ICAS future of accountancy lecture hauls in the crowds

LAST NIGHT saw an accountancy event to unite the great and the good, hosted by ICAS at Stationers’ Hall.

The annual Aileen Beattie Memorial Lecture was given by Philip Johnson, president of the Federation of European Accountants, and entitled ‘The accountancy profession: reinvent or face extinction’.

Fighting words indeed, and the speaker promised to ruffle a few feathers by the end of his one-hour speech.

He ran through the current hot list of ways to shake up the industry: joint audit; mandatory rotation; integrated reporting. One academic accused him of bringing old ideas to the table, but as a Big Four partner later commented, if even two-thirds of the proposals were implemented, the repercussions would be huge.

Johnson placed the burden of change at the feet of firms and institutes, warning legislation could be foisted upon them if solutions are not proactively offered. This, he claimed, would be well received by legislators lacking expertise in the field.

The alternative, faced with a fragmented industry and 27 member states to consider, would be intervention by authorities who are fed up with waiting for business-led change.

He accused audit of failing to keep up with the globalisation of business, saying firms are scrabbling to deliver in an increasingly supranational world.

Johnson pushed for more integrated reporting and assurance for the front half of financial reports, saying investors pay greater attention to investor reports and KPI indicators than the annual offerings of auditors.

But he ended on a positive note, saying reinvention – not extinction – was surely the future of the industry. Close questioning followed on the shape of assurance reports and the implications of a higher audit threshold, among other things.

Deloitte’s audit king Martyn Jones laid into Johnson with vigour, after proudly flagging up his recent appointment as vice-president of the ICAEW. He delivered a fiendishly long question in a faux-humble manner, suggesting “the point may have been covered while I was not concentrating”. Half answering the query himself, he gave the impression of being little impressed with the speaker’s words.

But the evening didn’t end on this uncomfortable note, as cocktails and conversation awaited attendees after the question and answer session. All in all, a successful event that keenly piqued the interest of stakeholders struggling to adapt in an industry with an uncertain future.

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