ICAS President, Indy Singh Hothi CA: Championing a more sustainable future
Fresh from his visit to the “accountancy Olympics”, ICAS President Indy Singh Hothi CA welcomes the sea change putting the profession at the forefront of sustainability
The World Congress of Accountants, held every four years, is often billed as the Olympics of the accountancy profession. In November, it was hosted in Mumbai – the first time it has been staged in south Asia, recognition of the growing economic importance of India, which is now the world’s fifth-largest economy. India is also expected to surpass China as the world’s most populous nation this year. Perhaps fittingly, the event attracted its largest-ever delegation of attendees – 7,000 in person and 3,000 virtual. The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India put on a hugely impressive conference.
Under a theme of “Building trust, enabling sustainability”, the event was structured around the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) – 17 objectives that provide a “shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet now and into the future”.
I was delighted to see all accountancy, assurance and ethics bodies coming together with standard setters specifically to talk about this subject and to ensure that the corporate world produces accurate sustainability reports. The World Congress was also the venue for the International Federation of Accountants’ (IFAC) 45th annual meeting. IFAC says its new impact strategy, which has been finalised, is aligned with and anchored to the SDGs.
It is clear from the most recent World Economic Forum report on key risk areas that climate and sustainability will continue to feature heavily over the next decade. The dilemma that governments have faced where the risk is intangible or slow-burning is that people may not recognise its scale because it doesn’t obviously affect day-to-day business, even allowing for last summer’s record temperatures. So I feel fortunate to have worked in humanitarian intervention with Khalsa Aid, where I’ve seen the effect of climate change up close. I have seen what it can do to a village, a town or even a city. I’ve been on the frontline following floods, earthquakes and typhoons. I spoke to the people in local communities, many of whom said they were enduring weather events they had never witnessed before. These experiences have certainly influenced my professional career.
Public interest partners
Looking at our profession, accountants are very much a strategic partner in society’s transition to a more sustainable future. We will need to collaborate with others, whether that means engineers or data scientists, because this is a complex area, requiring multi-stakeholder solutions.
But we have all the key skills to help us measure the impact of sustainability. Indeed, 61% of sustainability assurance is already conducted by professional accountants. This is a natural fit for accountancy’s emphasis on ethics, especially when I think about ICAS and our Royal Charter, with its commitment to working in the public interest.
Sustainability is also an integral part of how we position the profession going forward. Young people consider how a job aligns with their values. The role that accountants can play in building a better and more sustainable world will, I hope, become hugely appealing when it comes to attracting the next generation of CAs. We are moving away from that stereotype of the accountant as someone who just focuses on finances and capital markets. The CA of tomorrow will be doing so much more than that.
This brings me to the commitments being made by ICAS. During my tenure as President, an awful lot of work has been done on sustainability and it will continue to be at the heart of everything that we do – from the education we provide to our students, to championing action on the climate crisis via our 23,000 members around the world.
A sustainability module was introduced to the entry-level ethics course in 2022, in addition to a module at the final level of the syllabus. We have published papers from the Sustainability Assurance Working Group, such as Sustainability: The necessary conditions for the reporting of high-quality information. In our annual report, we will also be publishing a clear pathway to reach net zero by 2045, which will include a 38% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030.
The most significant developments on the horizon revolve around the changing syllabus. We are embedding sustainability into our syllabus, not just as a core feature for our students, but also as part of CPD for our members. This is something I’m immensely proud to have overseen during my tenure as President. It may well be the most significant change to the CA curriculum in the history of ICAS.
For more on this topic, visit ICAS’ Sustainability hub