ICAS President: Communication is key to the modern CA
We have a duty to provide accurate information, but the corporate ecosystem also relies upon analysts, brokers and clients playing their parts.
Being a chartered accountant comes with responsibility. The qualification is a badge of knowledge and rigour and, as a result, a lot of trust is placed in our ability to meet those professional standards. No matter the individual roles we work, people will come to us for information, analysis and counsel. And we must respond as best we can, painting a fair and true picture of the world around us. The reliance of others upon us – and our influence on decision-making and outcomes – is a privileged position that I know each CA takes extremely seriously.
CAs will experience this early in their careers – perhaps as soon as qualifying. For me, it was when I moved into industry, taking a role outside practice as group financial controller. The group was headed by a charity, and included a government-funded research institution, so there was a lot of press interest. Suddenly, you’re being called upon to share your opinion on matters that aren’t directly related to accounting, but business in general. As a CA in business, you’re the one others look to for certain information.
The reliance of others upon us – and our influence on decision-making and outcomes – is a privileged position that I know each CA takes extremely seriously.
Having a public-facing role, and acting as a spokesperson for your organisation, draws on a new set of skills that must be developed over time. As a CA, you have the technical skills to explain accounting and business decisions in detail, but this will often need to be translated for different audiences. In particular, financial markets benefit from information being succinct and clear. The ability to filter information in that way, distilling the complex to the simple without sacrificing accuracy, is an art in itself. It’s an entirely different form of communication, dictated by a different goal.
Tied up in all of this is a CA’s abilities as a presenter and public speaker. As we all know, our jobs are not confined to documents, emails or press releases – we also need to be able to communicate information person to person. And as your career progresses, that audience may expand to include members of the media reporting on the business. The same rules apply – be succinct, direct and accurate – but there are additional challenges that require time and practice. The smallest change in phrasing may have significant implications. Live Q&As require professionals to mentally juggle all of these considerations while the clock is ticking.
Identifying the changing demands of your role is part of being a CA. As a profession, we are committed to ensuring we strengthen and expand our skillsets throughout our careers by ongoing professional development. In other words, the CA qualification is a foundation stone on which to build, year by year. Communication, presentation and public speaking may seem amorphous compared to a CA’s technical skills, but they are just as important. Many areas of business are dependent on the judgements we share. And in a fast-moving world, we often only have one opportunity to ensure we share the right message in the right way.
Approaching the topic from the opposite direction, clearly the responsibility of the accountant only goes so far. As mentioned, we must provide information that is fair and accurate, and we must do so in a way that considers the audience. But, having done so, we are not responsible for all subsequent decisions based upon our judgements.
The corporate ecosystem is complex, composed of many overlapping groups of which accountants are just one. For financial markets to operate efficiently, each must meet its own responsibility to disseminate accurate information. Financial analysts need to relay detail with sufficient complexity. Brokers must ensure clients know exactly what they’re buying. And investors must be clear about their level of understanding and ask questions accordingly.
Accounting has become very complicated. Often, financial statements are not an easy read. And that’s where CAs come in – using our technical and communication skills to explain the rationale, the outcome, and the implications. But financial markets must meet us halfway, taking the baton and trusting our expertise so that they can educate others. Put simply, the functioning of the corporate ecosystem relies upon professional integrity at each step of the way.
ICAS training partner BPP runs the online course Producing and presenting financial information with impact