It has taken nearly two years and numerous intrigues for the European Group of International Accounting Networks and Associations (EGIAN) to find a new chair, but the deed is done and The Accountant brings the latest whispers from the corridors of the European grouping, as well as the challenges that lay ahead for its new chair.
Jens Poll, former chair of Moore Stephens Europe, has replaced Jos van Huut at the helm of the EGIAN after a two year search for a new chair. But as Poll takes his seat at the helm of EGIAN, he will have to face a few contradictions and find answers as to the raison d’être of this organisation.
Episode one: the search
The Accountant understands that initially a partner from a member firm of an association member of EGIAN was in pole position to become chair, but the rumour has it that some EGIAN members – especially networks – were not in favour of having someone from the ‘association world’ lead the organisation.
The Accountant understands that the focus then shifted to two individuals from two networks – Baker Tilly and Crowe Horwath. But because both were British and by that time the UK had voted in a referendum to leave the European Union, concerns were raised. Indeed, EGIAN’s executive director, John Capper, is British and this would have meant that the European grouping would have entirely been steered by British nationals at a time when the UK was looking to exit the EU.
Finally, Poll was appointed – and being German and coming from both the network and association world, he ticked a few of the boxes. However, the role does not seem to be an easy one to step into and a few difficulties are already awaiting him.
Episode two: what next?
Originally, EGIAN was founded to facilitate an exchange of ideas and help develop common positions on specific issues in the European profession. In other words, the mid-tier networks and associations came together in the hope of countering the Big Four lobby at the European Union.
This is a line which Poll seems to want to continue, as he told The Accountant: “It is important to keep and raise the visibility of the next 20 networks and associations in an European context to demonstrate that there is something else beyond the Big Four, five, six, and give an input in Brussels.”
However the recent EU audit reform demonstrated that,even by combining forces, the mid-tier’s chances of winning lobbying battles – let alone the war against the Big Four – are limited.
Poll doesn’t share this opinion though, and says that through his involvement in the implementation of the audit reform with various European governments he realised that the mid-tier lobby, including through EGIAN, was relevant.
Asked which point(s) in the final law he considered to be a success of mid-tier lobbying, he says: “You can take, for example, the coordinated lobby done in the national parliaments of the main jurisdictions. If you look at the hearings of the French, German and British parliament it was not possible to talk just to Big Four representatives, each and every hearing had a selection of experts from the mid-tier. I’m not saying that in the end each and every point EGIAN members raised was taken into account and listened to, but coming from an environment where, for some people, an auditor was a Big Four, I think that is a first step in the right direction.”
Episode three: value proposition for the membership
Listing his objectives as the new chair, Poll said that EGIAN is a membership of organisations which means that it has to fulfil the needs of the members. “That means that we need to facilitate information-sharing and facilitate the priorities on the European agenda in order to maintain and enhance EGIAN’s profile.”
One of the challenges in achieving this, as the search for a new chair revealed, is that the ‘not so old’ divide between associations and networks is still a psychological hurdle for some.
But Poll said that while, on a superficial level, it might look like a challenge, upon further investigation, it is not. “I’m confident that there is enough in common, since he difference between the two is purely for regulatory purposes, not for the clients, and it has nothing to do with the quality of the work performed. I see a lot of topics where it is not relevant to say ‘network’ or ‘association’.”
Regardless of the network/association dichotomy, it is clear that EGIAN’s raison d’être needs to be articulated more strongly, as in recent years many of its members, especially at the higher end of the spectrum, have terminated their membership: RSM, Grant Thornton, Kreston, DFK International, MSI International and UHY International.
“I will be taking some emphasis to embolden the basis for EGIAN and to convince the one and the other to see the advantages of being part of such a platform,” Poll says. “This is something we have to look at carefully: how to convince potential members to join, or former members to come back.”
In confidence, some members told The Accountant that they are monitoring the direction EGIAN will take under its new chair before making a decision as to whether they want to continue their membership. Especially in light of other groupings such as the London Executive Forum broadening its remit beyond the borders of the City. “ I get the same information from EGIAN that I get from the London Executive Forum, with the only difference being that EGIAN comes with a fee,” one CEO told The Accountant.
Poll said that in such small industries, a variety of formal and informal groupings is natural, even though it is surprising that coordinating them has never been discussed. However, he remains confident that, in the EU context, EGIAN’s relevance will prevail. “But there is a need and raison d’être for a grouping that is a bit more diverse and different and that represents a huge number of players in the market,” he said. “If we look at the issues on the European agenda, many of them have relevance for the clients and firms represented by EGIAN. So I’m confident of convincing them, but now we have to prove it."