Time for a makeover

Accountancy Age

asked three of the UK’s top advertising agencies to give us their ideas for mending the profession’s public image.

We knew, of course, that there wouldn’t be much enthusiasm for this kind of project and that this move wouldn’t win us many friends with either the top brass at accountancy institutes or firms. But in our view there has never been more pressing need for such input.

There are now very real concerns in the public domain about the business of audit and a very real sense that the ethos of enlightened self-regulation has failed. It has not failed in some nebulous way that people only vaguely understand. What could be more concrete than tales of document shredding, after all? And of course it goes a lot further than that.

Jobs have been lost; investors have lost money; a huge business has collapsed; a Big Five firm has bitten the dust.

So what are the dangers? An FSA or DTI takeover of audit regulation for one. An uncertain future with auditors being sacked every year, for another.

This is the kind of crisis that doesn’t go away by itself.

Fences need to be mended and public opinion in the business world is the place to start. The gentle art of persuasion may be how the profession traditionally likes to sell itself. But believe us, you need a talking point to get you round the table at those discussions.

True there have been campaigns in the past. True the ICAEW has put together a fund to assess the practicalities of auditor rotation. And while there is undeniably a need for such a study, the time has come for something different: something more radical, in truth.

The profession is in unprecedented crisis. People who didn’t know what auditors did prior to the Enron scandal, now have a very warped idea about they do. And this misconception needs correcting – urgently. Who better to go to for guidance than outsiders: outsiders who have an informed idea about business, about corporate reputation and about public opinion and how it can be addressed?

You might not like the ideas these agencies have come up with. But at least look closely at them. By all means consider how they might be improved or developed and, if nothing else, think on what they reveal about how deep-seated this problem is.

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