Inexperience explains watchdog’s lack of practice empathy

The Professional Oversight Board’s knowledge gap unbalanced their 2010 report, I believe as in response to the question I asked of POB they have admitted that none of their current board members has a significant background in the SME sector of the accountancy profession.

This is a concerning shortcoming, as the POB has little understanding how clients first select an accountant.

POB maintains that the existence of the professional accounting bodies’ monitoring and quality assurance schemes is one of the key reasons why clients choose a qualified accountant over an unqualified one.

As many smaller clients cannot distinguish between a qualified or an unqualified accountant, and have not had heard about our quality assurance schemes, it is not surprising that POB’s ‘key reason’ appears wide of the mark, when what clients actually want is a recommendation for someone who would do a competent up to date job at a reasonable cost to sort out their tax and provide any accounts to support this.

Professional accountants continue to moan that their profession is not protected against the ‘unqualifieds’ but, until the CCAB bodies collectively chose an alternative title to identify professionally qualified accountants – and market it extensively to educate the general public – a process that would take several years and be very costly – we have to put up with this somewhat irritating competition.

However, having put great store in this ‘key reason’ the POB compared this finding against the reported number of ‘breaches’ arising from monitoring visits. This was also unfortunate as it appears that recent enthusiasm to report small, harmless, technical breaches was interpreted by POB as evidence that practice standards were slipping – and needed tightening up!

“More monitoring please” POB recommended – which to implement is bound to add to our costs – is unjustified and hardly in keeping with the government’s mantra about reducing regulation.

In seems to the SPA that should this quango be spared in the current round of government cuts, it would do well to rethink how it tests data gleaned from the SME sector before publishing its ‘findings’ – perhaps by strengthening its board with a member from the Federation of Small Businesses or similar representative body. Meanwhile how will the CCAB bodies deal with this challenge – will they kowtow or do a Nelson?

Peter Mitchell is chairman of the Society of Professional Accountants (SPA)


Related reading