In the US you are a CPA, a ‘certified public accountant’. In the same way,
presumably, that the US bill of rights stamps the founding principles of liberty
and democracy on every US citizen, surely this designation for auditors makes
you think harder about the seriousness of what you are doing?
A public accountant acts in the public interest, has an independent and
expert view and isn’t swayed by power or money to ignore that duty.
On a fairly superficial estimation, I doubt many UK auditors would agree that
their American counterparts are inherently more upright and honest than we are.
The UK has had no comparable crisis to Enron.
But the concept still appeals, and the problems with US auditing, such as
they are, could reflect very different problems with accounting over the pond.
The issue seems appealing because too often you find senior accounting groups
in the UK issuing public statements on issues that smack more of special
pleading than an enlightened view of the public interest.
ICAS research, which we report elsewhere in this issue, seems to back that
up: only 42% of the general public, quizzed about accounting institutes, think
they act in the public interest.
Do accountants act in the public interest? The very best do, and can talk
both as lobbyists and as individuals offering an independent and expert view
But too often there’s a suspicion that the profession exists to protect
itself, its clients (often big business) and too little on behalf of the public
in general. Perhaps if accountants redefined themselves, and what they do, that
Alex Hawkes is the news editor of Accountancy Age
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