Accountants in business: seeing the future?

They do not trust accountants to say anything but ‘no’ on one of the most
important business issues of our times ­ how will businesses be successful as
society tries to be sustainable?

Leading companies like BT and BP are realising that the issues of
‘sustainability’ ­ from climate change to global poverty ­ are driving the
business context that they will need to be successful in.

The latest research from all kinds of sources finds that many CEOs recognise
the underlying tension between business models and the reality of limited
natural resources, and more capital is now focused on sustainable business
models with the market rewarding leaders and new entrants in a way that could
scarcely have been predicted even 15 years ago. When the ‘high priests of
capitalism’ make these statements you know a change is already happening.

The companies would get better decisions if the finance department were
involved. But these are also the first signs that the profession is not trusted
with important issues about the future of business.

One future scenario is where accountants are only trusted with risk,
compliance and reporting but not decisions. MBAs and outsourcing will triumph
with the result that accountants will only be beancounters. A better future is
where we are trusted with decisions about the future, and accountants remain
highly prized for their judgement and rigour.

Accountants, we need to show we extend our core expertise and add value to
the decisions companies are making on sustainability. Sometimes that will mean
saying no. Mostly it will mean finding a better way forward. We also need to
demand more from the institutes, so accountants are well positioned to be
involved in how businesses address key challenges like climate change.

The issues of sustainability already drive the context in which businesses
make money. They will become much more important. Accountants can either be part
of the shift and have a successful role in companies, or not be trusted and
become irrelevant.

Accountants can be trusted with the future of businesses, but we have to go
out there and prove it.

David Bent is principal sustainability adviser at Forum for the

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