ICAS President: CAs must embrace influence as a way of doing good
The combination of technical and interpersonal skills will empower CAs to bring about wide-ranging change, says Bruce Pritchard CA
The word “influencer” can have strong connotations. Most likely, you’re thinking of someone with sponsored posts on social media and frequent appearances on reality television. The speed with which that image was conjured illustrates that the ability to influence – successfully communicating with and persuading others – is now an established career path in its own right. The commercialisation of influence in this way also demonstrates the rising importance of “soft skills” in the modern world. To put it more simply: how you say something is just as important as what you’re saying.
We all possess the quiet power of influence and, in a sense, we’re all influencers. Whether it’s at work or home, we all have spaces where people listen to our thoughts and factor them into their decision making. It’s a role any financial professional will be particularly familiar with occupying, even if we may not think of ourselves as influencers in the strictest sense, as described above. Our specialist training means we are often sought out by colleagues and clients to offer insight and advice on complex matters. In fact, it’s a relationship that the entire advisory and consultancy sectors were built around.
But it needn’t be that formalised. Possessing influence can be as subtle as acting as a sounding board or providing a second set of eyes, sense-checking the thinking that lies behind a piece of work. Essentially, qualifying with an organisation like ICAS, and accruing experience during your career, builds the legitimacy to affect decisions and outcomes that extend far beyond your own job role. It’s an added responsibility that means financial professionals must hone a new set of skills to complement their technical proficiency: leadership, communication, empathy, collaboration, to name a few.
Looking to the future, there is an opportunity to address some significant challenges by recognising just how far our spheres of influence extend and then collectively redirecting attention towards them. We’re at a point in time where problems that transcend companies, sectors and entire economies have coincided. In particular, climate change and the ongoing effects of the pandemic, including disparities in vaccine distribution and economic recovery, appear to be the most pressing threats to planet, prosperity and profits. Whether you’re a sole proprietor or CEO of a FTSE 100 firm, the influence you possess can begin to change things for the better. For example, make curbing pollution a keystone of your own decision making, as well as the counsel you offer, and see how quickly others begin to follow. It creates a snowball effect.
As financial professionals, we all have a duty to use our skills to influence outcomes in this way. Our specialist knowledge, and the attention it draws, means we can quicken the pace of change. We are able to provide the analysis and leadership that persuades people to consider different viewpoints and change their behaviours. It’s that synthesis of technical and soft skills – seamlessly combining the data with the message – that will be crucial in fully harnessing our ability to influence in the years ahead. In a way, it will transform you from financial practitioner to financial professional.
At ICAS, a responsibility to do the right thing is something we aim to instil in all members and students. It’s something placed at the beginning of our Code of Ethics. “Point 1.2: Professional accountants have a responsibility to take into consideration the public interest and to maintain the reputation of the accountancy profession.”
In other words, the things we say and do should benefit others, not just ourselves or our employer. And that’s not only because of the ethical argument, but also because very few others will be in the position to reverse things if they go wrong. Only financial professionals possess the skills and influence to fix the mistakes of other financial professionals.
Being a chartered accountant is a well-earned privilege. Let’s ensure that we use our position as a trusted voice – whether that’s acting as a sounding board for a colleague or in a more formal advisory capacity – to educate others and nudge them towards positive change. Both as individuals and collectively as a profession, we possess the clout to reshape the world around us for the better. Perhaps financial professionals were the real influencers all along.
ICAS training partner BPP is offering an influencing skills course throughout 2021