Change from the bottom up

Restructuring the accountancy profession is like apple pie and motherhood: everyone supports it in principle.

Previously, change was frustrated in committee rooms, far from the daily realities of business. Members have seldom, if ever, been able to express their views, without a pre-designated, take-it-or-leave-it question on a ballot paper. ACCA’s proposals, asking members to vote on the broad principles of merger between ACCA, CIPFA and CIMA are a first.

Practising members back rationalisation for hard commercial reasons.

Auditors and accountants expect their professional body to support them in an increasingly competitive market. Each quarter sees regulatory changes; each year accountants are asked to deliver more services.

Management and technology developments demand that we change. Narrow audit and tax practitioners are being replaced by multiskilled practices and networks of specialist sole practitioners. A professional body must enable members to meet new challenges. The question is no longer whether one professional body will provide practitioners with improved high-quality support. Rather, it is: what more can separate bodies provide?

ACCA’s proposed structure will ensure a powerful voice in the organisation for members in practice, consulting, industry and commerce and the public sector. Rationalisation will release the resources needed to provide targeted services for each arm of the profession.

Closer union will only be what our clients demand. At best, business has no interest in, nor understanding of, the profession’s structure.

Confusing qualifications make it difficult for clients to distinguish between bona fide body members and unqualified business advisers who cut corners, and prices.

Legislators and regulators see the profession’s diversity as a tempting reason for them to divide and rule, setting one body against the others, locally and nationally. Agencies supporting business growth find the duplication of dealing with a range of bodies at best unhelpful. Administrative practicality makes them deal with one body, leaving the others, and their clients, in the cold.

ACCA, CIMA and CIPFA members will give reasons for merger, and some against.

Yet, positive aspects of pressure for change always outweigh negatives.

For most practitioners, merger means more opportunities, better member services and more influence in their business communities. As advisers, we face clients’ demands to develop services to support their changing businesses. In asking our professional bodies to merge, we are only asking what our clients ask of us.

Professionally, we must adapt to serve locally, nationally and globally in the next century. Our potential competitors will seize our market from us if we fail to deliver.

Chris Christou, FCCA, is chairman of ACCA’s small business committee.

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