The name game: who are accountants?

Start-up and small business owners are increasingly using unqualified
accountants to advise them. In many cases, this will be due to lack of
knowledge, understanding and making the presumption that anyone describing
themselves as an accountant is necessarily professionally qualified.

The term accountant has been in widespread and unregulated use for well over
a century. This factor, together with the complex structure of the profession,
make it practically impossible to introduce legal protection for the name.

The introduction of legal protection for the existing term would have to be
government-led and there would inevitably be intense demarcation disputes
between the constituent elements within the profession, as to which groups would
be considered an accountant and which would be excluded.

What is required is a pragmatic solution that can be instituted by agreement
between existing professional bodies without the need for government

The six CCAB bodies should devise a suitable generic name for their members
and firms, which would be used alongside the existing membership body’s name.
Members of the CCAB bodies would thus describe themselves using a generic name
as well as, for example, a Chartered Certified Accountant. The generic name
would be equivalent to the term solicitor and would be registered to provide

My reason for not proposing a generic name is to avoid discussion focusing on
my effort, as opposed to a discussion about having one, which is more important.

The use of an additional generic name for CCAB bodies’ members and firms
would identify and differentiate them for the general public far more clearly
than six different usages of the word chartered, which, in any case, has
somewhat lost the kudos it once carried. Put simply, if the generic name is not
shown, the accountant in question is not a member of one of the first-tier
bodies (ie. CCAB).

A business owner could then make an informed decision on how to proceed in
light of this knowledge. The relatively small non-CCAB bodies, their members and
unqualifieds would not be directly affected and they would be able to continue
to use the term accountant.

The general public would have considerably more protection than at present as
the generic name covering CCAB members and firms would itself be protected and
would be viewed as the accountancy equivalent of solicitor.

Malcolm Nettleton is a sole practitioner at Azur

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