Special report: Introducing our Shaping the Profession programme
Shaping the Profession
At the time of writing, it is exactly one year to the day since I started as Director of Public Affairs at ICAS. In this role I’m lucky enough to have responsibility for policy leadership, public affairs and communications. Falling under those areas are a range of different policy boards and panels, from the Charities Panel to the Research Panel to the Business Policy Panel and more. They form a critical cog in the ICAS governance and leadership structure and give direction to our policy priorities.
In the main, it’s ICAS members who sit on these boards and panels offering their expertise on a voluntary basis. We couldn’t do our jobs without them and the non-members who also provide useful experience and great support.
All these panels and boards are supported by our policy leadership team, a group of experts whose work includes answering technical queries from members, representing ICAS across a huge range of external bodies, and drafting materials for members to update them with new developments, standards and regulations. Through their work with governments, regulators and standard setters, influencing policy and new regulation, the team play a key role in shaping the regulatory, policy and legislative framework that governs our profession. This work also involves developing consultation and legislative responses on emerging issues, often with the expert help of the various panels.
The range of issues these teams look at can be huge – and the list is only getting longer. But we hear a few clear refrains and questions. What will the role of chartered accountants be in the future? Where is the profession headed? How can we address issues like attractiveness and retention of skills in the profession? What skillsets will be needed? How will AI affect the sector and the ethical landscape?
As we enter our 170th year in 2024, we have been thinking about our heritage as the oldest accountancy professional body in the world, as well as the future of the profession. Our board and panel members have agreed to develop a programme of work under the broad heading of Shaping the Profession (StP). This work will help ICAS consider what tomorrow may bring for individual CAs, firms, businesses and, just as importantly, what society will need from us as a profession. After all, ICAS was founded by Royal Charter to serve not just the profession, but also the public interest.
In this special report you can learn more about this programme and the literature review we commissioned (which our Head of Research, Marie Gardner, is leading on). To inform our work, we’ve also been talking to CAs about their views on what the future holds. These are their personal thoughts, which will be considered along with many other views, by the newly formed Shaping the Profession steering group as it agrees the programme of work.
Insight from our members is critical, but in later months, we’ll go on to explore what those outside the profession want and need. We’ll update you on the StP programme as it develops throughout 2024.
Sarah Chisnall, Director of Public Affairs
Marie Gardner, Head of Research, details Shaping the Profession, ICAS’ new programme to map out an ambitious future for chartered accountancy and the financial services sector
The Shaping the Profession (StP) programme represents an ambitious goal for ICAS, which is critical to ensuring the accountants and financial professionals of tomorrow – let’s call ourselves “the profession” for simplicity – truly deliver services that meet the needs and expectations of shareholders, investors and the rapidly expanding list of wider stakeholders.
The current challenging economic climate, emerging technologies and the fast-developing sustainability reporting arena are major factors in the recognised need for our profession to deliver value, ethical leadership, usefulness and insight to the benefit of society at large.
Building trust and acting in the public interest is at the core of the ICAS Royal Charter, which requires us to maintain a high standard of efficiency, probity and professional conduct. Serving the public interest effectively requires us to cultivate public confidence and trust in the profession, and to make sure that we deliver the services that society expects from ICAS members, as well as meeting the needs of business and communities in the broadest sense.
ICAS is determined to be an agent for change, and this means we need to anchor our approach to the perspective of the public interest – stepping outside the narrow sphere of the profession itself and of traditional stakeholders, such as shareholders and investors, to truly understand which societal needs will have to be fulfilled both now and in the future. Some of those are already known to us. But we should also extend our understanding to the perspective of those we seek to serve – wider society.
And the field is vast, which means that although we need to be bold and radical where appropriate, we should also be focused and disciplined in what we do. We must be broad enough in our ambitions to make a difference, but also concentrate our efforts where it matters most.
To help us identify central themes for the work we’re planning under StP, earlier this year we commissioned a literature review to evaluate the relevant quality academic research and professional material. We hope this work will provide the evidence we need to inform the development of our thought leadership and activity on the role, responsibilities, scope and skillset of the accountancy profession of the future.
Our aim with this review is to highlight the possible gaps in research in this field and identify those areas where we can think critically and creatively about the challenges and opportunities facing the profession, and then to drive meaningful change.
As a result of a rigorous selection process, following a well-subscribed call for research issued in May 2023, this literature review is being conducted by Professor Atul K Shah and Dr Yasmine Chahed. Both have extensive backgrounds in relevant academic research, professional engagement and practical experience.
The project is investigating three thematic clusters:
Why? The purpose and function of the accountancy profession in the economy and society.
How? The external and internal challenges affecting the profession’s ability to meet society’s expectations, including social mobility, accessibility to and attractiveness of the profession, future regulatory models, and the skillset of accountants.
What? The specific roles and responsibilities of accountants in relation to ethics; sustainability, in its broadest sense; the use of financial and non-financial information and reporting in decision-making; accountability to stakeholders and corporate responsibility. The preliminary results of this critical kick-off exercise are now available.
We expect that the findings will help to drive the focus of upcoming activities for the StP programme. That could mean anything from commissioning additional research, workshops and events examining key themes for members, joint work with other professional or research bodies, or creating a set of “asks” for future governments.
Peter Drucker, one of the world’s most influential thinkers on management, reportedly said: “The best way to predict the future is to create it”. ICAS strives to propose a future, for our members and the wider profession, that serves the interests of society.