Sarah Beale, CEO, AAT

In November 2021 Sarah Beale took over as the Chief Executive of the Association of Accounting Technicians – better known as AAT. Back at the start of her career, she chose to earn whilst becoming AAT qualified rather than going to university and studying for a traditional degree. Since then, she has held several finance-based roles and more general management roles before some 10 years ago securing executive experience as a Chief Financial Officer, Corporate Performance Director, and then CEO. Having now come full circle to lead AAT, Sarah knows exactly how important it is that the organisation not only retains but builds on previous achievements. AAT’s primary roles are as an awarding and membership body for accounting professionals. Sarah recently oversaw the launch of AAT’s new strategic plan looking forward to 2030 – setting out the organisation’s priorities for the coming years, to ensure the profession retains relevance, drives up professional standards, and builds a responsible business. She is also spearheading a period of increased globalisation for Accounting Technicians, as the community embraces digitalisation to help increase reach, access, and foster collaboration.


Changes in the way we work and learn over the last few years are evident. The effects of the pandemic accelerated a digital age where working or studying from home has become just as much the norm as doing things in person. Despite the benefits of this, in some circles, there remains a stigma attached to the virtual world. This is mainly based on the rhetoric that it is not as engaging as face-to-face interaction or that it cannot replicate the ‘traditional’ way of doing things.

Of course, there’s a certain truth to that. Learning or working remotely will never be the same as in person. But not being the same doesn’t mean it’s worse. Both methods have their place and add value depending on circumstances. But for some, simply having the option to take part in activities digitally, opens a whole new world of opportunity, not available to them in person.

This is the convenience, the efficiency, and the inclusivity that digital learning provides to us.

I recently oversaw the launch of our new strategic plan at AAT, and the principles underpinning our work can be applied to almost any industry. The three key themes are keeping our profession relevant, driving up standards, and building responsible businesses for the future. Running through all these ideas are the concepts of globalisation through partnership and digitalisation.

Whether you work in entertainment, sport, finance, or any other field – keeping a profession relevant requires the ability to adapt. Reacting to the changes we’ve seen in recent years and anticipating what’s next means we all need to enhance our digital capabilities – ensuring borders do not inhibit the work we do or the way we collaborate. I’m very keen to help eradicate the potential stigma around digital study or work, by showing businesses opportunities to increase their talent pool, embrace alternative ways of working, and sustain their business in the long run by embracing online solutions.

By providing access to learning through remote study and even remote invigilation, we can ensure that our businesses and communities are growing not only in their place of origin, but potentially internationally, without the limitations of only being accessible to, or having access to the resources of one location.

Enhancing this global availability means we drive up standards by ensuring the most talented people can access learning, information, and the opportunity they need to have their voices heard and talents seen. This also helps to create globally recognised standards and remove grey areas based on one nation’s traditional expectations compared to another. There is no reason that quality must be sacrificed in online learning either – it is perfectly possible to invest in valuable online qualification options with the same robust quality assurance we enjoy through our more traditional learning experiences. It’s true that there are often teething challenges in setting up online provisions – we have experienced challenges around this ourselves at AAT – but ironing out those issues is key to coming back stronger, learning how to improve, and developing the best systems for the future.

Of course, a further consideration in this respect is that learning and honing our skills is never a one-and-done concept. By centralising learning and development online, professionals will always be able to easily keep up with CPD and have the resources and help they need at their fingertips. We know that up-to-date skills and understanding are a big demand for employers, and these are the tangible ways to meet that demand.

Finally, one of the biggest talking points for organisations in the modern day is building responsible businesses. A big part of this goal must be sustainability in its widest sense – it goes without saying that this is aided by digital borderless learning, often eradicating the need for travel, and saving on the finances involved in that too. Social mobility is also key to responsible business, and again with increased accessibility offered by digitalisation, we open more doors worldwide.

All these factors will help sustain businesses long-term and us as a community to grow, thrive, and support one another as we do. Globalisation and digital innovation in business and services are key to allowing us all to reach our full potential.

This is true for today and will be even more true for tomorrow. Young people in education right now will not even see digitalisation as change – they have grown up with it – and the future workforce will expect as they continue their learning and make their first steps into the working world that we keep up with their expectations, adapt to their needs and provide them with an environment where they can continue to develop the skills that employers need.

Whilst there is currently an understandable correlation between successful study and in-person support, my plea to learning providers, employers, and indeed individuals is to embrace the new world. There will be challenges along the way and no one route is right – as there are in a constantly changing world, but those who adapt best give themselves the best chance of not only surviving but thriving. Globalisation and digitalisation go hand-in-hand to ensure that we can all grow closer than ever to our goals and each other, for AAT, widening and strengthening our community, regardless of how far apart we remain physically.

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