Blog Article

Are you competent?

Wednesday 16 November 2022

If I was asked "are you competent?" I would probably answer "yes" because none of us want to be thought of as "incompetent". However, a more honest answer would be "I am competent at some things but not others". I am competent at writing a blog post, but I am not competent at taking a blood sample from a pig! If I was a vet, I might be competent at taking a blood sample from a pig but not at "establishing project plans, including goals, tasks to complete, resource requirements and timelines" This last competency is one that applies to CPAs (Chartered Professional Accountants) in Canada.

Competencies are now used in many different professions. Nurses, airline pilots and those who work in the atomic energy authorities are just some of the people who have clearly defined competency frameworks that ensure they know how to behave in the face of a wide range of challenges they will face in their professional lives. Each profession typically has its own "competency framework" that defines the competencies across many specialisations and levels of ability. Implementing a competency framework offers consistency: consistency of behaviour, consistency when recruiting, consistency of skills needed for career progression.

How does this apply to accountants? Is there a competency framework for accountants? Yes, there are several good examples in the accountancy profession, notably the CPA Canada (Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada) and the African Professionalisation Initiative’s (API) Competency Frameworks. Before we look at the impact of using a competency framework let’s get an overview of what they look like.

The API Framework is two dimensional. One dimension is the pillars that define the technical areas of competence (Professional Context, Accounting, Audit, Raising Revenue, ICT) and the other dimension is the level (Basic, Intermediate or Advanced). Within each cell are a number of topics and each topic has several specified competencies. The API Competency Framework also addresses behavioural aspects of being a professional accountant by addressing professional behaviour and ethics as an integral part of addressing the technical work.

As an example, "Distinguish clearly between the respective roles of accountants and auditors in the financial management of an entity" is a competence in the Audit pillar, Basic level, in the topic Roles and responsibilities of auditors. In total, the API Framework includes almost 200 competencies.

The CPA Canada Framework is a little different. It also includes three proficiency levels, but the "pillars" are gathered into two distinct groups: Enabling Competencies and Technical Competencies.

Enabling competences:

  • Acting Ethically and Demonstrating Professional Values
  • Leading
  • Collaborating
  • Managing Self
  • Adding Value
  • Solving Problems and Making Decisions
  • Communicating

Technical competences:

  • Financial Reporting
  • Strategy and Governance
  • Management Accounting
  • Audit and Assurance
  • Finance
  • Taxation

One of the areas where Competency Frameworks can have a significant impact is training. When a training programme is developed by mapping the elements of the framework to the elements of the training programme there is assurance that those who complete the training will have gained the competencies included in the Competency Map for that training programme.

CPA Canada, for example, has competency maps for initial professional development (IPD) specifying the topic and level required. API, similarly, has competency maps for each module within its major programmes.

A particularly interesting question is, how is it possible to assess if someone taking a training programme has achieved competence? This needs a more detailed study of assessment methods which is the subject of another blog post.

Some useful sources of further information on accounting competency frameworks are:

African Professional Initiative Competency Framework

CPA Canada: Competency Framework

World Bank - Competency-Based Accounting Education, Training, and Certification: An Implementation Guide: Borgonovo, Alfred, Brian Friedrich, and Michael Wells.2019. International Development in Practice. Washington, DC: World Bank. doi:10.1596/978-1-4648-1403-7 License: Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 3.0 IGO 

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