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Restating the purpose of the profession

As countries take tentative steps to emerge from lockdown, there is much comment about whether we will all adapt, and what lessons organisations can learn from the pandemic. Sharon Machado, head of business reporting at ACCA, looks at how we can build back better

To carry out this rebuilding, a clear purpose is needed. And purpose is all about why something exists, why it is relevant and why it is useful.

This purpose, relevance and use are the central themes of a new report from ACCA called Accountants, Purpose and Sustainable Organisations. Here, we ask two fundamental questions: what is the purpose of the accountancy profession? And why trust the profession?

As an accountant myself, I had been pondering the profession’s purpose well before the pandemic broke. At a time when trust in professions is declining, as reported in January 2020’s Edelman Trust Barometer, and as organisations and societies struggle with issues like climate change, I believe it is important the profession’s contribution to business and society is championed.

So why the profession? I think in answering this question we must ask another: what would the world be like with no accountancy profession?

Demonstrable accountability of business leaders may be compromised. Recording of business transactions will be inconsistent and poorly communicated. Trust will be thwarted through a lack of scepticism and assurance, meaning capital markets would falter. Society’s understanding of business activities will be compromised, paving the way for fraud.

Accountancy brings an order to things that we can trace back thousands of years to the first clay tablet etchings by Kushim, an ancient Sumerian, recording measures of barley and thereby enabling his community to make growing and consumption decisions to ensure their sustainability.

Today the need for sustainability is just as important, especially during times of dynamic change and turbulence. Here in the 21st century, the profession works hard to support organisations in meeting this need, recognising the importance of its public interest remit. It has a role in creating, protecting and communicating value.

It is well equipped to do this because the modern accountant has fundamental characteristics that define accountancy’s unique place in society and business. These are ethics and integrity, technical and professional skills, and connectivity.

Ethics and integrity drive professional accountants to do the right thing; technical and professional skills give the profession its unique know-how and expertise. The profession’s connectivity is evident in the fact it speaks the global language of business.

Connect and implement

The profession is also one of immense breadth. Business issues and finance touch practically every part of an organisation. The networks the profession builds are key to coordinating and connecting different parts of organisations to make and implement decisions.

Better connections drive more effective governance over emerging and changing risks. These connections mean professional accountants understand others and can influence them positively.

Accountants are value creators, value protectors and value communicators. It is a profession about putting safeguards in place, something that is incredibly important as economies strive to recover from the impacts of Covid-19.

We know from speaking to over 10,000 of our members that the pandemic’s impacts are expected to be hard-hitting: 80% of business leaders polled for our Covid-19 research expect a significant downturn in expected revenues and profit year on year.

The profession’s role as a rebuilder will be much needed in the weeks and months to come. It will be part of the blueprint to build back better, to sustain that blueprint and face down the challenges and identify the opportunities ahead.

The profession’s purpose is transformative, and it is well placed to support organisations, and more broadly the societies in which we all live and work, to be sustainable and prosperous for the long term.

One such opportunity is the chance for accountants and their professional bodies to reshape the reporting and assurance landscape. This is both an immediate and long-term role, where we can ask the right questions to get the most from the technology revolution which has really come to the fore during these Covid-19 times.

The profession has an enduring value, and I truly hope this article has helped you rethink what purpose means to you. We want our report to prompt a discussion about the point of the profession in this increasingly challenging global environment.



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