By Andy Oury, Partner at Oury Clark
When considering the future of the accounting profession, it’s important to look at it in the context of its wider societal obligation. The truth is, all businesses must think long-term and at a global scale about their role in building a better tomorrow. This is the only way we can seriously drive sustainable business practices, creating a more equitable, green, and inclusive future for us all.
But here a practical problem quickly presents itself.
How do we tangibly measure where a company is right now in terms of equality, sustainability and inclusivity? Are all businesses using the same information to accurately measure their business practices?
Why is this even important? Well, because if we don’t know where we are now, then how can we know where we need to be in terms of sustainable business practices? In other words, how do we know what steps a company needs to take to move towards a better future.
The answer to this problem, believe it or not, actually falls to Accountants and Auditors.
The regulation requiring companies to publicly report on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues is already here, and the UK is actually seeking to have one of the toughest stances and highest standards on this in the world.
In fact, in November 2020 the UK became the first country in the world to commit to making climate-risk disclosures fully mandatory across the economy. Indeed, the requirements are already here for the very large companies listed with more than 500 employees or greater than £500 million turnover and more than 500 employees broadly, for accounting periods after the 6th April 2022.
More specifically, the UK will become the first country in the world to make Climate-related Financial Disclosures, fully mandatory across the economy by 2025. Which, in effect, will take it beyond the current ‘comply or explain’ approach.
It’s clear that the strides required are already being made to lay the groundwork for what’s to come. But there’s certainly still a huge task ahead of us to understand and report on businesses, and the only people who can possibly do this in a robust and professional manner are accountants and auditors.
In a way, Auditing – often undervalued by clients and the public alike – has a chance to become useful and, dare I say sexy even, once more.
A young generation who are extremely focused on sustainability may find it more interesting and indeed important to appraise a company’s ethical and sustainable footprint, rather than counting up its assets for the sake of investors.
So this begs the question, what will be required of Accountants and Auditors in order to build a better tomorrow? The simple answer is, deep and holistic expertise, strong communication skills, and a deep understanding of how to balance a client’s need with that of the society and planet.
If sustainability is something you are passionate about – and you want to help do something about it – becoming an auditor is actually a sensible move as these are the watchdogs and gatekeepers of the future on these key issues.
At a practical level, to be a good advisor you’ll likely have to do further tax exams. The ACCA and ACA focus on accounting standards, auditing and a little tax, but you’ll only get sufficient tax knowledge by doing a CTA qualification. You’ll also need to be pretty knowledgeable on the basics of employment law and property law plus VAT, stamp duty, and other indirect taxes.
With this also comes the need for strong communication skills and the ability to influence. Being able to read a room and adapt your approach or character depending on the person is a key skill to driving change.
Strong communication alongside deep expertise and holistic knowledge will mean that you can give advice that creates long-term value for stakeholders and that also better serves the needs of society and the planet.