Member and student research 2018

Dec 03, 2018

The Institute’s latest member and student research shines a light on the critical issues that will shape the organisation’s strategy into the future.

Every two years, Chartered Accountants Ireland surveys its members and students to benchmark levels of satisfaction, relevance and attitudes regarding our various products and services. This year, three separate research studies were undertaken, comprising surveys and focus groups, to get a more refined understanding of the most important issues affecting members and students, and to inform our future strategies.

Member survey

Our biennial member research was conducted by independent research agency, Coyne Research, in late April. All members who had provided an email address to the Institute were invited to participate. 1,700 members completed the survey and overall the results were positive.

Satisfaction

Member satisfaction ratings increased by five points since 2012. Encouragingly, business members registered the most significant increase, up three points to 66% since 2016. However, satisfaction ratings from members in practice have slipped back to 65%, down five points. Perceived relevance to business needs has increased significantly, up four points across the membership. In addition, strong agreement with statements such as value for money (39%, +5%), market leader (64%, +1%) and lifelong learning (58%, +5%) all saw an increase.

Net promoter score

Since 2012, Chartered Accountants Ireland has adopted the net promoter score (NPS), which measures members’ likelihood to recommend the qualification. The Institute’s NPS remains very strong at +41 (+42 in 2016). However, as always, the devil is in the detail and within an overall strong NPS result, there has been a drop in the NPS from members qualified in the last six to 10 years.
Member ‘deep dive’ 

The biennial survey provided a representative view of members who respond, but what of the views of less engaged members who tend not to complete surveys? And how could we delve deeper into the lower NPS rating from members? More nuanced insight was required, so we connected with less engaged members to understand their attitudes, needs and insights in more depth.

Further research was commissioned and focus groups composed of members aged 50 and under, and representative of varying degrees of NPS scores, were convened in September. Five groups met across the island, one in London and an online discussion forum was established for the first time to engage with a sample of overseas members.

Results

Taken as a whole, members were extremely proud of their professional qualification and had positive perceptions of the Institute. Its status as a distinguished and prestigious qualification is unquestioned.

Members frequently talked about the effort and sacrifice made to achieve the qualification, such that having the Chartered qualification is undoubtedly a badge of honour. That said, members across all categories and locations gave an honest and balanced appraisal of the value of membership, how they interact with Institute services and the future of the profession.

Championing students

When members talked about their likelihood to recommend the profession in the future, they reflected on the challenging path to qualification and some questioned whether the programme as currently constituted would attract the most talented candidates in the future.

Some participants called on the Institute to offer more support to students during their studies. Members also cited the critical need for the Institute to adapt to future professional needs, while still ensuring a strong grounding in the basics of accountancy. Many felt that the Institute should place a greater focus on the impact of technology in career development, and that future technology be placed at the centre of our student education programme. 

Power of network

Participants were in no doubt as to the power of the professional network to which their qualification allows them access. Many felt that more could be made of this on a local and global level.

There was an appetite for more targeted member network events, activities and CPD courses that reflect the variety of roles and sectors in which members are employed, particularly from members in business. Finally, there were consistent messages about improving the content, relevance and frequency of member communications with a preference expressed for clearer signposting of the ability to opt in to communications.

Student research

Separately, student research was undertaken, with surveys in the field in May. The 2018 survey was conducted among a sample of 655 Chartered students. Like the focus groups and member survey, the student survey was also conducted by Coyne Research.

Net promoter score

The research found that there has been a significant increase in the student NPS, up 14 points since 2016. While the increase was across the board, it was particularly notable among CAP1, Northern Irish and recently qualified FAE students. Furthermore, two out of three students stated that they had actually recommended the qualification in the last 12 months. However, the 2018 research also indicated that the Institute must continue to work to emphasise the unique benefits and attributes of the Chartered qualification with our student cohort.

Choosing Chartered

Respondents said that the decision to choose the Chartered qualification was driven by the long-term career and salary prospects, with high pass rates and the quality of in-house education delivery also seen as important factors in the decision-making process.

It is also encouraging to see a growing awareness and consideration of the Flexible Route among current students, with two in three claiming to be aware of the Flexible Route and one in five current students having considered it. Of those pursuing the Flexible Route, one in three students now agree that they would recommend the Flexible Route to those looking for a flexible route to accountancy, an increase of +16%.

Conclusion

Institute Chief Executive Barry Dempsey welcomed the depth of insight generated from this year’s research projects. “It’s clear that while the overall research findings are very positive, there are specific challenges from both members and students that the Institute will need to address. The Institute has already presented an initial response and action plan to Council and I look forward to reporting on progress on a range of initiatives in the months to come.”

Bernie Coyne, Managing Director of Coyne Research, commented: “Coyne Research was pleased to have worked with Chartered Accountants Ireland over the past year to provide this schedule of research projects and to have delivered a comprehensive understanding of members’ and students’ principal concerns.

“The research has highlighted the positive impact of initiatives to improve relevancy and satisfaction over the past number of years, with consistently high NPS figures reported. These findings compare very positively with other Irish businesses and brands, and highlight areas of focus for future-proofing the qualification and membership services.”

The 2019 research has been discussed by the Institute’s management team and presented to the Members Board and Council with critical actions identified and included in the development of the 2019 business plan. 

Brendan O’Hora is Director of Communications and Marketing at Chartered Accountants Ireland.