By Dipo Olowookere
Following a series of high-profile scandals across the world, many accountants and accounting firms have come under heavy scrutiny by regulating bodies.
In this regard, one issue of immediate concern to practitioners is the need to regain public trust and an expert in the accounting business, Mr Michael Armstrong, has submitted that if properly utilised, technology can be used as a vital tool to help rebuild trust in the profession.
Speaking at the recently held 48th Annual Accountants’ Conference themed Securing Our Shared Future: A Collective Responsibility, Mr Armstrong said the accounting profession was set to witness exciting times ahead, in a changing world.
The accounting expert, who is the Regional Director of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, stated that, “Our profession is currently under a great deal of scrutiny with the media reporting corporate failures, criticism of accountants and auditors, and sanctions being imposed on what can sometimes feel like a daily basis. All Chartered Accountants are under scrutiny.”
Mr Armstrong, during his presentation titled Accounting Firms of the Future: Challenges and Opportunities at the event in Abuja, noted that, “As defined by our Royal Charter, the fundamental function of bodies like ICAEW and ICAN are the protection of public interest.
“Due to the loss of public confidence, the key challenge facing the profession and our most immediate concern is the need to rebuild trust.”
Mr Armstrong noted that the accountancy profession needed to recover its original purpose of assuring investors and the public of the truth, rebuilding trust and ensuring the sustainability of the profession.
The ICAEW director called on accounting professionals to act immediately. “In fact, our (ICAEW) CEO, Michael Izza, describes this as a “watershed moment” – a wake-up call for business leaders, regulators and auditors. As a profession, we have to be prepared to think and act differently in the future. If we don’t address this now, one wonders if we will still have a profession in 20 years’ time”, he said.
For Mr Armstrong, who was also a partner at KPMG, one way to improve the credibility of financial reporting is to boost audit quality. He noted that changes, driven by a range of factors, but most significantly technology, will transform all aspects of business and society in the coming years, and reshape the accountancy profession across Africa, Europe, the Middle East and the rest of the world.
“Over the years, our profession has moved from the use of spread-sheets, to computers and other more advanced technological devices.
“While the scale of the change today may appear more dramatic, this is not new territory for the profession which has a long history of adapting to changing regulatory and technological environments. It may seem more pressing and transformational now, but is the arrival of Artificial Intelligence (AI) or Big Data more significant than the arrival of computers into finance departments or the appearance of the spread sheet? Our profession has always been very adaptable in the past so there’s no reason to think it can’t adapt this time,” he added.
Mr Armstrong also emphasised the need for collaboration amongst Chartered Accountants more than ever before; and looks forward to working and collaborating with ICAN following the MoU signed earlier in the year.
In his presentation, Mr Armstrong noted that technology is the driving force behind change in the accountancy profession, as it presents countless opportunities for the profession to deliver more value to businesses through new and enhanced services. He also explained that accountants can save time – for themselves and their clients – from lower value tasks to focus on more complex and advisory work.
Other workshops held at the four-day conference were: ‘SMPS & SMES: Revving The Economy To Action’; ‘Securing Our Shared Future; Cyber Security Challenges’ and ‘Contemporary Issues in Digital Economy’.
The conference ended with a Gala Night and was attended by Chartered Accountants from across Nigeria.
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