The accountancy profession is perceived as many things – but exciting is probably not one of them. Ask any five-year-old what they dream of being when they grow up and few will tell you that they’re mesmerised by the prospect of days spent poring over spreadsheets.
“There is still the sense among the young when they’re looking for job security, what they will study at university, accounting is still considered a safe occupation,” says Anton Colella, chief executive of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS).
However, those who do embark down the path of the bean counters often find there’s more on offer than first meets the eye. Colella added: “When you qualify as an accountant, it’s most certainly a passport to a strong and stable career, whether it’s in finance and accounting or not.”
ICAS currently has around 21,000 members, including many under the age of 35 and a significant number in London. Atholl Duncan, executive director, UK and global at ICAS, estimates that about 60 per cent of those currently training with the institution are London-based. “We are the oldest accounting institute in the world, but now we’re increasingly becoming the youngest,” jokes Colella.
The ICAS leadership team has noticed a shift in the mindset of its membership alongside its change in average age.
The ICAS interview with City A.M. takes place shortly after the Panama Papers report, which linked a number of well-known names to offshore tax activities, was made public and as the Serious Fraud Office’s third trial for alleged Libor manipulation is making its way through court.
Perhaps as a result of such high-profile scandals, Colella noted that the young accountants they train are demanding a more ethical approach to leadership.
“They are looking for a moral compass at a time when personal fulfilment – and we hear this often in the surveys – is not found in salaries,” said Colella. “They’re looking to be part of something that’s making a difference, where they have the opportunity to develop, to grow as individuals. We find increasingly, and it may seem surprising, they are finding a real home in the accounting profession and in the institute.”
In light of this greater demand for more responsibility, ICAS has recently launched the Power of One initiative, which encourages its members to take on personal responsibility for their actions and approach leadership with an ethical point of view.
ICAS is also soon due to launch its 35 under-35 campaign, celebrating the most remarkable of its younger members and, as Duncan called them, “the future leaders of the City”.
“[Young professionals] can have a huge impact on the life, the culture, the future and, I would say ultimately, the success of the City and its financial institutions,” added Colella. “ICAS is therefore starting there.”