Monday 7 September 2020 6:00 am

15 years that changed the world of journalism and audit

Helen Brand is the chief executive of ACCA

The world was a very different place 15 Septembers ago. 

Tony Blair was settling into his final term as Prime Minister after winning Labour’s third consecutive election. England’s cricketers retained the Ashes after the most thrilling series in memory. Oasis topped the singles charts for the very last time.

And in September 2005, the UK welcomed the birth of a new daily business paper — City A.M. — and ever since its first issue it has been chronicling every twist and turn of an incredibly turbulent period for business, the economy and wider society.

ACCA’s own industry — accountancy and finance — has seen enormous, headline-grabbing changes over those 15 years, not least in the wake of the crisis of 2008 when banks toppled, the existence of global trade seemed at risk and the US President famously noted: “This sucker could go down.”

It didn’t, but we still live with the seismic aftershocks of those times, and our industry certainly isn’t the same as it was then. The role of audit in maintaining market confidence has rarely been out of the news in the intervening years. 

The past 12 months have marked important key developments in the exploration of audit, including the Brydon Review. At ACCA, we welcomed its proposed redefinition of audit to reflect the public interest. We also clarified that the primary beneficiary of audit should remain the investor and that change is needed in the audit sector for it to evolve sufficiently. 

ACCA’s own research has shown a clear expectation gap between what the public expects from auditors and what the profession can deliver, including high expectations of auditors’ responsibility in terms of fraud detection. We also welcomed that the review recognised that the successful reform of audit is dependent on the implementation of reforms concerning the roles of directors and audit committees. 

And although these key challenges still need to be addressed, looking more widely, in my view, the accountancy profession has grown and developed for the better over these past 15 years.

First of all, accountants take a much broader view of how they measure success now than they did in 2005, and that fresh vision is vital. More and more companies are joining the integrated reporting (IR) movement, which looks beyond the financial to account for all the stores of value an organisation relies on to create value. The IR concept takes in a wider panorama of reporting, looking at intellectual, social, relationship and natural capital to build a better picture of a company’s worth to both the investor and to society.

In this way, corporate reporting is evolving to capture all the factors that are essential to a business’s survival, which includes its reputation. Increasingly, consumers demand that the organisations they support, trade with, or work for, represent more than a commercial consideration. The businesses that survive and flourish will increasingly be those that are based on real purpose and worth to society, not just their financial value. 

As we enter the next 15 years and re-build from the chaos of Covid-19, I believe that accountants are perfectly placed to bring that long-term view, that dedication to public value, and an ethical approach to investment choices which every business will need to prosper.

No one can be certain what the world of work will look like 15 years from now in 2035. But we can be sure that it won’t be business as usual. The pandemic has raised fundamental and urgent questions about what work means. About what the workplace represents. About the relevance of office hours and old patterns of employment. 

Apart from anything else, Covid-19 hastened a digital revolution which is transforming every aspect of our working lives, atomising old certainties.

As we stand here in 2020 the outlook might seem daunting. And so it is. But it is also an unprecedented opportunity.

There has never been a greater motivation to re-imagine our future, and I know that professional accountants are ready to do just that. Our own members have shown immense resilience and creativity in keeping their businesses afloat during the past six months. Their ability to pioneer innovation and harness digital advances, including data analytics, to lead has been beyond impressive. 

The next chapter in our history is all about how we adapt to the new world wrought by the twin disruptions of Covid and technological upheaval, and I am confident that ethically-driven finance professionals equipped with a wide array of business skills and technological savvy can do more than anyone else to lead that change.

As we emerge from the restrictions of the pandemic, I’m looking forward to seeing how we can rebuild and build back better — and how this is recorded day-by-day by City A.M.

Main image credit: Getty