Can accountants really change the world?

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Recently a senior accountant said to me that only politicians and the church can change the world and that helping people become richer and more successful only makes them greedier.

I told him that I disagreed profoundly, explains Steve Pipe, and here is why…

Entrepreneurs have always changed the world – and many of them have made it immeasurably better. Bill Gates, for example, became phenomenally rich and successful – and is now in the process of using $33bn of his wealth through his foundation to make the world a much, much better place (including for example, the total eradication of polio).

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About Steve Pipe

Steve pipe

Steve is an FCA who is passionate about the profession. Often described as one of the world's leading strategists for the accounting profession, he has had helped hundreds of UK practices.


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22nd Oct 2012 17:48

There is a LinkedIn group too

Readers are also very welcome to join the Accountants Changing The World LinkedIn group I have set up 


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22nd Oct 2012 18:28


Rather than Corporate Social Responsibility how about ConSideRate? Far easier to remember.

You're either born with it or can be encouraged to think about it, even the Companies Act mentions it as one of the requirements of being a director.

Being conscious of, and caring about, others and your impact on them is a human attribute and so, whilst I applaud Steve Pipe for encouraging this element of humanity to practice it, I'm a little iffy about expecting us to effectively add it to our service set.  I can think of a few of my clients who have recoiled at my encouragement over Greener ways of working (even if it also saves them money). As someone said on a thread recently, we are not priests.

Mixing what is, at its heart, an ethical message with commerce/fees makes me uneasy.  To illustrate this PWC recently appointed someone within their CSR devision to be their ethics consultant and in the press release one of the partners was quoted as saying something like "any business that ignores ethics is missing a trick".

I think therefore we need to tread carefully on this one. Green compliance is probably the next new thing that we can train up on to replace other dwindling compliance work but "adding value" by moving into ethical behaviour is risky unless you have a very good personal relationship with your clients.



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23rd Oct 2012 09:33

Real honest-to-goodness promise or just a sales gimmick?

As seen with the latest McLaren fiasco, they promote themselves as ethical, but do not live up to their claims.

So .... "any business that ignores ethics is missing a trick" implies that businesses should jump on the 'ethics' bandwagon to get more sales, ie. sales gimmicks. Will they deliver on their promises or do a 'McLaren' and totally ignore their own promises and ethics when it suits?

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23rd Oct 2012 09:56

Integrity and alignment

@ShirleyM - It is a valid question for other businesses. But in the case of accountancy, our professional codes of conduct require us to act with integrity. So surely that should be a given. We must act with integrity in this as in all other things. Which means for us it can’t be a “sales gimmick” with no substance, truth or deliverables behind it.

In addition…

@PaulScholes – I can understand why at first glance you may think “Mixing what is, at its heart, an ethical message with commerce/fees makes me uneasy”. But so much more is achieved when the interests of all parties are aligned. Since then everybody has the greatest incentive to do what needs to be done. And as a result so much more gets done.

For example, a charity will receive more donations (and hence be able to save/change more lives) from a business if the act of giving also helps the company to increase its sales than if it doesn’t.

Surely by giving more in this instance the company is not being manipulative or acting unethically (or doing anything else that should make us feel uneasy). It has merely found a way of aligning its interest with those of the charity – so that the charity gets more money, more lives are saved/changed, and more sales are made (which in turn may save or create jobs).

If anyone believes that sort of behaviour is wrong, would they want to be the ones:

Telling the charity that it’s a good thing they will receive fewer donations?Telling the starving child in Africa its a good thing that they can’t have any more food?Or telling the single mum made unemployed due to the lower sales that it’s a good thing that they lost their job?!


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23rd Oct 2012 10:45

Alighnment of interests and values

Steve - you make an absolutely valid point, on one level the simple act of donating to improve the lives of others is laudable. My difficulty however comes with the motive and the screen of marketing.

In your example you say that "a charity will receive more donations from a business if the act of giving also helps the company to increase its sales than if it doesn't". My point is that you don't need the second bit, in that the act of giving (aka making a gift) is, by it's very nature, a one sided act and by linking it with gaining financial advantage for donor degrades it.

There is quite a famous company which, until recently, had as it's whole CSR policy the making of donations and giving staff time, to a local charity.  I don't know of the motives of the board at the time this was instigated, but the definate impression that I got from the literature and marketing was that they were using your example.  They were seeking to improve their public persona in order to generate more sales. 

The irony is that their motives may have actually been genuine but the fanfare that accompanied them put up a screen.

The same debate can be had with claiming to be carbon neutral.  A company can buy its way to a technical neutrality by offsetting all its carbon emissions against another company or country that is polluting the same amount below the line as they are above it.  This excuses them from looking at ways to reduce their emissions in the first place and the whole process is seen as a marketing exercise rather than acknowledging that they are still damaging the environment unnecessarily.  This growing practice is known as "Green wash" and the "giving to get" in your example could equally be called "ethical wash".

Because of my nature/nurture or whatever, I have a passion for reducing environmental impact, I didn't learn it, it just makes sense to me and it may or may not have any link to the integrity or not that I bring to my professional life.  I have learned the hard way that my values are my values and if they match with those of a client then great, we will get on like a house on fire (as long as it's made of wood!) but if it's not then the only way I can influence the other side is by example not by offering or providing advice. (please excuse any left over copy/pastes).

.he act of giving (aka makin

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23rd Oct 2012 10:41

At first read Steve

your article appears great. Surely though the things you write about should come naturally. Unfortunately our world has become infested with minorities seeking to change the world to suite themselves by fear. Changing the things that matter is the important issue and other, just as important things, might be forgotten in that process.

I have always thought "outside the box" and I believe that Accountants can and do change the world but only to an extent.

One major step to help the present financial crisis would be to to operate a moretorium on all world debt and reduce interest to zero. If something like that isn't done countries will not only go skint, there will be major conflict. You can see it and feel it buiding up all this year.

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23rd Oct 2012 12:51

we can make a massive difference

Its simple really - you can be cynical and find all sorts of reasons to do nothing - or you can get on and start in your own way (however imperfect) to share your experience to help others.


If as a result , there is a business benefit , great - it will be because people like to deal with people, not businesses, and in particular people they like


By attracting more business you can help more people less fortunate than you, and can influence others you are helping to take the same attitude to spreading goodwill, knowledge, and plain old funds to help survival in the poorest cases


Not everyone will take part or share your attitude but if you have helped one business to be more profitable, to employ one more person, to create more gdp and even to pay more tax for the government to waste , then you have played your little part in starting the snow ball to roll down the hill and gather more snow along the way


I am with you Steve all the way - lets ignore any nay sayers and continue to influence those ready to play a more positive role in the world by taking responsibility for a little bit of positive progress, rather than sitting back and leaving it to others



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23rd Oct 2012 13:34

Thanks Mike

Absolutely, just do what comes naturally and others will follow or not AND if it generates business & opportunity as well then that's the icing on the cake.

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23rd Oct 2012 14:33

Another way to think of it perhaps.


It’s really a very simple, non-manipulative, down-to-earth point. Accountants (you reading this right now) seriously are changing the world. Trouble is, you may not know it.

Don’t believe me?

Think of any client you care to name but especially the one who had ‘problems’ — and reflect on how you’ve found solutions to those challenges. And you’ve changed not only your clients’ world but also the world of those around them; certainly the world of their family.

To coin a phrase from MasterCard, it’s priceless. And MasterCard let go of timesheets years ago (in fact, they never even had them). Sadly, most Accountants haven’t. Even more sadly, some Accountants never will. The concept of ‘priceless’ or changing even clients’ lives is lost on them.

But that’s a diversion from the main thrust of Steve Pipe’s point.

Steve, in part, talks of ‘leveraging’ what Accountants do so that they ‘give back’ or ‘do good’. And he’s right to refer to B1G1 [] as the platform of choice for Accountants to do that.

But then the debate gets going as to whether you do it for marketing purposes or differentiation purposes or whatever. Here’s the truth; you do it for you.

You do it for you because you’re a human being and giving is, many studies suggest, hard-wired into our DNA. And there’s little doubt (some would argue NO doubt) that giving leads to happiness — see Michael Norton’s really excellent and ground-breaking research talk on that at TEDx right here:

My Mum was 101 when she died. Her best days without any doubt at all were spent when she was helping others — that’s when she became more ‘alive’. And it’s how and when we become more alive too.

Does that help you in your work? I suspect it does. But it doesn’t really matter; you do it for you.

Do you ‘trumpet’ it from the rooftops? No. Do you keep it under a bushel? No too. But you do let others know about it in the nicest of low-key ways (B1G1 has many of them available for you) so that you encourage them to do the same. Here’s a great example of that:

It’s a tiny 5-person accountancy firm led by Kylie Anderson. And take a look at what they’ve done in just 7 months with B1G1. They’ve given:

·      208,050 people access to clean water for a day

·      40,150 people in need agriculture support for a day

·      3,500 square meters of rainforest protection

·      1,800 social workers a full day’s wage

·      1,520 people in need a nourishing meal

·      1,290 people in need accommodation for a day

·      1,000 children in need a meal at school

·      800 trees maintenance and protection for a year

·      613 people medical support for one day

·      575 children computer education for a day

·      570 people in need required medication

·      280 animals shelter

·      250 disadvantaged people special education for a day

·      250 children education support for a day

·      200 people occupational training for a day

·      110 trees planted to nurture the environment

·      80 animals medical care

·      50 children in need a book to read

·      45 people a special gift

·      15 families a domestic animal to provide income

Changing the world? I think so. Making a difference to others? Absolutely. Making a difference to themselves? Categorically. And having a ball enjoying what they do? I know so. Notice too it's not about the money. It's about the impact. 

And even more impressively, Accountants like Kylie Anderson encourage their clients to do the same so that, in effect, they leave an even bigger legacy in our world.

Or take James Hellyer at Accountancy Edge in Bideford. James and his firm give EVERY day through B1G1. So far over 73,000 giving impacts! Changing the world? I think so again.

And in every case (far too many to mention here) it should be obvious that the Accountants involved are changing the world of their teams too. In fact, in James’ and in Kylie’s case it’s the teams (and the clients) that are determining where the giving goes.

And I've just noticed Mike Ogilvie's comment above. In the past year alone he and his team have given way over one million people access to water.

Let me repeat what I’ve been saying for a long time now: I don’t know of any group of people ………. no, let me change that …….. I don’t know of any person who so has the potential to influence and impact other people’s world than you. You the humble Accountant.

No need to argue. Just the need to do. And how easy it is now to do it, like James, like Kylie, just by doing what you normally do.

Try it. Do it through B1G1. And maybe you’ll discover the truth. It’s all here for you. And it is all for you.

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23rd Oct 2012 15:01

If we are

talking about helping 3rd world countries then really the first step is birth control. I was lucky enough to be on the ground floor of the rise of the female condom. This was supposed to be the answer to 3rd world population. What happened? Not enough profit in it no doubt.

All countries with poverty problems have children dying by the hundreds and still they breed.

Band aid was supposed to go a long way to wipe out poverty but you're up against odds that you can't control.

I remember a program where Lenny Henry couldn't get to sleep in his shack of 4 kids because the 6 kids next door were ill and noisy all night.

You can only help those who help themselves. Continue the logic if they help themselves they don't need help.


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23rd Oct 2012 18:18

Agenda shift?

Blimey John, did you indicate?

Not really sure there are sufficient gigabytes here, so just some snippets.

They seemed to have been doing OK for thousands of years until the Europeans arrived, 

When you look at the world's resources and the human population (even at 7M) there is enough to go around, the promlem is that, per head, Europe takes 3 times it's fair share and the US 5 times.

It is a fact of nature that if any species suffers high infant mortality they will need to keep reproducing to survive.

If we provided infrastructure to build AND stopped taking their crops (and water) to feed us and our animals, and paid them a fair price for any surplus they didn't need, they may at least have a chance to be self supportive.

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24th Oct 2012 09:45

Problem is Paul

they don't want to be self supportive in our way, just like the American Indians didn't.

Agenda shift? The article says Accountants can change the world. I was merely highlighting the really important stuff that, at present, we have no control over but governments and religion do.

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24th Oct 2012 12:11

OK John

Almost laughed but I fear you are being serious.

I have a real problem with the use of "they" to describe the majority of the world's population and also in portraying us and "our way" as the ideal to be forced on, or expected of, other cultures (bit like the US flooding Baghdad with Disney videos?), When I look at what "we" in the West have done, and are still doing, to the planet and other countries it makes me want to look to other cultures to improve how we live.

As to having no control or influence over what happens to others is concerned, we have huge influence still, we buy and control millions of tons of food, produce and resources in other countries either causing damage & water loss or not payng for it.  Do you wear cotton, eat prawns, tuna, fruit & vegetables, drink coffee, use wood products etc etc without checking whether ithey are from sustainable & fair trade sources?  Do you make sure your waste, especially electronic, is dealt with properly? Do you eat meat? 

One way or another (and like it or not) we each carry some responsibility for what we do to others.

But each to their own Jack, I'll back out now it's clear there are two planets here and a very poor internet link.

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24th Oct 2012 12:39


Oh to live in a perfect world. This is my point, and you hit on it Paul, "what we have done and are still doing to our planet"

We, as Accountants, are actually contributing to the mess. We advise our client to buy new machinery etc. We advise on how to maximise profit without a thought to the consequences. Are we going to say to our client sorry you can't do that, although you will earn another £1m, because it will encourage cheap labour in a country known to have human rights issues?

I suppose I have gone a bit deep but then when you read the article it invites those thoughts.

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26th Oct 2012 13:32

Getting back to reality

Bloody Hell this is getting a bit deep here - but what is a certain fact is that we humble accountants cannot solve the world's problems all by ourselves in this blog.

What we can and many are doing is improve the lives of some very unfortunate indiviual people, by giving access to clean water, a farm animal, education, assistance with agriculture, medicine and many, many other things, and it is so easy through B1G1.

I and my small team feel great about that, and we tell people what we are doing. Does that get us more business - I don't know but if it does, fantastic because THAT MEANS MORE PEOPLE GET HELPED. But the main reason we tell people why we are doing what we are doing and how them referring work to us has helped, is to make them aware of the programme so they too can join and increase the giving exponentially. You can call me whatever you like, I really don't care and in my job as an insolvency practitioner I will have been called much worse - the more sucessful my business is the more money I make for me and my family, the more my team is rewarded and has secure jobs and the more we all help others. To try and break that circle on some dubious ethical or moral ground is I think a pretty sad state of affairs. Join the programme and start enjoying helping others!

Phil Wood

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By jimeth
26th Oct 2012 13:58

Start small

We all make a difference to the world by the way we live.  That difference may be small but not unimportant.  The choice we have is whether we make a positive difference or a negative difference.  Despite my weaknesses and failings, I would like to try to make a positive difference.  I may only be able to make a positive difference to the lives of a few people - but if you do too then that's a few more.

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08th Nov 2012 11:07

Not just changing but saving the world?

I did a double take when this came through on Twitter:

Can Accountants Save the World?

It wasn't @StevePipe stepping it up a notch in prep for Accountex but a blog from the ACCA about accountants being the lead in helping companies report non-financial information.

I don't see it myself, I doubt most accountants have even heard of the IIRC besides which it's pointless expecting us to help clients report their non-financial information, if we don't understand or "get" the information.


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By AdamG
11th Nov 2012 09:56

Excellent Idea

I think this is an excellent idea. I am in the process of starting my practice and I believe this will benefit our business greatly as well as help others. I think it is a great idea to be able to help people less fortunate with existing and new clients which is something we have / need anyway so why not use our assets to help others?

Some people may not like it but for me it's an easy decision.

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