On the future of chartered accountants – Sometimes size doesn’t

The decisions of Ernst & Young, PwC and KPMG to reduce or abandon training of students for the ACA threatens the whole future of the English ICA. The debate has been polarised as a clash between the interests of big and small firms. It isn’t. If the large firms do not train their students through the institute, sole practitioners like me will be badly affected. The institute’s membership will decline because it is already training less than half the number of students it was in the late eighties. If the Big Five cease training of ACA students, the decline will become a collapse. What will be the result? First, the institute’s income will decrease and with it, its ability to supply services to members. Second, our opinion on professional matters will carry less weight with the European Union and the government. Thirdly, there will be a smaller pool of volunteers to undertake the multiple work of making representations and contributing to opinion forming which enhances the prestige of the institute. Finally, we shall lose economies of scale in training which will force up training costs and create a vicious circle of decline. These effects will be enhanced because the big firms’ intake contains a high proportion of the best quality candidates entering the profession each year. Small practitioners, particularly, need the goodwill and respect which adheres to the title of chartered accountant. But smaller firms who train students seem just as dissatisfied with the institute’s training as the large firms. Increasingly, they are training their new recruits as certified accountants or in other ways. The institute council needs to concentrate on the important fact that, unless we produce a training programme which the big firms will buy and the membership will accept, they will be a council of not very much. This isn’t an issue of big firm against small firm but a common threat to all who value the title ‘chartered accountant’. – Simon McKie is founder and principal of McKie & Co. the City-based tax consultancy, and is standing for the English ICA council in the London constituency

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