On 6 March, Accountancy Age attended Accountex Summit North, a one-day conference in Manchester focusing on the key topics and themes affecting UK accountants. Here are five highlights from the event.
1. Questions linger for the audit sector
In delivering the conference keynote speech, writer and broadcaster Declan Curry said that following the Carillion scandal, accountants, auditors and the accountancy industry once again needed to address questions about their role in the collapse. Four questions needed to be answered, Curry said, namely:
- Are auditors too close to the clients they monitor, reducing the rigour and robustness of their work?
- Is there a wide enough pool of auditors?
- Does the industry need a stronger mechanism to encourage whistleblowers?
- How do you quantify the value of intangible assets in an increasingly digital economy?
With the Financial Reporting Council and parliamentary committees investigating the Carillion collapse, the accountancy industry should now take the opportunity to address these issues ahead of further business scandals.
2. The accountancy industry should be optimistic about opportunities ahead
Curry said that while Brexit has played a key part in creating a volatile environment, businesses are learning to adapt by embracing new technology and smarter ways of working. The key danger for businesses was failing to make any changes – “standing still in the path of constant change”. He called on businesses to seize the opportunities that come with technological change, encouraging accountants to innovate and improve as the role evolves towards business adviser, becoming a “trusted guide in an ever-changing world”.
3. It’s time to take action on low productivity and wages
According to the OECD, during 2007-2015, the UK was the only economy that “got richer while workers got poorer”, said Curry. The UK now needed to fix the slow wage recovery and low productivity affecting the country. Housing, transport and communications were all areas that could contribute to boosting productivity, in addition to enhancing the science and tech sectors and improving access to finance.
It was now “time to see action after a generation of talk”, said Curry.
Curry shared his thoughts on how accountants and businesses could drive success in the year ahead, encouraging accountants to find and develop people with the right skills; listen to clients and customers; embrace technology; and become good corporate citizens.
4. The guinea pigs of Making Tax Digital
Addressing Making Tax Digital, Andrew Hubbard of Taxation magazine said that businesses falling under the regime were the guinea pigs of the initiative and that although the scheme would work, it would likely take years to do so.
Speculating that MTD was the first step to keeping digital records on a real-time basis, Hubbard highlighted the requirements of the initiative, timescales for implementation and the impact of the scheme on accountants and clients.
Reviewing MTD for VAT, which applies to the first VAT return period beginning on or after 1 April 2018, Hubbard reiterated that the initiative only applies to VAT registered businesses above the VAT threshold, although VAT registered businesses below the threshold can use the system voluntarily. Businesses will stay in the MTD scheme even if their turnover falls below the VAT threshold.
5. Women are seizing control over their own development
One of the key “Hot Topics” sessions focused on Women in Accountancy, a roundtable hosted by Elaine Clark, managing director of online accountancy practice CheapAccounting. The conversation kicked off with a discussion of women’s experiences in the field, with a near even split of practice and industry attendees.
Key topics included dress codes – referring to the incident where a PwC receptionist was sent home for not wearing high heels – the glass ceiling, flexible working and the lack of female leaders.
Many women lauded flexible working schemes and job shares as being crucial for a better work and family balance, particularly for mothers. Several individuals also discussed difficulties in returning to work after maternity leave, and highlighted the importance of schemes that smooth this transition.
Despite there being a near even split of gender at entry level, the roundtable raised that there is a palpable lack of female leaders and bosses in large firms and corporations. Attendees particularly discussed the detrimental effect this has on junior women who crave to see successful journeys and role models.
It was discussed how, anecdotally, it seemed that more women than men start their own practices. Several women around the table agreed that they had done precisely that, so that they could create the work environment they needed and felt was lacking in other firms.
The key message here was one of women seizing control over their own development and expanding that to lead and mentor other women.