Douglas Broom – The real merger agenda?

Amid all the name-calling, the real motives of the three accountancy bodies wrangling over ACCA’s merger plan are being obscured. In fact, each has its own agenda and the outcome is unlikely to resemble any of the options that now appear to be on offer.

Take CIMA. Arguably the most successful of the accountancy institutes, its qualification is a runaway commercial success. Its energetic president, Peter Layhe, has raised its profile and it sees no reason to compromise with a major competitor.

But this is not the whole story. Underlying CIMA’s reaction is its view that regulation, as applied to audit, is not appropriate for its business members. It is a matter of principle. CIMA sees its members as proactive managers, risk-takers, entrepreneurs and rule-based regulation does not fit what they do.

If CIMA has been vituperative in its denunciation of the ACCA plan, CIPFA has not been far behind, calling it inept, divisive and even dangerous.

But David Adams, its shrewd chief executive, and Margaret Pratt, its streetwise president, know that CIPFA is trapped in a declining marketplace.

As the public sector contracts, CIPFA, like any business in the same position, knows it can only expand by merger. But the megaphone quality of the latest ACCA bid leaves Adams and his council with no option but to join in and shout back.

If a way could be found for private discussions and the terms were right, they would be mad not to take the offer. But it would have to be a merger of equals.

And what of ACCA? Does it really think its ten-week campaign will end in a happy marriage with CIMA and CIPFA? In truth, probably not. At the very least, the merger plan will have raised ACCA’s profile in a way nothing else could have done.

But if quiet diplomacy is still possible, it may yet be able to cut a deal with CIPFA.

It will mean ACCA abandoning some of its ambitions to dominate the merged body but allying ACCA’s public-service members with CIPFA’s would certainly be an achievement worth all the current turmoil.

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