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The Growth and Consolidation of Accountancy Training

The growth of accountancy

The period from the 1970’s to the turn of the millennium was pivotal when looking at the development of accountancy training in the UK. Training became more accessible and its development, as we know it today, really began. Large professional training companies grew and the qualifications continued to evolve.

Much of the change which began in the 70s was due to legal amendments, which came about in the late 1960s. Two such changes were the Companies Act of 1967 and the requirement of firms to be responsible for their trainees’ contracts.

Up to this point, accountancy training looked different by modern standards (as referred to in our previous article: ‘The Origins of Accountancy Training in the UK’). Trainee accountants (or ‘articled clerks’) were wealthy individuals who were responsible for paying for their own training, unlike their present-day counterparts who are often sponsored by firms (approx. 70%).

Training providers expand

One of the first training providers to flourish, having an early understanding of the changes in law, was the Financial Training Company (FTC). It opened offices across the country, starting with Manchester and Leeds, and acquired the teaching business, ATF, and the advertising agency TB Brown.

Within 3 years of this expansion, FTC became a public company and floated on the London Stock Exchange as Park Place Investments plc, in 1973. It remained there until its acquisition by publishing giant Wolters Kluwer in 1986.

During this period, Accountancy Tuition Centres (ATC) was developed separately by a couple of gentlemen who worked for the established publisher of the day: H. Foulkes Lynch (HFL). These two figures were John Higgison and John Whiteside. John Whiteside, while at HFL, had authored influential books including General Financial Knowledge, whereas John Higgison was a fastidious and ‘old school’ tutor.

Between the two of them, they set up ATC, and were joined by the entrepreneurial Barry Topple. The latter’s ambition drove ATC forward, as he used the lease on Eynsham Hall in Oxfordshire as a space for residential tuition, and the conversion of a freehold school in Myatt’s Fields in London as a training centre.

In 1983, ATC and Caer Rhun Hall formed an alliance as a separate entity, with tuition being run under the ATC banner, and in 1985 ATC was incorporated as a private limited company.

In the early 1970s another training provider that emerged around this time was Chart Tutors. The company was formed by Ronald Ind, Stuart Anderson and John Cooper across London, the Midlands and Bristol. In 1978 they merged with the Foulkes Lynch publishing business to form Chart Foulkes Lynch - acquired by the aforementioned ATC in 1989.

The early 70s, through to the late 80s, was also a period where accountancy qualifications themselves were evolving. The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), both gained Royal Charters (in 1974 and 1986) and continued to develop.

ACCA and CIMA growth

Although ACCA and CIMA had become well established for qualifications in the accountancy profession and industry, this period in history saw them expand their reach. The 1980s saw ACCA find new opportunities in Central Europe, Eastern Europe and China. It also saw their membership numbers rise from 25,000 (in 1982), to 50,000 (in 1996). This rise continues right through to recent times; in 2016 they had recorded a figure of 188,000 members.

Similarly, CIMA’s membership also rapidly grew over the decades, with membership rising from 15,000 in 1970 to 91,744 in 2014. It also played a huge role in founding other professional bodies throughout the world.

Consolidating knowledge

Throughout the latter part of the 20th century, training providers continued this pattern of growth, development and merger. However, as we approached the beginning of the 21st century, it was an American company that caused a new major development in UK based accountancy training.

By 2003, New York-based training company Kaplan Inc, owned by the Washington Post Company, was a well established training provider. Having started life in 1938 as a test prep company, Kaplan had grown dramatically in the years 1998-2003. Around this period, it entered a variety of new education markets, becoming one of the most diverse educational businesses.

It was at this point that Kaplan made its first non US company acquisition, purchasing FTC. This marked one of the largest company acquisitions in Kaplan’s 65 year history. During the buy-out, FTC was headquartered in London and had become a leader in test preparation services for accountants and financial services professionals, with many centres in the UK and a growing presence in Asia.

It was a good fit. FTC and Kaplan had already established a co-branding relationship, so between the two companies there was significant compatibility in their financial services businesses. They also had similar clients, providing global scale.

At the time of acquisition, the then Chairman and CEO, Jonathan Grayer, said: “This acquisition will broaden our menu of offerings, as well as the geographic distribution of our financial service products.”

FTC’s CEO, William Macpherson, also commented: “We have been growing well over the past several years, and this move will help catalyse further growth. In addition, this will enable FTC to tap into Kaplan’s extensive resources and expertise”.

Later that year (2003), Kaplan further consolidated the training market in the UK by acquiring several other tuition companies, all with a rich history: AT Foulks Lynch (ATFL), the Accountancy Tuition Centres (ATC) and AT Emile Wolf (ATEW).

It is through these years of heritage and learning that has enabled Kaplan to develop its wide range of innovative products and services that we see today, and what will drive it forward into the future.

The next blog in the ‘Kaplan Heritage Series’ will chart the story of accountancy training profession from the turn of the century and beyond.

Thank you for their valuable contributions: Peter Houillon, Julie Hughes, Peter Anderson and Tony Unett.

And thank you to John Bennett who collated stories from John Gibbs, Jeremy Hanley, Bob Phelps, Mike Plant and Phil Todd.