Keeping pace with sustainability reporting
Sustainability reporting will transform the role of the CA, making accountancy more relevant to more people. Ryan Herman hears how ICAS courses will equip you to keep pace
Some CAs may wonder whether sustainability is really a core part of their job. Of course, we all want to do right by the planet and those who will inhabit it after we have gone. But is that really a professional, rather than personal, responsibility for people whose traditional role has been to provide financial advice and services?
The answer, according to ICAS Head of Ethics, Ann Buttery CA, is very much so. “Even if you don’t know much about the subject you may still have clients who will be asked to produce information to prove they're meeting sustainability standards,” she says. “If you’re not then able to help them with what they need to know, that could be detrimental to your clients' businesses – and yours.”
Much like taxation and regulation, sustainability is an area that is continually evolving, especially now with new reporting standards on the horizon. And trying to keep abreast of all those developments is not straightforward, as firms of all sizes are having to cope with other challenges such as rising costs and talent shortages.
Partly in acknowledgment of this, but also due to the growing importance it will play in a CA’s professional life, ICAS is delivering a new three-tiered approach to sustainability as part of annual CPD. That will include providing new or updated courses for members, some of which will be free of charge. Sarah Wilkin CA, Director of Sustainability, says: “Some members simply want to know the basics, whereas others will be working for a listed company with a whole department dedicated to this area.
“There’s currently a course that sits within our Test of Professional Expertise, called Sustainability and Its Relevance to the Accountancy Profession. I’ve refreshed that course with some recent updates, and included information on ICAS policy positions on double materiality and mandatory sustainability reporting.
“That will amount to around 60 minutes of content and serves as a broad introduction to answer questions around what sustainability is and why it is relevant to the profession. And we’re making that free to members as part of their CPD.”
The intermediate course is the product of a collaboration with Chartered Accountants Ireland (CAI), using its content which totals approximately 20 hours’ worth of online learning. This certificate programme will be available to both ICAS and CAI members.
“As many will be aware we are refreshing our curriculum,” Sarah adds. “As part of that, we're developing a standalone elective on sustainability for accountants that will have about 100 hours’ worth of content. Once it is part of the curriculum, we also want to make it available as CPD to any member who wants that deep-dive level of knowledge.”
The timing of these new courses is important. This summer will see the publication of a series of new sustainability standards. “These new standards are coming down the line thick and fast,” says Sarah. “CAs need to upskill in this area. It’s not good enough to say, ‘I qualified 10 years ago, I did my training, I don't need to know about any of this.’ In a few years, sustainability-related information is going to require the same level of rigour and reporting as financial information does today. And it should be no different.
“But CAs are really well placed to lead the charge on this because they understand how to set up systems, how to capture data, how to have processes in place to capture relevant, reliable and credible information.
“It's not just about what's material to the business, it's about what's material to employees, to customers, communities and businesses operating in a wider group of stakeholders. Also, accountants have that built-in professional scepticism as part of their skillset, so they can interrogate information and figure out what's important.
“But all this information can be a bit overwhelming, even for those in the space. So for someone working in a really time-pressured environment, such as a financial controller or CFO, it’s a massive challenge. And that is where ICAS can help.”
These courses will help CAs to broaden their knowledge and understanding of what sustainability means to them and their profession, enabling them to remain competitive in the marketplace for clients. But they also go beyond that.
As Ann says: “One of our five fundamental ethics principles that we need to adhere to is 'professional competence and due care'. You are required under the ICAS Code of Ethics to attain and maintain your professional knowledge of current standards – and that could increasingly include sustainability. There should be an understanding that, one way or another, this is a subject that is going to affect you as a CA.”
The free course is available now for members and the other CPD offerings will begin in the coming months. Meantime, find the list of Sustainability and ESG short courses currently available through ICAS.