Section 3: Professional skills, competency areas and learning outcomes

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Professional Accreditation Guidelines Australia and New Zealand


Professional skills

A professionally accredited degree program must not only produce graduates with a foundation of technical knowledge but also the skills necessary to effectively apply such knowledge when they enter the profession and further their development via membership of either Professional Body.

In assessing a degree for professional accreditation, the Professional Bodies will expect to see opportunities for students to develop a range of skills prescribed in IFAC’s International Education Standard 3 (IES 3) Professional Skills and General Education:

Intellectual skills enable a professional accountant to solve problems, make decisions and exercise good judgment in complex organisational situations. The required intellectual skills include the following:

  • the ability to locate, obtain, organise and understand information from human, print and electronic sources
  • the capacity for inquiry, research, logical and analytical thinking, powers of reasoning, and critical analysis
  • the ability to identify and solve unstructured problems which may be in unfamiliar settings

Technical and functional skills
consist of general skills as well as skills specific to accountancy. They include:

  • numeracy (mathematical and statistical applications) and IT proficiency
  • decision modelling and risk analysis
  • measurement
  • reporting
  • compliance with legislative and regulatory requirements

Personal skills relate to the attitudes and behaviour of professional accountants. Developing these skills helps individual learning and personal improvement. They include:

  • self-management
  • initiative, influence and self-learning
  • the ability to select and assign priorities within restricted resources and to organise work to meet tight deadlines
  • the ability to anticipate and adapt to change
  • the ability to consider the implications of professional values ethics and attitudes in decision making
  • professional scepticism

Organisational and business management skills have become increasingly important to professional accountants. Professional accountants are being asked to play a more active part in the day-to-day management of organisations. Organisational and business management skills include:

  • strategic planning, project management, management of people and resources, and decision making
  • the ability to organise and delegate tasks, to motivate and to develop people
  • leadership
  • professional judgment and discernment

Interpersonal and communication skills enable a professional accountant to work with others for the common good of the organisation, receive and transmit information, form reasoned judgments and make decisions effectively. The components of interpersonal and communication skills include the ability to:

  • work with others in a consultative process, to withstand and resolve conflict
  • work in teams
  • interact with culturally and intellectually diverse people
  • negotiate acceptable solutions and agreements in professional situations
  • work effectively in a cross-cultural setting
  • present, discuss, report and defend views effectively through formal, informal, written and spoken communication
  • listen and read effectively, including a sensitivity to cultural and language differences

Providers of accounting programs in Australia may evidence these professional skills by referencing initiatives undertaken to meet the accounting academic standards identified by the Learning and Teaching Academic Standards Project of the Australian Learning and Teaching Council. These are detailed in Appendix 4.

Competency areas and learning outcomes

With reference to professional skills, listed below are the specific accounting and business competency areas that must be covered in an accounting degree program seeking accreditation by the Professional Bodies.

The required competency areas for both Professional Bodies are the same with one exception: CPA Australia will accept accreditation submissions for programs that do not include the competency area of auditing and assurance. However, students must still have the opportunity to study subjects in this area through their institution.

This competency area may be completed as part of CPA Program studies.

This list does not represent a list of prescribed subjects. In some cases (for example, financial accounting), one competency area will extend over more than one subject. Also, coverage of a particular competency area may be integrated with other areas in one or more subjects.

To summarise

The Professional Bodies require the following competency areas to be covered:

Competency area  CPA Australia  Chartered Accountants ANZ 
Accounting systems and processes  Yes Yes
Financial accounting and reporting  Yes Yes
Audit and assurance  No
Business law  Yes
Economics  Yes
Finance and financial management  Yes
Management accounting  Yes
Quantitative methods  Yes Yes
Taxation  Yes Yes
Information technology across the curriculum  Yes
Ethics across the curriculum  Yes

A broad definition of each competency area is provided in the following paragraphs. Appendix 2 provides detailed learning outcomes for each competency area which set out the specific prerequisite competencies that graduates entering the professional programs of either Professional Body will be assumed to have acquired. Whilst they are intended to be indicative only and not to be tightly prescriptive of program content, they will be used by the Professional Bodies in their review of accounting programs for professional accreditation and membership assessments.

Accounting systems and processes
Covers the form and function of financial statements and how financial transactions are recorded.

Financial accounting and reporting
Covers the theoretical principles underlying accounting practice and their application to the preparation and analysis of financial statements.

Audit and assurance
Covers the nature and purpose of audit and assurance and the regulatory and professional environment in which it operates. The area includes an understanding of the role of auditing standards, and their application to the audit process.

Business Law
Covers general legal knowledge relating to the business environment, and an understanding of the responsibilities and risks.

Covers the fundamental concepts of microeconomics and macroeconomics.

Finance and financial management
Covers fundamental concepts and application of business finance and treasury.

Management accounting
Covers an understanding of budgeting, product and service costing, control and performance evaluation, and strategic management accounting.

Quantitative methods
Covers the basic data collection, analysis and interpretation of business data.

Covers the fundamentals of the taxation system and its administration.

Information technology across the curriculum
This topic covers the design of computer-based accounting information systems and their application to solve business problems. Accounting information systems and information technology are important elements in the development of new accounting and business professionals. It is expected that higher education providers will incorporate the use of systems and technology in accredited programs, with an emphasis on:
  • systems documentation techniques
  • business processes and systems documentation
  • systems design, implementation, and operation
  • information systems controls for system development
  • enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems 
  • database management systems, database design, relational databases
  • auditing computer-based systems and the use of auditing support systems
  • computer fraud 
  • using big data in organisations and auditing.
This competency area could be integrated across the curriculum or offered as a separate subject.

Ethics and professional values across the curriculum
An understanding of ethical and professional values and attitudes are important elements in the development of accounting professionals. It is expected that higher education providers will pay attention in their programs to the fundamental ethical values of integrity, objectivity, and confidentiality, as well as professional competence and due care. 

Whilst a separate unit of study addressing these issues would clearly be helpful, this is not considered to be essential. However, it is expected that reference to ethical values and principles and their applicability to the accounting profession will be included throughout the curriculum. This is also expected in those cases where there is a separate unit dealing primarily with ethical topics. Independence of thought, and appropriate degree of professional scepticism, and recognition of a responsibility to act in the public interest are also important aspects of an ethical approach.


CPA Australia

Level 20, 28 Freshwater Place, Southbank
GPO Box 2820 Melbourne VIC 3001

P: +61 3 9606 9606
E: [email protected]

Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand

33 Erskine Street, Sydney
GPO Box 9985 Sydney NSW 2001

P: +61 2 9290 5660
E: [email protected]