Any newly elected president should expect to begin his or her term inach of them what they intend to do with their year of power. office by delivering a statement of intent – a set of proposals, preferably bullish in tone, against which their actions can be measured at the year-end.
The accountancy institutes’ new presidents are not ones to duck such a task, and have collected their thoughts on putting their respective houses in order.
ACCA, CIPFA and the Irish ICA have all expressed concern for the progress of women accountants within the profession. The Irish and English institutes and ACCA are also involved in shaping up disciplinary procedures and streamlining their – in some cases – unwieldy array of committees and departments.
Of overriding concern, however, is the issue of whether the accountancy profession can and should sustain its current position of six competing institutes.
CIMA’s popularity seems to be on the up. CIPFA, on the other hand, remains dogged by falling student registrations. CIPFA has revealed it would be prepared to consider a merger (25 June, page 2). And however keen the profession has been in the past to maintain its diversity, consolidation looks a likely option.
SCOTS ICA – DAVID SPENCE
By Lawrie Holmes
In a critical year for Scotland’s future, David Spence has taken over the top job at the Scots ICA. It’s a tough call given his already considerable workload as London senior partner of Grant Thornton.
Already Spence has positioned his institute firmly behind the push for devolution. Perceived by some as an outspoken supporter of the devolutionary movement, he is unapologetic. ‘I was accused of being brave,’ he says.
‘But we really can show how it can be done efficiently.’
Spence joined the institute’s council in 1991, two years after the breakdown of merger talks with the English ICA. Since then, he has taken a forthright stand shaping the future of the institute. This has led to a series of changes and new structures designed to reflect the diverse range of members.
These changes have provoked a call for more openness. Spence says he is ‘happy about total transparency’ but advocates a pragmatic approach in public, particularly in regard to the council’s business.
The extent of the disciplinary committee’s activities is a question Spence has been grappling with. He is concerned that the committee may deal too harshly with members in order to set an example.
Commitment to improving regulatory standards can be seen in Spence’s work as chairman of the Chartered Accountants Joint Ethics Committee.
He also joined the task force that created the ethical standards board.
With no merger prospects for the Scots ICA, his work with other institutes has centred around reaching new levels of understanding. ‘I’m a great believer in working closely with other institutes and the emergence of CAJEC was very good for that.’
With such a hefty workload, Spence has delegated much of his work at Grant Thornton to his deputy there, Ian Smart. He says partners at the firm have been highly supportive of his work at the institute. ‘They have said “you worry about the boiler, and we’ll keep the ship moving”. This has meant I have been more of a consultant than a head manager.’
CIPFA – MARGARET PRATT
By Kathy Greene
Margaret Pratt has been the director of finance and information for Worcestershire Health Authority for the past two years, and was elected as CIPFA president at its agm earlier this month. She was the only nominee and has been an elected CIPFA council member for over ten years.
Pratt expects her presidency to be shaped by the changes and upheavals taking place in public-sector finance and hopes that during her term she will ‘make a difference’. CIPFA faces a large number of challenges in the immediate future, from changes in public services to evolving working patterns and the implementation of best value. ‘We provide a lot of services for members and the public service as a whole. The issue will be about developing that business, helping our members and developing the profession,’ she says.
CIPFA members are being stretched not just in terms of financial analysis and accounting skills; they are having to draw on wider managerial abilities.
‘Increasingly, there is an erosion between the public and private sectors, and more and more partnerships such as the private finance initiative.
‘These things are all changing the shape of the public-sector businesses. Accountants have to add value and develop competencies that go beyond their professional training. They have got to be seen to add value by using, understanding and analysing information. They have to be excellent communicators. To do that you have to be up to date in terms of the skills learned and also have a commitment to continued learning,’ she says.
Assisting women accountants is another area where Pratt believes she can help. She defends CIPFA’s decision to end its sponsorship of Women in Accountancy. ‘We recognised that a body such as WiA, which tries to help women to break through the glass ceiling, is time-limited. Women are starting to break through, so we can afford to look at other ways of achieving those needs rather than through a specialist body like WiA.’
It’s all part of CIPFA’s efforts to develop its members. ‘We have to tailor our programme so members partake in continual learning schemes to understand new issues, respond to any relevant changes and develop themselves. Accountants look back on historical data, because that’s what numbers are, but they have to learn to focus on the future.’
ENGLISH ICA – CHRIS SWINSON
By Jon Bunn
Happy Faces are Chris Swinson’s favourite biscuits. He munched his way through one and spoke of their joys as we met at his BDO Stoy Hayward office in London’s Baker Street.
His choice of teatime snack is extremely appropriate as there is nothing he would like more than to leave a smile on the faces of English ICA members after his presidential year, which began on 2 June.
Swinson, senior partner at Stoys and a man with an impressive reputation as an expert witness, believes he will only be able to measure the success of his year in office after five years.
‘I don’t particularly see this as an ego trip,’ he says of his presidential term. ‘If people look back and see a Swinson mark on the place I’ll be disappointed. I’ll be much happier if they look back at the end of the 1990s and say that was when the institute got its act together again.’
Swinson adds: ‘The satisfaction comes in five years’ time and that’s when I’ll form my own view of whether I have actually made a difference.’
It’s certainly going to be a busy year for the new president who admits, like other institute leaders, that his earning power will be slashed because of official duties.
The institute is currently deep into its root-and-branch education and training review, while the thorny subject of the best way to discipline members is also subject to a close examination by Michael Beloff QC. Add to these concerns the fallout from the Gerrard review, which concerned itself with the institute’s future structure, and Swinson has plenty to get his teeth into.
Swinson told fellow council members at his inauguration that he is committed to re-examining every part of the organisation and its activities to ensure the long-term interest of members.
A strategic plan will then follow on from the institute’s comprehensive medical. Fortunately, Swinson will not be alone in trying to push through this plan. He forms part of an institute development team, a powerful triumvirate which also contains next year’s president, Dame Sheila Masters from KPMG, and Graham Ward from PricewaterhouseCoopers, who will take over the presidential reins in 2000.
The three are on a mission to reform the institute and strip out all its dead wood.
Swinson wants to cut down the number of committee meetings and shift a degree of the decision making to the institute’s executive.
‘A lot of research has been done to assess the effectiveness of the organisation in meeting members’ needs and expectations. Currently, the effectiveness of this role is not ideal and so we will have to look at the framework,’ he says.
Revealing a ruthless streak, he adds: ‘The test is whether they are doing a useful job for members. If they are, they stay. If not, they are out.’ A series of focus groups should help him and his team discover if their reforms are working.
Swinson also talks passionately about the institute’s ongoing educational review, denying the frequently levelled charge that the institute’s qualification is ‘monochrome’. But he recognises how important it is to get the reform right.
‘You have to be realistic about what the market wants from chartered accountants. If we don’t match people for what the market wants, why would anyone train with us?’
Somehow, with so much on his plate, apart from his Happy Faces, you feel Swinson’s year in office will fly by for him.
IRISH ICA – PIERCE KENT
By Liz Loxton
Pierce Kent, the Irish ICA’s new president, lists supporting his wife in her career as an actress among his interests and hobbies. He’s also proposing to lend this supportive stance to Ireland’s accountants during his year in office – in an effort to improve their standing with the public.
Kent feels that accountants’ public profile is a huge concern. People, he says, have little idea of what chartered accountants do and are in any case suspicious of professionals. He believes the Irish institute can earn credibility by making its disciplinary process more open and public. ‘We have put a lot of work into quality assurance,’ he says, ‘but the message doesn’t seem to be getting through.’ In future, where members breach rules of professional conduct, the institute can be expected to let the public and the business community know about it. ‘We have been apologetic and quiet about the disciplinary process in the past,’ he says.
As well as tackling the public image of accountancy, Kent plans to get leading thinkers together to address how technology and changing working practices will affect the profession. He also intends to set up a working party to consider issues and problems encountered by women accountants.
The female student intake is 50% today, but women make up only 20% of the profession. ‘I want to set up a group to consider whether the profession is difficult to work in for women,’ he says. Kent is keen not to prejudge the issue, however. ‘It may be that such issues are no longer problematic, but I would want to hear that from women accountants.’
He may take these issues seriously, but that does not mean Kent is seeking to remodel the institute in his image. He believes an important quality of any president is continuity. ‘I think the presidency is important.
It’s not a matter of coming in and building an edifice. What you do is put another brick in the wall and then hand over to the next person. I do have my priorities of course, but I see the role as one of prompting debate.’
CIMA – PETER LAYHE
By Phillip Inman
If the accountancy profession is parent to six unruly children in the shape of the six institutes, then until recently CIMA has been the shy and awkward younger sibling who stands in the corner at parties.
But Peter Layhe, president of the management accountants’ institute, believes it is far from being the ugly duckling. In the last few years, it has grown to be the darling of the most important recruitment group – the business world.
Layhe points to figures produced by recruiter Robert Half that show CIMA is ahead of the other institutes in employer popularity stakes.
Over 50% of employers want CIMA-qualified accountants.
Layhe believes it is his job to make sure CIMA’s growth rate continues.
‘We want to keep up the success of the year we’ve just had. We are financially robust. In the first quarter of this year, compared to the first quarter of last year, new registrations were up 26%. And that tells us our qualification is attractive to students.’
During his presidency Layhe wants to continue attracting women to the institute. At the moment, women account for 17.5% of CIMA members. Under the previous government’s Opportunity 2000 initiative, CIMA committed itself to reaching 20% by 2000. Layhe expects to meet this with room to spare – 50% of students this year are women.
Layhe also wants to use his presidency to end a period of ‘navel gazing’ that has centred on the institute’s committee structure. The current set of 20 committees are due to be overseen by a smaller set of six, he says, ‘so that below the council there is better co-ordination of the institute’s business’.
Layhe used all his skills to persuade the CIMA council that plans to opt out of a profession-wide regulator were not a good idea. It was a measure of his effectiveness as a back-room operator that his friendship with Chris Swinson did not stop him from extracting a raft of concessions before persuading the council to back the plan.
During the process, the council was attacked for its refusal to ‘play the game’. Layhe chuckles at this and suggests that if any institute is punch drunk from being battered by members, it is the English ICA.
This willingness to be cast as the awkward squad takes CIMA back to its roots. With the undisputed popularity of its qualification, Layhe can afford to look confident.
ACCA – MICHAEL FOULDS
If you need a job done, choose a busy man. The saying certainly stands up in the case of Michael Foulds, who has taken over the helm at ACCA.
He brings to the top job a wealth of experience from his time on the Accounting Standards Board and Auditing Practices Board. ‘Having years of experience of council chairing is an effective opportunity to stimulate debate,’ says Foulds.
A member of ACCA since 1972, Foulds joined the council in 1986 and has witnessed the association grow to its present size of 60,000 members and 130,000 students. The large overseas presence has created unique opportunities for ACCA. ‘We can draw on membership experience of international issues,’ says Foulds. The United Nations has based its global accountancy curriculum on the ACCA model and ACCA has included an international option in its exams.
Foulds has also expressed a desire to push the institute’s educational programme in a more international direction. ‘Our syllabus will be assessed on a continual basis to ensure the programme is modern and enables students to get the job they want,’ he says. He believes this development could eventually lead to linking the syllabus with other institutes. ‘It is quite conceivable, I can envisage it happening.’
He feels ACCA is highly accountable, citing the rules regarding re-election of all council members. ‘I was re-elected this year. I regard that as pretty democratic,’ he insists. ‘We tell people what is going on and the ultimate judge is the ballot box.’ Among the membership a groundswell of opinion has backed calls for open council meetings. Foulds takes a pragmatic view. ‘I think transparency is a seductive, nice idea but the real question is when would it be possible? It would be no good to deal with sensitive council and financial matters,’ he adds.
On disciplinary issues, he supports a degree of openness. Disciplinary committee meetings are held in public. He has been a member of the review board which started three or four years ago. ‘We have been examining the future of discipline in conjunction with the ICA, Scots and Irish.’
He has drawn up guidelines on fraud and is chairman of the APB’s small company audit issues working party. He is a vociferous critic of the decision to drop auditing of companies under #350,000 turnover, and says ACCA will propose a number of initiatives over the coming year to prevent the threshold rising any further.
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