Comment – What are accountants for?

The way the ACCA went about launching their initiative seeking a merger between themselves CIPFA and CIMA was pretty stylish. But it would be a pity if the rage and fury that it seems to have aroused among the big-wigs in CIMA and CIPFA obscured one crucial element.

The ACCA material largely centred around mechanical and constitutional questions relating to what the merged body, if it came about, might actually look like. All good stuff, and necessary. But looking at it from the outside one can’t help thinking that a lot of what has been put out looks a bit inbred. One can understand this; if the merger is to go forward, votes are required, and if votes are won then voters have to be gruntled.

But there are a number of wider issues which arise, the most important of which the ACCA only hints at. And it is the same issue which the ICAEW’s 2005 Group, of which I was a member, also tackled. It is fundamental and goes way beyond parochial questions of existing councils and institutions. It is what an accountant is actually there for, and what he or she does, and how this has developed from the happy simplicities of, let us say, fifty years ago, into the highly complex world we have today.

The question is how one can maintain the respect which still goes with being a qualified member of one of our institutions, alongside the high and increasing specialism which employers and clients look for from us. For it is a fact often overlooked that no one owes the accounting profession a living. We work in a market; and if we do not offer what the market wants, the market will walk away and go elsewhere.

Both the ACCA and the 2005 Group have come to the same broad conclusion. They both look to combine respected basic skills with specialisation. The 2005 Group thought in terms of a basic ACA qualification with subsequent qualification through one of the sort of Faculties which the Institute now offers. The ACCAs talk about a common core at the foundation stages and specialisation at the final examination.

These are not very different. They are the way the profession should be going. They recognise the need to match common strengths and repute with market diversity, for the benefit not just of members present and future, but also for the benefit of the economy and the public at large. For accountancy is a profession serving society as a whole, and internal bickering should not lead us to lose sight of this wider role.

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