By Ian Welch, head of policy, ACCA
The half-jokey jibe at the profession which UK Prime Minister David Cameron made recently, when he said he did not want his government being just 'seen as a bunch of accountants' has upset some of the professional bodies, two of which have gone into print to complain.
While I think the comment should be seen in the throwaway spirit it was intended, there is a more serious issue involving the government and accountants. Since the onset of the global financial crisis, qualified accountants have played increasingly central roles in businesses, providing greater input into strategy and working well outside of the traditional finance function.
But at ACCA's recent symposium of its global forum chairs, there was a general consensus that the profession was in some ways under siege – the ever-increasing regulatory burden aimed particularly at larger entities means finance directors may be too bogged down with compliance that they will be unable to devote enough time to enhancing business performance. Which is not what economies need right now.
Auditors too, are under relentless political and regulatory scrutiny across the world, following the crisis. And with audit being the best-known part of the profession, all accountants will suffer in reputational terms if auditors remain under sustained fire. And while ACCA agrees that audit needs to evolve and widen in scope, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Governments need to be more aware that finance professionals can play a crucial role in generating economic recovery. Consider a few of the typical things that accountants do: the preparation of financial statements, the provision of strategic guidance for business, or the provision of assurance services. At the SME level surveys consistently show that accountants are the top advisers to these businesses.
And accountants are also involved in redefining what business success means. Given the effects of the financial crisis – recessions, job losses, austerity measures, and continuing crises of confidence – the accountancy profession is increasingly looking at how we measure true value. Do we just look at balance sheets and profit statements, focusing just on the financials, or do we look at the wider value that business brings to the public and society? Our work on sustainability and more recently integrated reporting, is aimed to ensure that business performance is judged in the round. And by putting their ethics training into action and following through on the values of the profession they represent, qualified accountants have the opportunity to spread the public value message throughout the business world.
The accountancy profession is strong enough to withstand a few jibes and jokes. Ever since the famous Monty Python sketch in the early 1970s, it has taken a good few blows. But governments need to realise that recession is not the best time to alienate the very people who will help business recovery by blaming them for the economic situation and piling on regulatory burdens. Let accountants and governments work together to solve our problems not battle against each other.