Sir Brian Souter: How can you measure the worth of the profession?
From the Big Four to sole practitioners, accountants contribute billions to the UK economy with ICAS playing a key supporting role. Sir Brian Souter, ICAS Conference speaker, reports.
What is the true value of the accountancy profession? ICAS, along with the UK’s other major accountancy bodies, recently published a report prepared by Oxford Economics that attempted to answer that question. The report estimated that, in 2016, Britain’s accounting profession made a £52bn contribution to the UK economy and exported accounting services valued at £1.8bn.
In aggregate, nearly 600,000 people worked in accounting roles in the UK, of which around 25 per cent were employed by specialist accounting firms. Our own numbers at ICAS show that just over half of CAs in practice are employed by the Big Four. Nearly half of CAs work in business.
It is a big challenge for ICAS to represent such a broad church of individuals while ensuring that the CA brand continues to command respect and admiration.
Different walks of life
As is often the case, the real story lies beyond the numbers and during my presidential year so far I have met many CAs from all walks of life. I will, of course, be liaising with representatives from the Big Four, being the global giants of the profession, and CAs in business.
The CAs I have met are as impressive as they are inspirational
I also intend to visit some of our many CAs living overseas on my regular international trips (at no expense to ICAS). Having completed many incomplete record jobs in my early career, l was also particularly keen to meet CAs working in small and medium-sized practices up and down the country.
The CAs I have met are as impressive as they are inspirational, and in their own way make a significant contribution not just to the UK’s economy, but to the communities in which they live.
They don’t just prepare accounts and advise on tax. They are local leaders, mentors and friends to small business owners, charity trustees and treasurers, and pillars of the community.
One sole practitioner told me that he had 800 clients, averaged annual billings of £300 per client and “didn’t really take holidays”.
The true value of these small practices will never be measured in the most thorough of economic impact assessments. Collectively, however, their contribution is hugely important in sustaining our local communities and generating economic growth.
Like all businesses today, they face many challenges: Making Tax Digital, the increase in small company thresholds, competition from unregulated tax advisers, succession and recruitment, and the era of Google advice, to name just a few.
I am pleased that ICAS was recently able to assist these practitioners in leading the successful lobbying for a deferral of digital tax submissions.
Staying relevant to all members
As I said earlier, ICAS is a broad church.
We have to be relevant to, among others, CAs who work for financial services businesses in Edinburgh, London and Wall Street; the Big Four; entrepreneurs in Hong Kong; government and charities; as well as CAs with their own tech start-ups. But we must never forget the important constituency of CAs in practice in small firms on the high streets of towns and villages across the land.
We need to encourage small firms to train their new accountants with ICAS
Listening to the soundings on my road trip, I believe there are ways we can do more to serve our smaller CA firms better in the future than we do at present. We also need to encourage small firms to train their new accountants with ICAS rather than with other accountancy bodies and we have already taken measures to encourage this.
This article first appeared in the July 2017 edition of CA magazine