Peter Williams – Trust me, the Web’s the future.

The beginning of this month saw a rare sight – the three presidents of the chartered institutes in England, Scotland and Ireland sharing a platform. The reason was to announce a deal done jointly with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants over an e-commerce assurance service, WebTrust.

The principle behind WebTrust is that, through seeing the WebTrust seal on a commercial website, consumers will feel confident to do business with organisations they don’t know.

Auditors have been giving assurance on financial statements for years; why shouldn’t they move into other areas? The traditional audit may have value, but the warning signs have been around for years. The market is saturated, litigation is increasing and charging premium prices is difficult.

In contrast to statutory audit, assurance services like WebTrust open up new commercial avenues. US accountants have been at the leading edge of developing ‘independent professional services that improve the quality of information, or its context, for decision makers’. The US is not only developing products in e-commerce but in healthcare, care of the elderly, business performance and system reliability.

WebTrust is not just about giving consumer confidence and third-party verification to goods from an unknown source. It is also an indication of the way the business of auditors will develop in the future.

Auditors are beginning to realise that the range of skills and methodologies they apply to an audit of reports and accounts can be easily transferred to other types of attest function relating to businesses across virtually any sector.

Within institutes and firms of all sizes, and in different countries, assurance services are increasingly seen as future income streams. WebTrust may seem like a small beginning but it could be a significant one, which was why the three presidents were there to witness its launch.

Peter Williams is a chartered accountant and editor of Electronic Finance.

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