It is easy to take the existence of strong professional organizations for granted, especially here in the UK. These organizations promote their professions, set standards, provide training, exchange information and offer a wide range of services to members. But in many parts of the world, especially in those states suffering from political, economic, societal and environmental fragility, professional accountancy organizations are often struggling.
Last December, the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) convened a three-day conference in Kuala Lumpur to share thinking on how to develop accountancy capacity in emerging economies. More than 100 participants attended, drawn from government, supreme audit institutions, the donor community and accountancy organizations across 38 different countries.
One recurrent theme highlighted by participants from some of the smallest and least wealthy countries was how to make their organizations financially sustainable. These individuals and organizations are often operating in countries where there are few qualified accountants, and so professional networks are weak. This is especially true in the public sector, where fledgling professional accountancy organizations struggle to generate sufficient fees from members to be financially viable and to truly move the profession forward. In the medium term, such organizations are likely to need external capacity development support from the international development community and wealthier professional accountancy organizations.
This sort of necessary support will inevitably vary from country to country, but some common areas of need include organizational development, curriculum development and advocacy work. As young organizations, many are looking for advice on business structures, governance issues and how to adequately define their role in regulating the profession, especially when operating in the face of governments that can be suspicious of self-regulation by industry.
Further support is needed to adapt existing accountancy and audit training for local contexts, and to develop the accounting technician role as both a full career in itself and as a milestone on the pathway to the profession. Many professional accountancy organizations also face challenges in convincing parliaments and governments of the need for accountants to be employed in the public sector, and in particular the need to provide sufficient remuneration to retain people once they are trained. Identifying new ways to demonstrate to governments and others the value that accountants can add, and forging partnerships both inside government and out, with business, the media and civil society requires international advocacy. In all these areas, the joint UK Department for International Development (DFID)/IFAC support programme for professional accounting organizations has made a major contribution.
CIPFA, in part via its contribution to the DFID/IFAC programme, is committed to partnering with other professional accountancy organizations around the world and supporting public sector financial management. It was evident from conference participants in Kuala Lumpur that these efforts are appreciated, but there is clearly much more still to be done and much more for us at CIPFA to learn. The desire of participants to make a difference was marked by a clear desire to be at the forefront of promoting high ethical standards in their home countries, encouraging public financial management reforms and helping their countries achieve the UN’s sustainable development goals. We can be part of that journey.