Comment – All for one and one for all

Last week, ACCA launched a proposal to restructure the UK-based accountancy profession by merging with CIMA and CIPFA to form a new, world-class professional body made up of some 300,000 members and students.

Our approach was an unusual one for the staid world of professional bodies: instead of first entering into negotiations with the councils of the other bodies, ACCA embarked on a major consultation. We wrote to members of all three bodies setting out the business case for the restructure and invited any comment on it.

And members have responded: by returning cards, telephoning ACCA and e-mailing feedback through the merger website created to further the debate.

As I write, responses are running at more than four to one in favour of the proposals. Support is especially evident among members.

Some of those responding have expressed surprise about the approach that ACCA has adopted. The accounting profession in the UK has experienced a generation of failed attempts at restructuring. What do these attempts have in common (apart from their failure, of course)?

The answer is that they were, without exception, ‘top down’. Led by one or more councils and handled council to council, each initiative disappeared into a morass of working parties discussing the detail of committee structure and presidential succession. If proposals emerged at all from this process, they were then rejected by one or more groups of members, leaving the bodies concerned debilitated and looking back at a year or more of sterile introspection.

This time around, ACCA’s council opted to pursue a different route – one with a better chance of succeeding – in pursuit of a goal which most members believe is desirable. If, in the process, we may have wounded some sensibilities, that was perhaps inevitable – but it still remains the right thing to have done.

Members of professional bodies deserve and expect their councils to address the real challenges facing their profession. The existence of six senior bodies, the duplication of services, and the unnecessary competition – whether for health service training schemes or scarce educational resources in developing economies – are nettles which should have been grasped before now.

ACCA’s initiative is different because, as a first step, we are asking ordinary institute members to express their support for the principle of a stronger professional body with a business-like structure, better focused members’ services, more efficient operations and enhanced influence.

I commend the proposals put forward to the members of ACCA, CIMA and CIPFA.

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