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Editor's letter: Arrivederci Accountancy

That’s it. After almost 5 years writing for sister publications The Accountant and International Accounting Bulletin, this is my last editor’s letter before joining another publication (Insurance Asset Risk).

There is no point in hiding the fact that, when I ended up writing about accountancy, it was first and foremost to pay the bills. But, truth be told, I got hooked.

Early on I had the chance to interview Abraham Briloff, a USA accountant and accountancy professor who gained fame through his prolific writing and fierce criticism of malpractice within the profession.

Briloff believed that accountancy went beyond debit and credit to subsume a broad canvas of disciplines involving the liberal arts and sciences. This recognises that accounting is a moral and political practice rather than merely a technical one.

In events around the world the profession is quick to pick up on these themes, declaring itself the defender of the “public interest”, the champion of “transparency” and being on a quixotic quest to “restore trust”.

The 2014 World Congress of Accountants (WCOA) was heavily loaded with those ideals. And that particular event was for me a revelation: thousands of accountants from around the world in a single room (nearly) all singing from the same hymn sheet, facing the same sort of opportunities and challenges.

So, in the subsequent years, I’ve tried to find and bring to life in these pages the dissident voices and the mismatches between the self-proclaimed universal gospel of the high mass from the accountancy church and what was happening in practice.

And mismatches we found: accounting firms that could not make figures add up in data submitted to our surveys – or worst blatantly make up the numbers; champions of transparency using their press offices for opacity purposes; accounting scandal after scandal exposing the shortcomings of the profession; accountants and tax advisors facilitating dodgy tax schemes; public administrations unwilling to adopt sound accounting practices over public monies; the sustainability and ESG reporting theme often used as greenwashing…. And the list goes on. Hypocrisy and dishonesty is neither new nor heading for extinction.

The aim was not to nag, nor was it driven by the petty satisfaction of pointing the finger at someone else’s flaws. It was simply because Briloff had convinced me that accountancy as a profession - and accountants as professionals - can and should act ethically, and in return for enormous social privileges and status, they should have a genuine commitment to society and be able to see beyond the numbers.

Fair enough, if that is not the game accountants want to play. To paraphrase my former colleague and good friend Carlos Martin Tornero, if accountants cannot promote transparency and serve the public interest, because first and foremost they are hired guns of their clients and are in it for the money; let’s just not pretend otherwise and let’s drop all the PR crap.

You may say I’m a dreamer, as John Lennon once sang, but I know I’m not the only one. I let you, the readers, judge if our coverage in the past few years was any good.

Regardless, I hope you found it as interesting to read as I have found it to write.

There is something definitive in “goodbyes” and “farewells” in English that doesn’t exist in other western European languages. Compared to the Latin rooted ones (au revoir, hasta luego), or, the Germanic rooted ones (auf wiedersehen), the english “goodbyes” seem to be less optimistic at the prospect of meeting again in the future.

Although I’m leaving the accountancy publications, I’m not leaving the few friends I’ve made in the accounting world, and hope that I’ll share with them many more drinks, as we have shared at Gordon’s Wine Bar (London, UK), Bubbles O’Leary’s (Kamapala, Uganda), Ristorante Vladimiro (Rome, Italy) or in the bars of Hilton Hotel London Docklands Riverside and the Camino Real (Mexico City) – to name only a few (the targeted individuals will recognise themselves)…Finally, a special thank you to Sandra D. for her kind words of support.

And so, for now…. Arrivederci Accountancy!

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