Why accountancy’s brand is damaged – and what we can do about it

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When UK shadow chancellor John McDonnell suggested at Davos that the big accountancy firm should take a”Hippocratic oath” to adhere”to the highest ethical standards”, I started thinking about accountancy’s image in the eyes of the public-its brand, if you like.

A lot of talk about money laundering in recent months has focused on accountants, rather than the legal, banking or estate agent fraternities. Then we get headlines about audit issues such as those affecting Carillion – an episode that looks set to run for years.

And all this follows a report from the Bridge Group that concluded, more could be done by the bigger accountancy firms to take on trainees from low-income families.

So accountancy certainly seems to have had its share of negative headlines recently. Some of these stories may be fair and some unfair, but all have a corrosive effect. Our profession has a branding problem, and that has an impact on us all. It only takes a couple of high-profile negative headlines to cause serious long-term damage.

Championing the cause

At AAT, we put a lot of effort into talking to people in politics, the media and beyond about  the good work our members do across the sector. And we work extremely hard to help people of all backgrounds achieve their potential, by offering different pathways into the profession.

John McDonnell, with his oath-based solution to ethics in accountancy, has missed the point. The issue is not helped by the confusing and overly complex tax landscape. I recognise that some international tax problems are particularly challenging, but the government needs to play a strong hand in simplifying the UK’s tax regime – something we’ll continue to push for.

Our profession has a branding problem, and that has an impact on us all

We’ve been actively engaged with the new Office for Professional Body Anti-Money Laundering Supervision (OPBAS) to make sure it’s conscious of the issues outside of accountancy. It’s all too easy in these circumstances to criticise those you can easily identify, rather than those you can’t.

And, as a counter to the Bridge Group report, it’s great to see some of the firms we work with scoring highly on the government’s Social Mobility Employer Index.

Grant Thornton and KPMG ranked first and second, respectively. The rest of the big firms all appeared in the top 20.

All of you, whether in the private or public sector, or in practice, act as a force for good in society. You ensure millions of businesses across the UK do the right thing. So we must all continuously champion the positives in the profession. We can build a better brand for accountancy by shouting about the work we do, drowning out the negative few and making accountancy attractive for generations to come.

This article appeared in our Mar/Apr 2018 issue of AT magazine.

Mark Farrar is the Chief Executive of AAT.

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