Qualified or Unqualified: The Right to be an Accountant. By Anthony Margaritelli

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As Chairman of the ICPA I wrote in the September 2008 issue of Accounting Practice that the campaign to restrict the use of the word Accountant led by the ICAEW was not about protecting the public but about protecting the interests of their own members.

The response to my article was both supportive and sincere.

The ICAEW have finally made a public statement of their intentions in this whole matter.

In the October 2008 Issue of Accountancy the following is announced by an ICAEW council member:

We need to build the evidence base in order to provide the institute with the information it needs to be able to make representation on our behalf.

Are you a Chartered Accountant? Do you have specific examples of bad practice among unqualified accountants, particularly ones where you have been called i...

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WHO would you pick - qualified or unqualified
Given that authorities has passed a bill in Parliament to fix the accountancy fees chargeable, who would you pick? :-

a qualified ACA or an unqualified one or one who belongs to trade association ICPA?

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bemused because ......
........no one answered the posting before this one.

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Lapsed AIA to ICPA
In Malaysia, there are many lapsed members of the AIA.

If these lapsed members were to come over to the UK to practice, I wonder if they are all welcome to join the ICPA and get all the benefits of ICPA?

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Steven has hit the nail squarely on the head
We need an independent organisation to regulate all the accountancy profession with one rule book. An accountant can then choose if he or she wishes to belong to an accounting institution. We would then be able to chose which institution we wish to belong to instead of being pushed towards a certain body in order to succeed by virtue of the fact that the body has control over the word "accountant".

We need to differentiate between Governing body and members institution. Two seperate entities. Otherwise its self regulating which from a clients perspective cannot be correct surely.

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Accountability not accountant
If anything needs legislating, it is the accountability of professional advisers rather than the term "accountant".

I'm sure we have all come across work done badly by accountants irrespective of their qualifications - I've certainly seen many examples over the years of poor work done by both chartered and non-chartered accountants.

The "public interest" must surely focus on what a client can do when things do go wrong.

Certain areas of the work (audit and insolvency for example) are regulated. The majority of the work that any smaller business would normally require is, however, not regulated. If things go wrong with a qualified accountant they can complain to their Professional Institute and/or claim on their (compulsory) professional indemnity insurance.

This option is not available if their accountant is not "qualified". It is, however, available if their accountant has PII (which I know all ICPA members have).

Legislation on who can or cannot call themselves an accountant will not protect the public. Legislation on accountability and compulsory professional indemnity insurance will.

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More highly qualified than non-chartered. They're both accountants. One is more highly qualified than the other.

He might be called 'my accountant' by a decorator client, and performs work that the client is afraid of or incapable of doing. So the client pays him to be his accountant, not his bookkeeper or technician.

It is a separate problem of who should be chartered and who should not.

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Don Quixote
More highly qualified than who? Everyone is calling themselves chartered these days. They cannot all be more highly qualified than each other.

The problem started when the Privy Council started allowing others to cash in on the reputation built up by the original Chartered Accountants.

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Is it likely a Government will do this
I can't see Labour, the Conservatives or Liberals supporting something which would be easily portrayed as a closed shop. Also, I can't see it being a vote winner with the public.

Then again, Ireland did it and the Chartered's are pushing for it again so it must have some chance of success.

My own view is that to appropriate a word is slightly orwellian and people already know that Chartered's are more highly qualified.

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AAT is not ACA
You may have taken three years to reach AAT - but AAT is not ACA. It's like comparing A levels with a degree. There is also flexibility with regard to the experience needed to get a practicing certificate from the ICAEW (i.e. as a Chartered Accountant) but it does assume you are a member of the ICAEW first!

I also took 5 and 6 exams in one go. When I did the ACA exams you had to - you couldn't collect credits like brownie badges - and if you failed one you failed them all.

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I've decided now ...
After reading the posts (something I do less and less on AWeb these days) - especially the female describing herself as 'qualified' - I have decided that I will be sending in my 'specific examples of bad practice among Chartered Accountants' to the ICPA.

When confronted by such narrow minded, blinkered, arrogance one is left with little choice but to respond robustly

Fortunately, the vast majority of accountants - both 'qualified' and 'unqualified' - are busy getting on with running their businesses and trying to best serve their clients.

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Michael Rios-Hall
Great to hear we agree again, Michael. As you say, the only difference is that if a doctor gets it wrong someone dies, whereas if an accountant gets it wrong, nothing worse than financial ruin may result. Other than that, you presumably agree the principal is the same.

Nice comment about common sense, by the way; really contributed to your argument.

Incidentally, if doctors "are bad at what they do, they get struck off"? If only!

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I'm female and thanks for the compliment!

My husband supported what I did and is very proud of what I achieved. At the time he was (and still is) working full-time in a demanding role (NHS doctor) so it was hard work juggling between two demanding jobs and having very limited family support - but we got there in the end. If you want something enough you'll find a way.

As an aside our children didn't suffer any ill effects either and have turned out to be good hardworking young people.

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Re "Qualified"'s posting -
Hey "Qualified" - well done you! Out of interest, are you male or female - and did you get spousal support?

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Not sure about responding ...
I'm a non-CCAB accountant but I've never quite liked the title. I much preferred it when I was an FD. Tell people your an accountant and they invariably invoke the stereotype which you then have to work at to overcome. Perhaps this is an issue on a social rather than professional level.

I think I understand the arguments for and against restricting the word 'accountant'. And also the mixed agendas of the Chartered Insttutes.
For the record I have a great deal of respect for the Chartered qualifications having been, after Technician, an ACCA PQ for while before 'diversifying'. But I read with interest the complaints of ICAEW members about their Institute.

I have examples of poor work by Chartered firms - including one when I was a Charity FD and the small generalist firm of auditors were clearly not too familiar with the SORP or PN11.

But I really am resistant to sending the details to Tony. I understand that the ICPA initiative is a direct response to the ICAEW. To do so would identify the firm and they were nice enough people. Plus I made my complaints known at the time.

I also don't want to be complacent if there's a serious threat to my livelihood or that of other competent unqualifieds

I'm reminded of a William Blake poem

I wander through each chartered street,
Near where the chartered Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet,
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every man,
In every infant's cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forged manacles I hear:


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Oh to have three spare years to become chartered...
In response to those who wished they had the time / opportunity etc to take the Chartered exams - I did mine while working full-time, long hours and with three young children (aged 1, 3 and 7 when I started). I also passed all levels first time - so with commitment and dedication it can be done. I am also damn good at my job.

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Michael Rios-Hall
Just like I said: some doctors are bad, so scrap the entire regulation thing and let anyone call themselves a doctor. Glad to see someone who agrees with me.

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It's not the qualification!
I've worked in tax/general practice for 27 years, the last 14 in my own practice as an ATT member in practice. As other posters, I've encountered poor qualifieds and excellent unqualifieds in my career.
Here in mid-Cornwall I could give the name (as no doubt could HMRC) of two absolutely dreadful local "Accountants" - one is unqualified and the other Chartered. The similarity is that they are both a menace to their unfortunate clients and those of us who try to clear up the mess when those clients arrive in our office. Being Chartered seems to make no difference. No doubt this is a problem replicated nationwide but not one that will be solved in my opinion by stopping the competent unqualifieds calling themselves Accountants.

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I'll second that
"Within weeks our insolvency courts will fill up with the impoverished victims of botched backstreet audits.................just like it is now really".

Who audited the high street banks?

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Well done Geoff Pym and Edit Gardener
At last some sanity in the debate. I agree to move the idea of Accountant being a priviliged word we all have to move together to ensure all who use it have the right to do so by qualtification and CPD. One good way would be as Geoff says for the Chartered INstitutes to provide a path for all to get a qualification whilst working.

Ofcourse by doing this they will increase their membership and have a much stronger case with the Govt for legislation.

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One swallow does not make a summer
I dont normally feel the need to post to these debates, I frequently find either my opinion already expressed by likeminded individuals or my opinion changed by them. I do firmly believe ther should be a standard form of qualification and CPD and that ALL accountants should have them. There in lies the problem.

How many firms that call themselves "Chartered accountants" can say that everyone employed by them as "accountants" are chartered, none! I imagine. Many firms market the fact that they are chartered when only the partners are, it does not guarantee that the clients accounts or tax returns were prepared by a "chartered" accountant or even signed off by one.

Its time for a change, we need to do something about our credibility in light of the current banking situation, the fingers are going to be pointed in our professions direction.

Is ICAEW THE governing body of the acccounting profession in our country or an institution? We need a governing body but can ICAEW be both?

Geoff Pym AFA
member of Institute of Financial Accountants with fully paid up practicing certificate CPD up to date, ALL employees MAAT or qualifying, before the questions get asked!

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The value of being qualified
In the past I was indifferent as to the importance of qualified vs non-qualified debate but I must say now my view is hardening. In the Irish Republic the term accountant is afforded protected status only persons who are members of the Irish Govt recognised Accountancy Institutes are able to define themselves as Accountants and it shows in the salaries offered.

Also I am sick to death of people who attend a week's book-keeping course on Sage and then go on to call themselves Accountants. In this way salaries and opportunities are held back.

Being qualified offers an assurance to third parties and more importantly you that you are competent to do the job

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Qualified or Not?
Well I'm a member of Mensa, and flew through my ACCA exams with a first time pass record. I have worked along side Chartered and other qualifieds/graduates - and qualifications are certainly no guarantee of competence. Nor in fact is job title or salary. I've worked with some imbeciles with these backgrounds. As well as highly competent unqualifieds. But I don't think anyone will find that surprising. I'm now in practice, with an AAT licence, and everything I need on a day-to-day basis I have learned through the AAT exams. I covered a lot more for ACCA - and I've forgotten most of it - as it simply has no relevence to what I do now, and indeed the other positions I've held (including management accountancy and Audit Commission). As any capable accountant, when faced with an area I'm unsure of, I consult and research, and of course, stay up to date as part of CPD. By the way, to state you're a member of Mensa tends to put you in the "smug" bracket (so few members advertise the fact), yet boasting about ones qualifications doesn't seem to.......

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Experience counts
I am proud of my ICPA membership but my business ran happliy without it for years. I spent many years gaining experience in the accountancy profession and running small businesses before going into general practice. The knowledge base accumulated over the years provides the basis of the assistance I give to my clients who value my input into their business as their accountant. It is the quality of the advice and the service that is provided that makes you a good accountant not how you qualified to provide it. My practice has experienced poor accountancy services being provided by all providers within the industry. It is not, in my experience, limited purely to the accountants who do not belong to one of the CCAB bodies. The ability for those who are affiliated to the relevant institutes to use the word "chartered" provides their differential and comfort, for those clients who seek it, that who they are engaging have obtained a training to provide accountancy services to a given standard. I too have a training, albiet in a different enviroment, and my clients use that as the basis to satisfy themselves of the service they will obtain from my practice. The benefits of being part of a collective and recognised orgainisation (CPE, tax advice lines, etc) are recognised but I do not see the membership as a means of excluding others who have trained in a different manner offering the same services. The service that we provide to clients as "Accountants" will not change if we have to become "Business Finance & Compliance Consultants".

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I have been followed this debate about being qualified, but I have not read a good conclusion.

The argument about protecting the term 'accountant' has been compared to the term 'solicitor'; however, nobody said that there is only on Law Society. Nevertheless, there is no one Accountancy professional body; I do not think that is in the interest of the public, as clients do not who professional body their accountants belong to, and most of them do not know that there are so many different ones. But people know where to make a claim against a solicitor.

You do not need a Law degree to be a solicitor and you can still qualified. To be a chartered accountant you do not need an accountancy degree either. However, if you have an accountancy degree you still need to pass the exams of the professional body.

Once you pass the exams you need three years of experience. What if the training is bad? Or you do not receive a proper training? You are still going to qualify after the three years.

Passing the exams is not the same as doing work in the real life. You can be good at the exams and rubish with documents in real life. Or you can be bad at exams and excellent in the professional world.

Do you read 'Accountancy' magazine often? There is a section with cases of Chartered Accountants prosecuted for different reasons.

Is the qualification the only important issue? What about professional ethics?

If you look at the ICPA website they say that 'if you are not a member of another professional body'. They do not say 'if you are unqualified'.

You have had the opportunity to read in this forum in many occasions, members of professional bodies disappointed with their membership because they do not receive the attention they expect for their membership fee. Do professional bodies care much about once you pay the fees, the practising certificate and do the CPD required?

I can tell you how small business owners have been overcharged in some cases and in others their work has not been done by some reputable firms; and they did not care abou the client paying penalties and more tax because of that. They did not reply to the enquiry from the Revenue, the accounts were prepared two years later and estimated figures were submitted without providing final figures at any particular time.

Let's define the issue or we will be going in circles.


Juan Carlos

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To the poster calling himself "Chartereds stand together!!!!!"
"lighten up"????

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Just change your name
I am a Chartered Accountant. but I think the Certified Accountancy qualification is better, so I am considering lobbying the ICAEW to incorporate the word "certified" into our title so I can go round describing myself as a Certified Accountant.

What do you think? Has anyone else changed the name of their professional body so as to be able to masquerade as one of the others? If so, how did you get on?

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thought it was settled
there was a petition, some obscure MP brought it forward and the government said there is no advantage to the public - it might even drive up the costs.

It is obviously a move by fatcat regulating bodies to pump up their membership numbers (and therefore revenue).

Can someone explain to me why the ACCA for instance won't let a qualified member enter into practice if they dont have a practicing cert from the ACCA themselves, even if the accountant will not be using the ACCA letters?

Once an ACCA member you still have another 3 years where you have to work in a ''approved'' employer, end there are very few of those. Such a member has no other option but to leave the ACCA if they want and are capable of practice.

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Horses for courses
TBH I think there is a natural separation in the market place. On the whole, unqualifieds do the 'job in a box / carrier bag' type clients - simple accounts prep, straightforward tax return and small fees. Most of the CA's I trained with (Big 4) are partners in larger practices, senior managers and upwards at Big 4 firms, heads of finance / FD's etc in FTSE 100 companies. I can't imagine many of them poring over the blood spattered invoices of the local butcher...

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But if someone knowingly risks that sleasy back street audit and gets something nasty as a result - they will have made an informed choice and will only have themselves to blame.

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Arnold - lighten up....
Privy Council okd chartered status to ICAS/ICAEW/ACCA/CIMA/CIPFA - which one are you alluding to re "easy"!!
In my opinion all those bodies have tough examinations to pass and deserve their chartered status - I'm a member of one - guess!!!

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Come back Swiss Toni all is forgiven
This thread risks degenerating into a slanging match - it's up to you to rescue it Toni!

For my part I just think that restricting the title "accountant" will just drive the unqualifieds underground.

Within weeks our insolvency courts will fill up with the impoverished victims of botched backstreet audits, exposed through ignorance to third-party liability or worse.

It will be impossible to drink in a pub in EC4 without a shady-looking character sidling up to you and whispering "Pssst! Wanna score some ETBs mate?". The streets of our inner cities will be infested with so-called "tax table dancing" clubs.

Meanwhile outside on the pavement, audit clerks from Berzerkistan, lured to the UK by false promises of fantastic hourly rates, will ply their filthy trade, controlled by an evil unqualified "Mr Big".

Just like it is now, really.

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Illogical Conclusions
I once heard of a qualified doctor who was rubbish. Therefore I think anyone should be able to practise as a doctor, and not be required to pass professional exams or be regulated in any way, and I am sure Anthony Margaritelli would agree with me.

Anyway, if it bothers the AIA/AICPA that much, why don't they just persuade the Privy Council to allow them to call themselves Chartered? It seems quite easy and has worked for others in the past.

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It does allow me to say that I have proved my intelligence, aptitude and competence by passing a difficult set of exams - and every year since that date I have been required to prove my ongoing competence by completing CPE....

Unqualified's can make neither of those claims.

I would add that there are good doctors and bad doctors - but I would question whether the existence of a few bad doctors is a good reason for doing away with the requirement to be qualified...on the vague notion that some unqualified might just get lucky and be able to 'wing it' and do better. I think most sensible people would suggest tighter controls and better CPE requirements....

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Well qualified....
I have no beef tjhat you took and passed difficult qualifications but that does not make you a good accountant nor does it allow you to look down on those who have not.

It is in this article and many others it is commented that there are many poor accountants both Chartered and non-chartered and therefore giving Chartered Accountants the right to use the word accountantant means that there will still be bad accountants using the word.

The best test is being able to use current knowledge and practice as te benchmark. This means that all who want to use the term accountant have to reach a certain standard now. Until this is agreed by all the argument will grow

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Chartered Certified
I have heard reports of your advertising campaign on Essex Radio. You promote the initials to give the public the misconception that you are indeed qualified. I put this to the test with a new client and unfortunately you have deceived the public. At no time in your campaign did you mention that your members are unqualified. Why don't you do this and see what the response is. I think you already know the answer!

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Cream rises...
The whole issue is about public perception. There is no need to 'protect the interests of those with the chartered qualification'. Chartered accountants had the intelligence and nouce to pass the exams of one of the elite accountancy bodies. These qualities don't evaporate - they will always have the inherent skill set and aptitude to do well. As I was always told as a child, 'the cream will always rise to the top'. I do find it surprising, however, that someone seriously considers an accounting technician / bookkeeper to be in the same category as a graduate chartered accountant. Anyone with this perception is sadly deluding themselves!

The only group of concern are those members of the public confused by the different titles afforded to people involved in some degree in the preparation of accounts.

Methinks it's sour grapes of those unable to pass the examinations but still wanting the status of those qualifying with the chartered bodies. For those non chartereds who feel threatened by the proposals to restrict the use of the term accountant - the answer is quite simple....go and get qualified!

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Rate your accountant
Just as a laugh I think I might start a rate your accountant web site like the have for doctors.

Who reckons they are so impeccably good at their job that they volunteer to stand in the coconut shy? What....no takers from either side LOL

Well, it'll sort the bickering out for once and all as well.

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Who cares
The evidence as far as I can see it is that accountants have been round at least since Egyptian times (Joseph keeping his records for the pharoah) without any claim on the term.

If it's been good enough since then, what's changed now to make the big difference?

Nothing. So what's the problem and who cares? The clients don't seem to.

Chartered whoevers should stop wasting their time and money. This is not a fight they are going to win. Regardless of what the chartereds or non-chartereds say, the government will consult HMRC and go by their underlying evidence of competence. If you ask me, they're both as good or bad as each other but this continual bickering is stupid and unprofessional. Other professional organisations are also trying this monpolise the market trick with no effect....especially estate agents.

Why not grow up and get on with your life.

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