ACCOUNTANTS MUST prove their value to the public or risk the industry losing trust and credibility, according to a report conducted by ACCA.
The paper, entitled Closing the Gap, found that there is a disparity between the proportion of accountants who believe the public trust them and the actual level of public trust in accountants; 73% compared to just 55%, respectively.
About 250 accountants and 1,500 members of the public took part in the survey, which recommends that the profession should "engage in discussion with stakeholders and the public at large about what it means to be an accountant" in order to restore public trust in the industry.
Other measures put forward included:
• Talking about audit – what it is and what it is not – as it has recently come in for a lot of criticism
• Taking the initiative and explaining how accountants add value
• Addressing real concerns about ethical issues and conflicts of interest
• Developing the ‘soft skills' needed to do this engagement and build trust with people.
The results also show accountancy lags behind doctors, nurses, architects and engineers in the public perception stakes, but is held in higher regard than bankers, politicians and lawyers.
However, the financial crisis has had little impact on opinion, with only 13% of public respondents feeling their estimation of accountants had dropped over the last five years, despite 70% of practitioners agreeing the industry is partly to blame for the recession.
The report found that, while scandals such as Enron had created "a legacy of mistrust", that sentiment was likely to be linked to old-fashioned stereotypes.
Helen Brand (pictured), chief executive of ACCA, expressed concern over the results.
She said: "It is important that the general public recognises the integral role of the profession in economic growth and recovery.
"Part of this recognition will come from an understanding of what accountancy today truly means, and the industry as a whole must work together to help this transformation of opinion."
Richard Sexton, executive board member for reputation and policy at PwC, added: "As accountants, it is important that we come out of the shadows as a profession. Although there will be some challenging conversations, it is important that we get better at explaining what we do, how we do it, and how we generate value."
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