by Sarah Hathaway, head of ACCA UK
There was a great deal of fanfare about David Cameron being the first British Prime Minister to visit Kazakhstan at the end of June and judging by the £700m worth of deals with British businesses that came from that visit alone, it was worth all the fuss.
BG Group, Rolls Royce, other business representatives and those from UK universities all flew out to the Central Asian market to meet with business leaders, policy makers and other stakeholders to discuss ways the UK and Kazakhstan can work together.
It is no surprise that where UK businesses look to develop links in emerging economies, finance professionals are there in readiness to support not only cross-border deals, but also the businesses within emerging markets, which is why ACCA UK was invited by UK Trade & Investment to join the PM and Trade & Investment Minister Lord Green on the visit to Kazakhstan.
ACCA was the only accountancy body on the visit, and I was honoured to be the organisation’s representative on the visit. We not only have an established presence in the Central Asian country, as well as 1,604 ACCA students there, we are also a genuinely global body. Of course I would say that and our PR team would be proud of me for plugging those key points, but these are genuinely valuable assets that are key to emerging markets such as Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan is a young country, just 20 years old, but is rapidly developing and has strong industries – oil, mining, pharmaceuticals and financial services to name a few. The republic’s President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, has high ambitions for the economy, keen to give it a truly international presence. That’s where finance professionals have a key role to play.
It’s one thing to have strong mining and oil sectors, but taking them global requires finance talent to help that happen. The international focus of UK finance expertise is essential for Kazakhstan to not only cement ties with UK businesses but to reach out on a more global scale.
Having that complete finance knowledge in the board room will increase the levels of corporate governance and sends a clear signal to investors that Kazakhstan is not only open for business but that it has the finance experience supporting its industries. With growing adoption of IFRS there is arguably a greater need for rapidly developing markets to look to us for skills. It is no coincidence that the Managing Director of Samruk Kazyna, Kazakhstan’s sovereign wealth fund is Peter Howes, a UK finance professional.
From a UK point of view, British businesses are already benefiting from closer trade links with Kazakhstan, but there is scope to go further. There is a need there for experienced finance professionals to boost Kazakh and UK companies doing business with each other.
However, we shouldn’t look at this solely from a short-term view point. Yes, ACCA UK and its members can play a key role in helping Kazakh and UK companies doing business with the republic hone the finance function and handle the constantly changing regulations in the country – ACCA members’ management skills are critical to that end. Longer term, however, ACCA has a bigger role to play.
The ethos behind ACCA’s accountancy qualifications is that home grown talent can emerge and lead a market’s own finance profession. It will take time for Kazakhstan’s finance expertise to transform into chief finance officers with the complete, global management skills required to take businesses in the region onto a surer international footing, but over time they will emerge, which is why ACCA is there already.
Our global experience, internationally recognised accountancy qualification and established presence in Kazakhstan means we are well-placed to support the country as it develops the next generation of finance talent from within.
The fact we are there, along with Ernst & Young and other global accountants, also means that tomorrow’s CFO’s can learn and benefit from working with the current crop of the world’s finance leaders and nurture links with their UK counterparts. As well as being a trading partner for UK plc Kazakhstan can be a finance profession partner into the future as well.
There is another benefit to us being there. ACCA UK represents accountants in the UK, irrespective of size. Many of our members’ clients are small and medium sized enterprises who could hugely benefit from exports to emerging economies. What’s to stop a small business specialising in valves in Yorkshire exporting to Kazakhstan’s expanding oil industry? It can be daunting, but our members are there to help those business meander their way through the red tape of exporting, and with ACCA UK securing closer ties in Kazakhstan and the wider Central Asian region the scene is set for that to happen.
Kazakhstan has a lot going for it, as does the potential relationship it has with UK plc. Finance professionals are there to make it happen.