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Trust Me I'm an Accountant

5th Sep 2012
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If we are not careful, the profession could soon be ranked alongside used-car salesmen and market traders as the kinds of wide boys (or girls) that everybody loves to revile, whether justifiably or not.

The starting point for this article was a pair of surveys carried out by ACCA. In one of these, its members were asked to opine on whether or not the profession is trustworthy. A resounding 75% voted in favour of this dubious proposition.

The reason for using the word "dubious" is that when members of the general public were asked the same question, only just over half, 55% came to the same conclusion.

By now, alarm bells should be ringing not only in the offices of accounting regulators but also anybody who proudly uses the term "accountant" to describe their business. In some ways, the fact that one in four accountants do not trust their fellows is far more damning than the view of the public.

Before panicking too much, it ought to be suggested that while the public may be wavering a little over the reliability of accountants, Members of Parliament, bankers and quite possibly lawyers are likely to be even lower in the league table of trustworthiness than our esteemed grouping.

The question that we might all like to ask is why the professions have lost the faith of the public?

With all due respect to politicians and bankers, there have been so many high-profile scandals involving members of these professions that they have become front-page news on a regular basis, not to mention generously feeding the sets of stand-up comedians with their best lines.

This is clearly grossly unworthy, as there can be little doubt that the vast majority of politicians in this country and bankers around the world are decent, honest people who carry out their work diligently.

While the lamented Arthur Andersen disappeared without trace following corporate failures that should never have happened, it seems safe to wager that the excessively cautious accountancy profession is still packed with solid, boring and reliable individuals whose desire to mislead or default the public is lower than that of almost any other grouping that one can imagine.

The only recent blight has come in the form of tax avoidance schemes of questionable legality. Even then, if one drills down it might well become apparent that these were more often than not devised by members of the legal profession or others who do not have accountancy qualifications. They were though pushed very hard by some accountants.

Decades in the profession have not disabused this columnist of the view that its members should be somewhere near the top of a list of individuals that one can trust, up there with purveyors of religion and judges.

The problem is therefore more likely to be one of perception rather than ethical misconduct. They may not like to hear it but the time must have come for the accountancy bodies to go out and spend some serious money on a marketing campaign.

Some judiciously placed adverts on street- and rail-side hoardings, in the papers and elsewhere would be a good starting point. The strap line need be nothing more complicated than "you can trust an accountant".

If they are really serious about recovering credibility, they could also begin to go overboard and take some primetime TV advertising, placement in TV series such as EastEnders and Accountants' Got Talent together with space on the shirts of Premier League footballers.

Without wishing to name names, certain members of this latter grouping (not to mention some of their rugby and cycling peers) could well wear shirts with the message "you can't trust me but you can trust my accountant" emblazoned on the front.

This is a matter that must be taken seriously as soon as possible because if accountants lose credibility now then it could take years to recover.

This article seemed so timely that it had to be published quickly. As a result, you will have to wait until next week for some thoughts on Nick Clegg's wealth tax.

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Should Be Working ... not playing with the car
By should_be_working
05th Sep 2012 09:38

The Danger of the Single Data Point

So 'only' 55% of the public trust accountants? How do we know if that's good or bad? When was the last survey done? Has it come down from 85%, or up from 45%?

That very accountant-y point made, I agree that our professional bodies should be using our subs to promote the profession - surely one of their core duties - instead of launching flashy apps or just trying to take over the world, which seems to be ACCAglobal's mission.

 

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By Midlands Accountancy
05th Sep 2012 11:22

HMRC

I’d be interested to see the same survey repeated but asking whether people trusted HMRC.

 

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By justsotax
06th Sep 2012 11:02

so 25% of ACCA members

find the profession not trustworthy.....perhaps that needs to be the starting point....or does that say more about ACCA members who find other ACCA members to be less than trustworthy.....

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By maxxy
11th Sep 2012 09:37

The general public is probably dubious about pretty much any profession or trade. Look at the growth in rated directories ie; for traders alongside schemes such as the Buy with Confidence scheme promoted by Trading Standards. Consumers are getting lazy and expecting other people to do the verification and validation for them. There used to be a time when people made supplier selection carefully asking around for recommendations or examples of work or speaking to past customers but now it seems that you can go anywhere online and find a directory that puts stars or similar next to someone's name. Plus if you don't like them or have  a bad experience then theres the comfort factor of shouting about it online. 

I mention this because we ran a survey some time ago whereby over 70% of business people (SME & Micro) didn't have the first clue what qualifications their accountant had. 

So if people don't value qualifications, or professional bodies, or perceive the benefits, they will continue to select accountants based on other criteria. The scope of poor experiences widens and therefore the negative reputation of the accountancy profession widens. 

However on the other side of the coin I come across people regularly who are too trusting!  They will stick with their accountant no matter what fines, penalties, money lost, rubbish service ... it's all the devil you know. 

I wonder what the survey would have been like across a selection of SME's rather than the general public. 

 

P.S. Accountant's got talent ... love it :-)

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By User deleted
14th Sep 2012 09:49

Nothing to do with ..... ?

Joining up the dots ...

e.g. Fred Goodwin (RBS) - Touche Ross the Deloitte

Seem to recall something about directors of iSoft ... etc. and so on - look behind a great many dodgy setups and what does one find

Whilst there a huge number of excellent members of the profession; trouble is - one/few bad apples - especially if high profile

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