this approach further in 2013 by becoming a credit rating and awarding body on the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). This puts the CA qualification, and its component parts, on a footing with other qualifications that you already have. To achieve recognition on the SCQF requires quality assurance procedures, with independence and objectivity in areas that caused ICAS to review and refine our processes. Look around and you will not find many other professional accountancy bodies having their qualification recognised on an independent national qualification framework.

Defining standards for the profession

Further afield in Europe, ICAS, and I was there as they say, was a founding member of the European Common Content Project. This provides a benchmark standard around Europe for professional accountancy qualifications incorporating bodies in Germany, France, Netherlands, Italy, Belgium, England, Ireland and Scotland. An ICAS view in such an initiative was not to accept a standard set by others but to take a leading part and to define the standard. That is something we still do 14 years later. We hope in the near future to expand this group to other European countries.

And it’s not just in Europe. Throughout the world we have a number of reciprocity agreements. These mean that the CA qualification is recognised formally by an Institute (and in some cases a government). To achieve such reciprocal agreements requires the setting up of an initial benchmark, and the measuring of a qualification against it. We have always taken a leading part in developing the benchmark then ensuring that the CA qualification matches it and in holding others to account to ensure their qualifications achieve the agreed standard.

And on other stages too we ensure we meet appropriate benchmarks. The UK Government through the Financial Reporting Council annually audits our qualification against the requirements of the Companies Act. The worldwide body of accountants, IFAC, regularly reviews the CA qualification against International Education Standards. One of my proudest achievements was, as Chairman of the International Accounting Education Standards Board, guiding the rewrite of those standards.

Simply the best? – well, quite probably, yes.

August 2018

Monday 13 August: What you need to know about the new Business Ethics exam

ICAS is proud to announce the launch of a new Business Ethics exam for CA Students, which formalises our profession’s core value.

From November 2018, all CA students sitting the final technical exam (TPE case study exam) will also sit a separate exam on Business Ethics. This will be a short case study, which requires students to identify ethical issues, evaluate these issues, discuss options and provide recommendations.

This initiative has the wide support of the ICAS Council, education committees and the Training Principals. The exam’s introduction emphasises the importance ICAS places on ethics at the heart of the profession.

It will also equip them with the skills necessary to exercise professional judgment within an ethical framework.

ICAS Executive Director of Education Mark Allison said: “The formalisation of the Ethics assignment as an exam at the point of entry to ICAS membership supports the wider ICAS position and signals to prospective members and the public the importance placed on ethical behaviour.”

The assessment will ensure future students are encouraged to develop an ethical mindset and be prepared to act in the public interest from the beginning of their professional career. It will also equip them with the skills necessary to exercise professional judgement within an ethical framework.

Real-world dilemmas

The new Business Ethics exam will be completed by all students in the final year of their CA qualification, and replaces an essay-based assignment.

The exam includes a more formal assessment of the ethical characteristics of newly qualified chartered accountants and will take place the day before the final technical exam, TPE. Both exams are fully open book, reflecting the real-world nature of the exam.

The exam will be a similar format to the current assignment. Students will be placed in the role of a recently qualified chartered accountant and will find themselves faced with a number of ethical dilemmas. They will be required to evaluate the issues, consider the impact on relevant stakeholders, discuss a number of possible actions, and recommend the most suitable action(s) with reference to ethical theories and appropriate legislation.

Students will receive guidance on their approach to the Business Ethics exam on the Business Ethics 2 teaching day, and will also sit a mock exam, which will be marked with feedback to assist with their exam preparation.

Students sitting TPE in November 2018 will sit their BE exam on Monday 12 November. For more information on the Business Ethics exam, contact Joanne Miller. For more information about the new exam and why ethics is integral to the CA, read the full article in CA Today.

Get in touch

Share your views with @ICAS_students or email

In today's blog, we look at recent news in trademarking and the changing world of banking. We also go back to basics on corporate insolvency and basis periods, as well as offering guidance for filling out your achievement logs. Finally, we have 10 top tips to prepare yourself for exam day.

The evolution of money: Where next?

A new independent group has been created to examine the impact of rising digital payments and declining use of cash. We look at how the use of money is already changing in the UK and who is put a risk or an advantage by the digital shift.

Shaping up the value of trademarks

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Your achievement logs shouldn’t be a slog!

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10 tips for exam day

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Monday 6 August: Five free five-minute stress busters

More than half of professional services workers in the UK aren't taking action to lower their stress levels, according to a new survey. Here are some quick tips for chilling out.

Workers in accountancy and law have said they lack the time and/or money to actively try to reduce stress levels outside of work. In a survey conducted by, 58% of professional services respondents struggled to decompress during downtime.

Of that group, 78% claimed they had no free time to dedicate to stress management and one in 10 did not have the funds to pursue stress-relieving activities.

With that in mind, here are some schedule and wallet-friendly options for you to consider.

  1. Breathe easy: Slow deep breaths can help lower your heart rate and blood pressure, easing some of the symptoms of stress. The pranayama technique advocates breathing through one nostril at a time and is thought to ease anxiety.
  2. Have a snack: Certain foods and beverages have positive effects on your mood. Dark chocolate, mango and mint chewing gum can all help combat the influence of high cortisol levels (the stress hormone). Green tea and water are also good options to calm your nerves and rehydrate.
  3. Watch a funny video: Smiling and/or laughing is proven to boost your mood and release tension. Keep a few funny videos saved for a lunchtime giggle or, if all else fails, fall back on classic Vine compilations.
  4. Squeeze a stress ball: These handy little stress relievers are a common free gift from places like banks, supermarkets, and even business conferences. Keep an eye out and get yourself a squishy companion.
  5. Move around: Standing up from your desk to stretch or walk around eases the tension in your body and forces you to distract yourself. Take a trip up and down some stairs or try some deskercise!

Get in touch

Do you struggle with stress on a regular basis? How do you find ways to cope? Share your advice for fellow student with @ICAS_students or email

In today's blog, we consider the future of financial reporting, what shifting demographics mean for the economy, how to account for stock destruction, and personal data security. We also offer some advice for those getting ready to finish their training contracts and how to use mock exams for upcoming assessments.

What does your data say about you?

This TED Talks playlist showcases the expert perspective on who has your data, what it tells them, and how they use it.

The five steps of taking mocks seriously for success

Mock exams and progress tests are a key indicator of how well you understand and can communicate the material in your course. Make sure you are using these opportunities to achieve your full potential.

How declining birth rates affect our economies

Around the developed world, people are living longer, and birth rates are falling. What does this mean for our society, our economy, and our families?

Accounting for stock destruction

High-end fashion brand Burberry has come under fire from the public in recent weeks after financial reports revealed £28.6m worth of stock was destroyed in the past year. The fashion industry has since dubbed this as 'common practice', but how can account for brand protection?

How is financial reporting set to improve?

The quality and content of financial reporting can be a point of some contention in the corporate sphere. What information is most pertinent to the reader?

Finishing your training contract - what's next?

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July 2018

Monday 30 July: Supermarket blockchain solutions

Blockchain continues to be explored for its potential to solve age-old problems, and retailer Walmart is seeking to implement innovative new uses for supply chain problems.

The retail group, which owns the Asda brand in the UK, has been working with technology giant IBM to establish a 'Food Trust' blockchain that tracks the source, transportation and sale of goods and produce. The aim is to improve transparency around supply chains and limit the reach of potentially contaminated products.

This project has been undertaken alongside other big names like Nestle, Kroger and Unilever, and could potentially prevent situations like a recent E.coli outbreak in the US, traced back to a shipment of romaine lettuce.

However, Walmart's blockchain ambitions don't stop with the supply chain. Earlier this year, the company filed a patent for a blockchain-based marketplace that would allow customers to resell products bought from their stores, citing competition from non-traditional retailers as a motivation to provide easier processes for consumers.

The system would record the original sale of items in a ledger and allow both sellers and buyers to verify product details and condition.

A patent for a 'Smart Package' system was also filed in March 2018. This would use blockchain to improve customer experience and product security during shipping by digitally recording key points in the delivery process.

Walmart's operations will no doubt be watched closely by the rest of the retail sector to determine where it can take technology next.

Get in touch

What do you think blockchain could do for other businesses? Is there an existing issue you think it could help solve? Tell us @ICAS_students or email

In today's blog, we revisit the key components of audit risk, non-controlling interests and materiality thresholds. We also look at what you should do if you fail an exam, explain the accounting treatments of goodwill in financial reporting, and what simple steps you can follow to get on the property ladder.

Back to basics: Audit risk

Have you got to grips with the Principles of Audit and Reporting (PAR)? Anna Cameron takes us back to basics on audit risks to make sure you’re on PAR for success!

Goodwill in financial reporting

Accounting for goodwill is a great example of why there is not just one 'correct' profit figure or one 'correct' balance sheet total - there is no solitary accounting treatment either! Find out why.

Back to basics: Non-controlling interests

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What to do if you fail an exam

If you didn’t get the result you were hoping for in CA examinations, don’t be too hard on yourself. Here are five practical ways you can move forward.

Back to basics: Materiality thresholds

Are you comfortable with the basics of establishing materiality in audits? In the conclusion of our Materiality Back to Basics articles, we look at other thresholds used during the course of the audit engagement.

Top house-hunting tips

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Monday 23 July: The UK-EU negotiating table

Will business rise above Brexit? The government's White Paper, released on 12 July, offered more insight into the post-Brexit landscape envisioned by the Prime Minister but, with many EU leaders still sceptical of a good deal for both sides, what exactly are we bringing to the negotiating table?

David Wood CA, ICAS Senior Policy Director, summarised the key elements of negotiation detailed in 'The future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union' proposals:

  • Free Trade Area for Goods: A UK commitment to EU rules on goods to avoid cross-border trade friction - particularly on the Northern Irish border.
  • Reciprocal Commitments to Open and Fair Trade: Co-operation between regulators and agreed standards for state aid, climate change, social and employment matters, and consumer protection.
  • Consistent Interpretation and Application of UK-EU Agreements: A joint institutional framework to uphold any agreements between the UK and EU, supported by a joint committee to settle disputes.
  • Facilitated Customs Arrangement: Phased development of specific trade policy and tariffs to avoid customs controls between the UK and EU.

These points are the instrumental compromises on which Theresa May wants to build an 'Association Agreement' or established 'Treaty' type deal with the EU. A successful negotiation would mean access to each other's markets, protections for financial services, and a 'mobility framework' for travel between the UK and EU.

However, Michael Barnier, the EU's Chief Brexit negotiator said: “I am not negotiating, of course, on the basis of the white paper.” They will continue to negotiate according to agreements made between the UK Government and the EU earlier this year in March. Rumours of a no-deal Brexit have increased.

Get in touch

What do you think the Brexit priorities should be? What compromises would you consider acceptable? Tell us on Twitter @ICAS_students or email

In today's blog, we examine IFRS 9 and FRS 102, and go back to basics on the different types of materiality. If you're wondering what sort of information you need to keep confidential in business, read on to understand contractual obligations and the dangers of revealing too much. You can also find out next steps if you have TC exemptions, and we cap it all off with top tips on surviving (and winning!) a business lunch.

Toxic loans and IFRS 9 standard

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Back to basics: Overall vs Performance Materiality

In reaching an opinion on financial statements, auditors assess whether there are any material misstatements. In this second of three Back to Basics articles on materiality we examine the differences between overall and performance materiality.

What you need to know about FRS 102 for Financial Reporting

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Exemption info for TC students

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The walls have ears: why confidentiality is essential

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Monday 16 July: 5 firms gearing up for Brexit

As the Brexit deadline of 29 March 2019 draws closer, several big names in the financial world have started to strengthen their standing overseas. Many firms whose European headquarters currently sit in London are moving people and resources to cities elsewhere in the EU.

These are some of the influential firms who have confirmed they are or will be relocating power beyond the UK.

1. JP Morgan Chase & Co

JP Morgan currently has around 16,000 employees based in the UK and has warned that up to a quarter could be moved elsewhere or see their jobs disappear as a result of Brexit. The firm confirmed that between 300 and 400 people will be relocated to offices in Paris, Madrid and Milan ahead of Brexit to aid business continuity.

2. Citigroup

As well as making several key appointments in France, Citi plans to create jobs across their EU offices, including approximately 160 in Paris and 150 in Frankfurt. The firm also has locations in Milan, Madrid, Dublin, Luxembourg and Amsterdam.


HSBC has plans to set up new EU headquarters in Paris, eventually moving 1,000 employees from the UK to France. The bank has reportedly spent over £21m ($28m) on advice about the impact of Brexit and preparing operations for after the deadline.

4. Goldman Sachs

Some London-based staff at Goldman Sachs were told as early as March 2018 that they would be relocated to Frankfurt. It has also been rumoured that employees in the derivatives and debt capital markets teams who work with European clients were already issued with new contracts for the German offices.

5. Morgan Stanley

Morgan Stanley has confirmed it will be moving its EU hub to Frankfurt after Brexit. An estimated 200 jobs could be affected by the move and offices in Dublin and Paris are also likely to see expansion.

Get in touch

Do you think moving operations is the right option for these firms? Do you expect to be affected? Get in touch with or tweet @ICAS_students on Twitter.

In today's blog, we offer some guidance on TPS terms and the resources available to you. We go back to basics on a materiality introduction for PAR, and advise on how to use the TPS examiner report as well as the verbal feedback service. If you are taking or considering the ITP qualification, we explain how it applies beyond books and uses real-life.

Back to basics: Materiality introduction

Materiality is a fundamental concept of the audit process. In reaching an opinion on the financial statements, auditors assess whether there are any material misstatements.

Common terms in TPS

To help with your TPS studies and revision, we've put together a glossary of important terms to use as an aid. A more in-depth guide to common abbreviations and phrases can be found in your course materials.

Taking a real-life approach to the ITP qualification

Fiona Winter, a director in the CA Education team updates us on the ways in which assessment, particularly the final case study, takes a real-life approach for the ICAS tax professional qualification.

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Monday 9 July: Hedge funds and Brexit

How do hedge funds make a safe bet on how the markets are going to move? Purchasing survey data that isn't publicly available has become common practice ahead of big economy-shifting events.

In the weeks and months leading up to an election or referendum, polls will target groups of voters and monitor opinions. Companies like YouGov and Survation will use this information to predict outcomes and document the public mindset, examining the impact of key events and the effectiveness of campaign techniques.

However, much of this data is illegal to share with the public ahead of voting day. Overhead figures are often published in the press to indicate the state of public opinion, but detailed information cannot be released due to privacy and voter-influencing concerns. It is legal to sell this information to private organisations.

This raises ethical questions about whether it is 'unfair' or not for private companies to have access to this data. On one hand, it can be used to safeguard important funds and therefore avoid economic problems for the wider public.

Ahead of the results of the Brexit referendum in the UK, several hedge funds are believed to have purchased data that predicted the outcome of the vote more accurately than the public polls. This meant funds had a better idea of how the value of the pound was going to be affected and acted accordingly.

On the other hand, several key figures of the Brexit referendum are alleged to have had access to this information through professional channels but released statements predicting a 'Remain' result as a bygone conclusion, therefore driving up currency values ahead of the inevitable crash.

The situation certainly presents an ethical shade of grey.

Get in touch

Tell us what you think of hedge fund access to political data, and its potential use by politicians and campaigners on Twitter @ICAS_students or email

In today's blog, we meet a CA student using their spare time to volunteer with a charity and look at why taking a break from work can be a good thing. We also sum up the ins and outs of contribution and examine the books of prime entry. Elsewhere, you can find out how to be productive during lunch and what not to do in the office if you want to stay popular.

Giving back: CA Student Lauren Wilson

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Monday 2 July: Join us at the Summer Social

ICAS students and newly-qualified CAs are set to gather in the heart of London for the 2018 ICAS London Summer Social on 12 July, organised by the Young Leaders Network.

This annual event brings together young and soon-to-be CAs in the City to connect and network with each other. It is a highly anticipated staple of the ICAS calendar and offers the perfect opportunity to broaden your professional horizons.

This year, we have invited CAs from the worlds of financial services, banking, innovation, sustainability, entrepreneurship and technology to share their experiences in an informal setting with stunning views. Join your up-and-coming peers for an evening of conversation and take advantage of the opportunities offered by the ICAS community.

If you want to get a head start, Young Leaders Network member Jonathan Mills CA recently shared some of his top tips for successfully networking at events.

The London Summer Social starts at 6pm on the rooftop terrace of Grange St Paul's, making it the perfect time and place to meet after work and engage with fellow rising stars of the profession.

Book now

Get in touch

Will you be attending the London Summer Social? Tell us about what you are looking forward to - @ICAS_students on Twitter or email

In today's blog, we look at the impact your commute could be having on your health, and round up our pick of the apps that might revitalise your revision. If the thought of more books has you dreaming of sunny shores, see our advice for safe holiday habits. We also tell you the secrets of public speaking and find out what financial challenges are presented by brewing beer in Australia. And finally, for those of you embarking on FR in July, we take a look at how to prepare final accounts.

The secrets of public speaking

Did you attend the CA Young Summit? Inspired by the speakers? Some people can command a room when they speak, or deliver important presentations with such ease that you suspect they practice every weekend. In fact, everyone can learn these skills and conquer nerves; discover the secrets behind great public speaking and how to win over your audience.

SoX readiness is no small beer: Andrew Campbell CA

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