More chance of winning the lottery than seeing a merger

It is an article invariably met with a deafening silence. This, we comfort ourselves, is because the subject has been off the radar for so long that those who oppose it will do nothing to prolong the debate. Those who support it, we argue, would see any campaign as futile.

Last week, all that changed when we revealed the ICAEW, CIMA and CIPFA were in merger talks. As you can see from the Letters page opposite, the response was ferocious.

We welcome the news that a merger is back on the agenda, even though it is not a proposal to create a single body. Just to reiterate our position: though we would favour a single UK institute body, this is only a marginal preference over a reduction in the number of bodies to two or three. What makes no sense is the status quo. Having six institutes under the CCAB umbrella only dilutes accountancy’s voice at the top table of UK plc and in Whitehall.

But welcome as these talks are, it is unlikely they will bear fruit. The ICAEW’s 125,000 members have never shown much respect for equivalence between their own qualification and those of other institutes.

It’s not just the reluctance of ICAEW members that has prevented past mergers. In 1994, KPMG partner David Bishop drew up a plan for rationalisation that was probably the most significant merger attempt of the last 50 years. It failed. A proposal to pull a merger of the ICAEW and CIMA from those ashes went the same way as the earlier proposed mergers of the ICAEW and CIPFA and the ICAEW and ICAS.

A few years later in 1998, ACCA launched a high-profile campaign designed to woo members of CIMA and CIPFA. Unfortunately they were having none of what was a hostile takeover bid in all but name.

Will lessons be learned from the past? Probably not. The positions of the protagonists have changed little.

With significantly fewer members than all the other UK-wide institutes, CIPFA wants a merger. And with stagnant student numbers it probably needs one.

For the ICAEW and CIMA it’s a different story. CIMA is doing very nicely in terms of membership and student number growth and, as one wag remarked last week: ‘The only way the ICAEW’s membership would support a merger is if the institute council came out against it.’

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