It may not quite be the same seven-year itch, but the changes taking place in the accountancy profession ultimately follow the same principles as the legendary urge associated with Marilyn Monroe.
The seven-year-itch, more commonly linked to romance, can also be a hurdle in work relationships too. Who hasn’t become tired and restless in their job and sought new outlets for their interests?
A profession’s metamorphosis often runs along similar lines. And just like relationships, outside pressures greatly affect what is happening.
It is nothing new for the accountancy profession to undergo significant changes. It is fundamentally cyclical.
Change is nothing new, and this is not the first time accountants have faced shifting trends, steep challenges and more competition.
Grenville Johnston, president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland, nostalgically recalls the day some 30 years ago when he persuaded his father, an old-school Highland chartered accountant, to allow a calculator in the office of the family firm.
‘The accountancy profession must move as fast as it can to keep up with the speed of change,’ enthuses Johnston. He might have fond memories, but he emphatically embraces the transformation taking place in the profession.
Onlookers may prefer to view the changes as forced, rather than a clear decision from within. But, the accountancy world has long been wise to technological and workplace evolution.
Firms are, of course, drawing ever bigger incomes from non-traditional lines of business. KPMG International, the world’s second largest accountancy firm, reported global revenues of $13.5bn (£9.01bn), an increase of 11% on the financial year. The increased revenue at KPMG was the result of a 22% rise in its financial services fee income, coupled with a 10% rise in its assurance business. Its consulting arm, which may soon go public in a partial flotation, grew by just one-third of the 32% rate recorded in 1999.
For the year ending 30 June 2000 Ernst & Young’s UK operations reported a total fee income of £772m, including £146.6m from its management consulting arm which it sold to the French firm Cap Gemini in May last year. The business of business is changing.
To capture these changes, Accountancy Age took five accountants and persuaded them to model for our new look advertisements. Real people in real jobs – not just the beancounter – long dead, but still alive and well in the UK’s popular imagination. They gave us their thoughts on accountants and their professional image.
Angus Farr, national training and HR manager at HLB Kidsons, usually starts his audit courses for new graduates at Kidsons explaining the origins of audit, partly to spice up a rather technical topic and partly to give him a chance to tap his knowledge. He joined Kidsons in 1994 as a graduate of medieval history from the St Andrews university.
Over the last 12 months he has more or less given up his client work and wholly dedicated himself to internal training. ‘As a trainee I went through the courses myself and thought they looked good and wanted to be a part of it,’ Farr told Accountancy Age at the photo shoot.
‘I was closer to the ground as a new graduate myself and the firm was happy for me to get involved,’ he explains.
He’s noticed more women trainees entering accountancy. ‘The ratio is a 55% to 45% split in favour of women coming into the profession according to last September’s influx. At the firm’s national induction course back in September (representing a mix of accountancy disciplines) 34 of the 61 attendees were females, the first time that girls outnumbered boys,’ he says.
Farr, 28, attributes this rise in women’s interest in the profession to the widening skills base needed to succeed in accountancy.
‘The challenge for the profession is to acquire broader business skills.
They need to fulfil business requirements instead of form filling. The focus of our courses has shifted from technological development to developing personnel and business skills,’ he said.
In essence, the changing image of accountants and their services is a product of both internal and external pressures. Nevertheless, whether new technology and business practices bed down well in a profession is wholly dependent upon the individuals and firms adapting to it.
CIMA-qualified Holly Elliott, director of operations at MediCentre, a private walk-in GP service, is a prime example of the new face of accountancy.
Elliott, 28, is in charge of the finance team and operational management of the site. She did not want to work purely in finance but she feels that an in-depth understanding of the subject greatly helps in a managerial role.
‘When you are in finance you get a good overview, so you can see what makes a business work,’ explains Elliott. ‘Non-financial managers can’t see that side of things, for example why a department is losing money.’
Prior to MediCentre, Elliott was the Piccadilly Line engineer accountant on the London underground, responsible for a £46m budget.
Newly-qualified audit partner at BDO Karen Ashcroft said the basis for her decision to enter the world of accountancy was founded purely on the fact that it was a qualification that allowed individuals to work in very different businesses. ‘The whole business has changed. It’s more about business advice. And going through the training was a bit like being in college,’ says Ashcroft.
She now frequently jets off to sunnier climes, such as Costa Rica, where she has been helping in the preparation of accounts ahead of an imminent flotation. ‘You definitely need personality and to be able to get on with people if you are going out and dealing with businesses,’ explains Ashcroft.
Danielle Stewart, founding partner of a five-partner firm based in Fulham, says her firm had been gradually adapting over the last 10 years to become a facilitator of business instead of a form-filler.
‘We work with clients to help them run their businesses. We do the traditional stuff as a necessary tool. We call it the holistic approach to accountancy.
This basically means starting with the person and working with them to reach their objectives,’ explains Stewart.
‘When I started in accountancy the work was never done against the backdrop of who the client was. We now ask clients what they want out of their business, whether they have a family, what age they want to retire, analyse the risks for them. It all starts with the personal now.
‘You can make a millionaire but you have to let them know they will have to give up everything to get there,’ says Stewart.
There are however many bonuses attached to the pejorative tag of ‘boring bean counters’ to which so many accountants are referred. The ‘boring’ image must be easier to swallow when your pay packet is reaching the millions.
According to E&Y’s annual reports in 2000 chairman Nick Land earned just over #1m last year. KPMG’s Mike Rake is the only other Big Five senior partner to have revealed his remuneration, which last year reached £1.5m.
The Sunday Times Rich List 2000 listed some nine accountants with the likes of David Bromilow, who runs MediMedia, a medical publishing business, taking 29th position. His assets were valued at £800m.
And if level of fee incomes and personal wealth win the day, these are decisive arguments indeed.
DRAWING THE WORLD’S ATTENTION TO THE CLOUT OF THE FINANCE PROFESSIONAL Accountants are more readily describing themselves as business advisers. Yet public perception still lags behind. Here, the man behind our new-look adverts explains his approach
At Ideas Unlimited we approached this campaign like most other advertising campaigns. We try and take a simple approach to advertising.
First of all we wanted to get under the skin of Accountancy Age, because after all, we represent the consumer. Having performed research and after interviewing several accountants, it soon became apparent that this is the accountancy industry’s most well known publication. This was crucial as we have to believe what we say is true. So, we aimed to encapsulate what Accountancy Age stands for. It was a case of unpacking the package.
In our advertising it would have been wrong of us to say that this is the publication that all accountants must read in order to make a success of their careers. It was however widely accepted that, as with any industry publication, it is something you should read in order to keep up to speed and most importantly develop a clear and informed opinion. For accountants in a consultancy role this becomes even more essential.
Other research had shown that accountants themselves had long since moved on from their overused stereotypes. The classic myth was that accountants were possibly the most boring professionals on earth. It was apparent to us from the start that they are at the heart of UK plc and integrated into business management teams everywhere. They are key decision-makers.
We wanted reflect this ‘modern’ image through the advertising, especially as it coincided with the launch of a new look Accountancy Age.
In order to keep the campaign honest as all advertising should be, we decided to use real accountants.
This also gave it a realistic edge that a lot of consumer advertising fails to deliver.
Between ourselves and the Accountancy Age marketing team we found five willing models from all areas of accounting and put them in a variety of locations for the photo shoot. Although some found it unusual to begin with, they all performed like true professionals and one or two were absolute naturals.
The result is a campaign with real people from the industry emulating the true aspect of their jobs and in turn reflecting the editorial nature of Accountancy Age. The new accountant reading the new Accountancy Age.
This is summed up in the strapline we wrote for the campaign that will take the publication well into the new millennium.
With new economies and technologies developing at warp speed, it really is ‘the new age of accountancy’.
– Simon Parkes is account director with advertising agency Ideas Unlimited.
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