Andy Williams on how BPP can help CAs develop their sustainability knowledge
If business is to become more sustainable, the work of finance professionals will be critical. Andy Williams, Head of CFA/Corporate Finance Programmes at BPP, explains how CAs can develop the skills they will need
With the net-zero target increasingly in the spotlight, and businesses being called on to play their own part, sustainability is something that finance professionals can no longer afford to ignore. The environmental, social and governance (ESG) agenda is having a real impact on businesses, which are being charged to “do better”. This is now an imperative – and it’s becoming more so with every passing day.
In a world where business is expected to be transparent about what it is doing to meet sustainability goals and deliver real change, training and upskilling in the area of measuring such business footprints will become important for all finance professionals. And CAs, in particular, have crucial roles to play in reporting on sustainability issues such as CO2 emissions and measuring social impact.
But while many CAs know about sustainability in its broadest sense, how many truly understand the impact it will have on the financial sector in decades to come? For Andy Williams, Head of CFA/Corporate Finance Programmes at ICAS training partner BPP, the answer is “not enough”. That is why BPP has created a suite of courses around sustainability, launched earlier this year, to help CAs who “don’t know what they don’t know” about this new business landscape.
“If you qualify as a CA and decide that you want to work in an investment management firm, then you will know from day one that ESG is a massive issue and you have to get up to speed on it,” says Williams. “Most people just understand the basics, though, and the majority of people we’ve surveyed say they want to get additional training. I think for most CAs, their understanding of what they need to know to be able to do their jobs effectively moving forwards is still limited.”
ICAS members with an eye to futureproofing their industries, businesses and careers can start with BPP’s eight programmes, created using research and feedback from 140 financial services professionals in 2021. These are headed up by an entry-level awareness course designed to introduce professionals to sustainability and ESG and help them think through the ways this agenda is set to transform different sectors.
The course looks first at what ESG is, and then at some of the most prominent issues in this area today – asking CAs to consider the risks and opportunities these issues create. Case studies of what companies are already doing around sustainability will offer practical knowledge, including an outline of the mandatory and voluntary reporting that is coming into force, both of which will be fundamental to the perception of a company’s risk and future viability, notes Williams.
From this starter course, CAs can then choose further pathways to more specialised training in reporting, investment management, company strategy, commercial bank lending and taxation. Courses such as ESG Decision Making and Management Reporting, ESG Sustainability Reporting, and ESG in Carbon Pricing Through Taxation allow a deeper dive, looking at issues through the lenses of various sectors – for example, an investment management firm or a commercial bank – to understand how sustainability will affect both different business models and their roles within them.
Those in the investment management pathway also have the option to take two advanced qualifications from the CFA Institute. And in addition to BPP programmes, members can also get valuable support from ICAS’ own CPD resources, including the sustainability professional resources and guidance hub on icas.com, with information and articles to help them keep up with the rapid developments in this field.
For Williams, sustainability will not only increasingly drive business decisions, but in turn create spaces where savvy CAs can provide real value.
“A lot of people who work in management positions will be expected to be leaders in this area,” says Williams. “And with sustainability becoming fundamentally important to a company’s strategy, CAs will also be called on to make strategic decisions in relation to this.
“It’s important CAs understand the industries they’re working in and the impact of sustainability on them. For example, if you work in practice as an auditor, there is a responsibility to understand Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures reporting, which covers climate change and related risk for companies and became mandatory for certain UK firms in April.
“These programmes are definitely going to give you the more advanced level of knowledge you will need if you’re going to be working in those industry areas and advising clients or businesses. It can only improve your knowledge, and ability to be able to interact with clients, if you understand how these significant issues are going to impact their businesses.”
Training and upskilling are key to enhancing commercial awareness, for everyone from students to experienced CAs. They are investments that will pay dividends in the effective application of sustainability principles.