Should the dictionary definition of the word ‘accountant’ be changed?

Should the dictionary definition of the word 'accountant' be changed?

A new campaign wants to change the Oxford English Dictionary definition of accountant for wording which better reflects the changing face of the profession

Should the dictionary definition of the word ‘accountant’ be changed?

The current Oxford English Dictionary definition of “accountant” doesn’t seem that controversial.

“A person whose job is to keep or inspect financial accounts” is a description many will recognise.

However, software firm Xero wants this changed, to better reflect the changing role of the accountant from merely a bean-counter to a professional who serves more as a trusted advisor.

The new wording they have suggested is “a person whose job is to keep or inspect and advise on financial accounts.”

The company believes this would shake off “outdated perceptions” of the accounting industry, and reflect how the profession has changed over the past two decades.

Xero has even launched an online petition to press for change.

While some may be tempted to dismiss the move as a publicity stunt, Xero has won the support of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.

ACCA is keen to stress that clients now look to accountants for far more than compliance.

“Technology is offering accountants greater opportunity to offer provide valuable business insight and advice to their clients. Xero’s proposed revision to the dictionary definition of the term accountant to add a small but vital verb – ‘advise’ – is a positive development we fully support as it reflects the changing role of a professionally qualified accountant as a trusted advisor to business,” says Claire Bennison, Head of ACCA UK.

A Xero survey showed that 30 per cent of small business owners view accountants as their most trusted advisors, and one in four (27 per cent) admit to asking their accountant for broader business advice.

Xero’s managing director and co-founder Gary Turner has penned an open letter to the Oxford English Dictionary asking for the new definition to be used.

“Today, an accountant doesn’t just crunch the numbers and observe financial operations, but so much more. They advise business owners and aid and fuel business objectives such as business growth, improving efficiency, cost and productivity,” he said.

Xero is aiming for 20,000 signatures on the petition.

One supporter is Cheryl Price of CH Accountancy. She says : “We are in complete support of this definition change. In the past year the role of accountants and financial directors has massively changed, and technology has played a huge part in this.

“In the next five years, accountants will continue to undergo a dramatic shift, moving from paper, spreadsheets and outdated desktop software to digital technology that is continuously built on and updated that evolves with new legislation. This enables accountants to scale up operations and allow firms to offer higher quality and advisory services to clients – a new role that will only become more prevalent in accountancy in the future.”

Professional qualifications

Not everyone agrees. Tim Fouracre, founder and CEO of Counting Up and founder of Clear Books, points out that what makes an accountant a professional is his or her qualifications.

“I am an accountant and to become a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants England and Wales I had to train for three years and pass numerous exams to qualify, i.e. not anyone who has a job of keeping or inspecting and advising on financial accounts is an accountant.

“In fact, it’s risky for small businesses when someone who is not qualified purports to be an accountant. Can you imagine taking legal advice from a solicitor who is not qualified?”

He points out that the Oxford English Dictionary definition of solicitor makes a specific reference to this.

It is: “A member of the legal profession qualified to deal with conveyancing, the drawing up of wills, and other legal matters. A solicitor may also instruct barristers and represent clients in some courts.”

Tim suggests amending the definition to: “A member of the accounting profession qualified to keep or inspect or advise on financial accounts.”

What do you think? Is it time to view the role of the accountant differently, or is the definition fine as it is? Comment below.

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