ACCA partners with CFA Institute and Barclays for the first time in the annual business competition

Business | 13 Jan 2020 6:00 pm

A major event in the business calendar, the ACCA and CFA Institute Business Competition this year sees ACCA partnering with world-class institutions CFA Institute and Barclays for the very first time. The collaboration is based upon their common commitment to cultivating ethical behavior in future leaders and benefiting society at large. Here Alan Lok, Director, Ethics Education and Professional Standards, Asia Pacific at CFA Institute, and Denise Wong, Managing Director, Head of Consumer & Retail in Banking, Asia Pacific at Barclays, share their rationale behind the partnership and anticipation on the finals.

Co-organised by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) Hong Kong and the CFA Institute, the annual Business Competition is open to full-time students of all disciplines from local education institutions, as they form teams consisting of 3 to 4 students. Contesting candidates join a range of workshops and coach meetings before their effort culminates in a final business proposal and presentation. With the theme of ‘A New Era of Business Success with Ethics and Purposes’, the competition is aimed at building the awareness on the importance of ethical behavior for future leaders, whilst testing students’ technical knowledge and business skills.

Common commitment on ethics

CFA Institute – a global association of investment professionals and the global strategic partner of ACCA – is a co-host of this year’s event. “I am glad that CFA Institute is joining hands with ACCA as both organisations have always upheld ethics as their core mission,” says Alan Lok, Director, Ethics Education and Professional Standards, Asia Pacific at CFA Institute.

Lok underscores the significance of ethics as a core foundation behind all business transactions. “If all the business in the world is solely profit-oriented – in the sense that people will undertake anything that is legal and yet unethical – the world will be cruel, inefficient, and full of negative energy,” he explains. “With ethical culture being a wide-spread truth in society, an efficient eco-system can be created, benefitting everyone.”

Lok believes that ethical initiative can be imparted from a young age in a fun and impactful manner. In the current digital era, which some refer to as the 4th Industrial Revolution, artificial intelligence (AI) is expected to automate a tremendous amount of transactions. While machines can handle most of the quantitatively demanding issues, there are bound to be ethical dilemma which requires human to intervene and come up with solutions.

“This is the capability that the next generations of business leader need to incorporate. They need to know how to deal with such situations in real-time,” Lok emphasises, citing the example of automobile accidents involving driverless cars. “Should the machine be pre-programmed to protect the driver at the expense of injuring the pedestrians or vice versa?” he questions.

Such contentious instances indicate the importance of manual decision making, and the ability to think and act ethically. Throughout the competition, the comprehensive Seven Professional Quotients (7Qs) are utilised to evaluate the business proposals and students’ performance. With technical and ethical skills remaining as the core quotient, Lok notes that the competition is the perfect opportunity for students to polish their business skills while tackling ethical challenges.

Dedication to benefitting society

This year’s contest employs the same case-based approach as last year. Barclays – a predominately corporate and investment bank in Asia Pacific with wealth management in India – is the case partner. With a global purpose of ‘creating opportunities to rise’, Barclays strives to invest for growth in the region by supporting communities and economies, as well as contributing to nurturing future generations. Denise Wong, Managing Director, Head of Consumer & Retail in Banking, Asia Pacific at Barclays, believes that such a corporate vision fully aligns with the competition’s objective.

“Our collective goal is to raise awareness on the multi-dimensional qualities and skills among our next generation of leaders, so that they are equipped with the tools to proactively solve pressing and complex social issues,” says Wong.

While there is a host of important socio-economic issues, Barclays has come up with three core topic areas that are adopted in the competition: Diversity and Inclusion, Affordable Housing, and Environment & Sustainability. “They encapsulate some of the most pressing social issues in our local community that require not just innovative solutions, but all community members in both the public and private sectors to work collectively on to resolve,” Wong states.

To fit in with the local context, the real-world cases in each of the three categories are selected based on strict criteria. The case in the Affordable Housing area, for instance, pertains to the Housing Delivery Fund – a £1 billion fund created by Homes England, the UK government’s national housing agency, and Barclays in 2018 to open up the local housing market and help small to medium-sized developers deliver new homes across England. Aimed to address the UK housing crisis, the Fund has successfully deployed loans worth £155.3m to support the construction of 660 new homes in Wimbledon and Southampton as of June 2019.

In light of the persistent housing shortage in Hong Kong, the case should be especially relevant. “The message we want to get across to the students is that commercial success and doing the right thing does not always have to be mutually exclusive,” Wong stresses. She hopes that by sharing some of Barclays’ global initiatives, it helps inspire new ideas and thinking amongst the participants.

What to anticipate in the finals?

Wong applauds the competition for opening to students of all disciplines this year as she believes with more diverse teams being formed, more out-of-the-box approaches and thinking can be brought to the table to help tackle these social issues. Speaking of the final contest, she is excited to witness the underlying passion and commitment students have towards the topic they have chosen.

“We had a chance to meet with some of the students before they submitted the first round of proposals. I am delighted to see that they really feel empowered to generate social impact,” she observes. “It ties in with the ultimate goal of the competition – creating a sense of purpose.”

As one of the coaches who guide students throughout the competition, Lok recalls vividly the time when he conducted the ethical decision-making workshop for the students. He realised that they did not regard the competition merely as something they can put on their resume for job-finding purposes. “In fact, they are genuinely interested in the dilemma that they are likely to encounter, and hold a firm conviction that their recommendation will impact on the business world,” he comments.

“As coaches and mentors, we are also greatly inspired by the fresh perspectives of the students. Learning is always a multilateral process. We hope it will be the same for the students themselves,” Lok concludes.

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