There is no room however for complacency. The public perception is that all professions are against free and fair competition. And as long as anti-competitive practices are allowed to continue, accountants will be lumped together with others.
In any case, the accountancy profession is not yet without sin. The director general of the OFT says both the Law Society and the English ICA prohibit their members from trying to win new business by telephoning new clients or by comparing fees in advertising.
As for the first restriction, most firms indulge in some sort of discreet telephone selling already.
Nonetheless the OFT argues that removing these restrictions could lead to better information for customers and sharper competition.
The ICAEW says it is reviewing its existing guidance on advertising restrictions to bring regulation of the profession in line with accepted modern business practice. That review should be concluded quickly and the restrictions done away with rather than waiting for the threat of action from regulators.
What special reason have we for keeping those restrictions? There is no need for monitoring firms above and beyond that performed by the Advertising Standards Authority. Any temptation to indulge in a cold calling telephone selling operation, aka, a double glazing outfit, would be commercially counter-productive.
Accountants both in practice and industry know competition is essential to an efficient economy. In any field competition creates pressure to innovate, keep costs down and improve the quality and choice of the services available.
Every profession should be committed to maintain the highest possible professional standards so that the public are served and protected.
But maintaining high standards should not be used as a shield to protect the professions from commercial realities. Competition does not conflict with technical excellence nor with ethical integrity.
Accountants should have no hesitation in urging every profession to embrace competition.
- Peter Williams is a freelance writer and director of Kato Publishing
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