Phillip Inman – Infighting tarnishes image

The ACCA merger proposals may lie mortally wounded on the floor of the association’s offices in Lincolns Inn Fields, but the underlying reasons for a grand get-together remain. And crucially, the potential has been lost for some degree of unity when the profession lobbies government departments.

For years, accountants have voiced concern that they are paid little attention in parliament and new laws are formed without their input. Accountant-politicians, such as Lord Spens, blame the low standing of accountants on the audit crisis in the last recession.

But there is another factor. The collective lobbying power of the profession is split six ways.

English ICA president Chris Swinson attempted to overcome factionalism between the major institutes and the larger firms in his crusade to maintain self-regulation. To some extent he succeeded, though the recent endorsement of his plan by the Department of Trade and Industry owes more to Peter Mandelson calculating he has bigger fish to fry than it does to intense lobbying.

The lack of collective firepower has been exposed again by recent attempts to wrest back control of investment business regulation from the Financial Services Authority, the new City regulator.

The chartereds are pursuing one tack with the Treasury civil servants, while ACCA are adopting a different stance. There have been separate meetings and the two bodies are following separate agendas.

The arguments are quite technical, but the impression given to civil servants is that the profession doesn’t know what it wants. Or, there are several versions of what it wants.

ACCA has allied itself with the Law Society, while the institute pursues a lone battle to carry on much as before.

Presidents of the accountancy bodies claim they are open to offers for merger, yet attempts at merger are turned down. To outsiders, it was astonishing that ACCA’s proposals for a merger failed to spark even a round of exploratory talks with CIMA, such was the anger felt by the management accountants leaders at the idea of being bypassed. Surely, the profession will remain parochial as long as it remains factionalised.

Related reading