ICAS Conference 2016: As it happened

ICAS Conference 2016
robert-outram By Robert Outram, CA Today

3 October 2016

Robert Outram rounds up this year's ICAS Conference, held in Edinburgh on 29 September 2016.

“Business as usual is no longer enough; the time for innovation and change is now.”

That was the message from HRH the Prince of Wales, opening the 2016 ICAS Conference with a video message stressing the part the accountancy profession can play in promoting sustainable development and protection of the environment. ICAS is a member of Accounting For Sustainability (A4S), an initiative of The Prince of Wales’s Charitable Foundation.  

The theme of the 2016 ICAS Conference was ‘Innovation and Entrepreneurs...in Brexit Britain’.

Laura Lambie is senior investment director with Investec Wealth & Investment, Principal Partner for the ICAS Conference. She gave an overview of the factors affecting world markets and how they are reacting. She noted that markets recovered quickly after the vote for the UK to leave the EU, but around the world protectionist politics are contributing to a reversal of globalisation.

Robots and accountants

Author and University of Oxford lecturer Daniel Susskind set out two futures that he sees for the professions. The first future is a more efficient version of what we have now, with professionals using technology to streamline and optimise the way they work.

Daniel Susskind

Tina Norris Photography

The second future, which he said is much more likely, is that technology will “actively displace the work of professionals”.

Daniel said that, while “nobody will have their job replaced by a robot”, but new roles, such as “knowledge engineers” and “para-professionals” will become far more important.

Brexit Britain

Two sessions addressed the issue of Brexit. First, in a panel chaired by ICAS executive director Atholl Duncan, Allan Little, former BC foreign correspondent and now chairman of the Edinburgh International Book Festival; journalist Bill Jamieson; and Investec’s Laura Lambie discussed the implications of the vote to leave the EU. 

Brexit panel

Tina Norris Photography

The second session looking at the implications of Brexit brought together three politicians: the SNP’s Stephen Gethins MP, member for North East Fife in the Westminster Parliament; the Liberal Democrats’ Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP for Edinburgh Western; and Labour’s Lewis Macdonald MSP, representing North East Scotland in the Scottish. Alan Little chaired the discussion.

The panel agreed that, even if “Brexit means Brexit”, nobody as yet knows what Brexit will entail. What is clear, however, is that negotiating an outcome that will work for the UK, and for Scotland in particular, will be very difficult.

The Power of One

Two contrasting stories at the Conference each illustrated in their own way the key principle of the ICAS initiative “The Power of One” – that the ethical choices made by individuals can have a massive effect, for good or ill, on an entire organisation.

Professor Norman Murray CA (pictured below, left) is chairman of the Edrington Group and of the ICAS Ethics Board. He drew on the experiences of a career spanning more than 40 years to illustrate his commitment to strong values in business and “tone at the top”.

He said: “CAs are, or should be, a force for good in an organisation.”

Professor Norman Murray and Nick Leeson

Tina Norris Photography

Nick Leeson (pictured above, right) is the former financial markets trader whose reckless actions in the market brought down Barings Bank, one of the oldest names in the City.

He said that, among the reasons he had not been stopped earlier, were the fragmentation of controls and systems at the bank, and lack of communication. In fact, Nick said, the management or auditors could quite easily have exposed his actions much earlier.

He added: “I should have put my hand up and admitted that I was out of my depth, but Barings was an environment where you sank or you swam.”

Poor controls and the bank’s corporate culture mean he was able to go on concealing his trades as losses mounted.

Barings should have been a wake-up call, he said, but even larger “rogue trader” scandals in recent years have shown that it had not been heeded.

Investing in technology

Members at the conference had the choice of three workshops. First, Simon Lapthorne (pictured below, centre), senior research analyst with Investec Wealth & Investment, and Shane Corstorphine CA (pictured below, right), general manager, Americas with Skyscanner, considered the issues around investing in technology.

Shane, who joined Skyscanner over four years ago as CFO and now heads up the Americas operation of the business, spoke about the speed of change in wealth creation caused by technology, and the way that regulation is holding back the funding markets.

Investing in technology session

Tina Norris Photography

“There’s this disconnect,” Shane explained. “Funding is just a marketplace… and right now it’s fragmented. What we’re seeing is disruptive types of funding trying to fill gaps and opportunities.”

Simon Lapthorne spoke about the potential and pitfalls of investing in technology from the perspective of private clients in the public markets.

“Getting the blend right between rapid growth and an attractive business model can be quite challenging, but can be achieved,” he said.

With around 20 sub-sectors within technology, selecting which area you want to invest in can be difficult, Simon said. Other challenges, he said, included “backing the right horse” and getting the timing right.

How CAs can change the world

In the second workshop, on the theme of “How CAs can change the world”, David Nussbaum CA, incoming chief executive at The Elders - an international group chaired by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan dedicated to promoting peace and human rights – was joined by Indy Hothi CA, economist with EY, trustee with Khalsa Aid, an international aid charity, and 2015 One Young CA winner.

David explained how his career took him from the private sector to become FD at Oxfam, then CEO at Transparency International and then CEO at WWF-UK, the wildlife and environmental charity.

Indy explained that it was working with Khalsa Aid that “I first realised the value of the CA qualification”. He said: “The most valuable commodity I could provide was my time and expertise.”

The secrets of CA entrepreneurs

In the third workshop, “Secrets of CA entrepreneurs”, two CAs, both from entrepreneurial businesses, told their stories. “Party architect and design gypsy” Johnny Roxburgh CA left a career in practice to co-found elite party planning business The Admirable Crichton.

Now, he has sold his stake in the business and started a new venture, Johnny Roxburgh Designs, where his projects range from redesigning the interior of a castle in Germany to creating a new Scottish gin.

Johnny said: “Being an accountant opens up more doors than you could possible imagine.”

ICAS Conference 2016

Tina Norris Photography

Graeme Menzies CA, worked in the transactions team at PwC but is now FD with fancy dress outfit business Morphsuits. He said: “It’s the best decision I’ve made.”

Graeme said: “One of the things I have learned at MorphCostumes is how important it is to have people with different brains around the table.”

He added that one of the great things about working at an SME is the ability to take a decision, act on it and see results within a few days.

Simplifying your working life

“Tips and tricks to simplify your working life” was the theme of author and executive coach Simon Tyler’s presentation at the Conference.

Simon said that people are now so bombarded with information coming from a multitude of different channels that they “can’t focus on anything for an extended period of time”.

He argued that, in today’s world, people are focused on just doing all of the urgent things, and important – but not necessarily urgent – projects never get the attention they deserve.

“We are losing the distinction between what’s urgent and what’s important,” he said.

Jo Malone on staging her comeback

Finally, the conference heard from “English scent maverick” and entrepreneur Jo Malone, who told the story of how she started her own business and turned it into an international brand, sold it and eventually walked away, and started all over again.

Jo Malone

Tina Norris Photography

Her first Jo Malone shop was the start of what became a successful international brand, which Jo eventually sold to Estee Lauder. She stayed on, but when a life-threatening illness struck, once she had come through it she decided it was time to step down.

As she put it, however, “I underestimated my love affair with fragrance”, and she started a new business, Jo Loves, bringing fresh ideas such as a “fragrance tapas bar”. Her enthusiasm and drive left the conference finishing on a high note.

Principal Partner for the Conference was Investec Wealth & Investment.  

Exhibitors at the Conference were: Aon; AutoEntry; Brodies LLP; Cofficient; Close Brothers Asset Finance; ICAS Business Mentoring; ICS Foundation; ICAS Professional Development; IFB; IRIS; Keys Finance; Lugo IT; Lusona; Middlebrooks; Investec Wealth & Investment; Payescape; PG Mutual; Qdos Vantage; Ross Martin; Sage; and Tax Help for Older People.


  • CA life
  • Business
  • Accountancy
  • Brexit

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