- | Spanish
The market for professional services is fundamental to the European Union (EU) economy since it is estimated that — at the community level — professional services represent 12.8% of GDP and contribute 13.7% to total employment, generating around 31 million jobs. In addition, as the EU has in various reports, professional services contribute significantly to the economy and business activity, so their quality and competitiveness have spillover effects covering all economic sectors. As a part of the EU, trends apply to and can be understood better by looking at the more specific example of Spain.
The professional activity related to accounting is included in the list of professional activities that contribute to the above data. In Spain, professional accounting is performed by those with the designation Accounting Expert, although there is no reserve of legal activity or officially recognized title.
For reasons of public interest, the two professional accountancy organizations (PAOs) that represent accountants and auditors in Spain are the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Spain (ICJCE) and the General Council of Economists of Spain (CGE). They collaborate to strengthen and promote the professional qualification and designation of the Accounting Expert (EC), which:
- Highlights the importance of professional competencies, skills, and ethics to improve the professionalization of accounting activity in Spain
- Fights against professional intrusion
- Aligns with global best practices
The Register of Accounting Experts (REC)
A key initiative in Spain was the creation of the Register of Accounting Experts (REC), which is endorsed by the two Spanish PAOs, and as of 2023, has over 4,000 professionals and accredited companies.
To be included in the REC, professionals must be practicing auditors or undergo a process of verification of professional and/or academic merits or, as an alternative procedure, pass a rigorous examination. In addition, they must comply with a series of obligations, such as continuing professional education, and the adoption of the code of ethics of the REC, which is based on the International Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants
Benefits of the REC
- Wider acceptance of the importance of the Accounting Expert designation among accounting professionals and also among other related institutions and users of financial information.
- Reliable and objective way for companies and public administrations to accredit an accountant's knowledge and professional status in the market. Public tenders or private job offers are increasingly requring accreditation in the REC as a prerequisite for applicants. For example, KPMG prioritizes hiring accredited Accounting Experts over other professionals.
- Attraction of students and future accounting experts through ongoing collaborations with universities, including agreements to offer part of the entrance exam to the REC for students who pass their postgraduate or masters studies.
- An uptick in new membership enrollments in the CGE and the ICJCE due to the growing interest in accreditation. This provides a basis for maintaining the rate of generational rejuvenation of membership and obtaining an additional source of income.
How are the ICJCE and CGE supporting the accountancy profession in Spain?
Although the accreditation of the Accounting Expert is a recent service (2015), since the constitution of the CGE and the ICJCE, both PAOs have been:
Providing training activities to support accountants. As continued professional development requirements are mandatory, providing continuous and updated training for accounting experts is a priority for both PAOs, including the organization of professional courses on accounting and related topics.
- Speaking as the voice of the accountancy profession in Spain through influencing public policy and regulation. This involves participating in public consultations and developing relationships with key policymakers and regulators. In the event of any regulatory change affecting professional activity, technical notes and communications are prepared and circulated to Accounting Experts on a recurring and immediate basis.
- Partnering with the professional regulator. There is active collaboration with the regulator through the direct involvement of the CGE and the ICJCE in the Accounting Advisory Committee of the Institute of Accounting and Auditing (ICAC) – Spain's public audit oversight authority.
- Providing Technical Assistance. The resolution of technical queries is a highly valued service, with a group of highly qualified professionals – both academic and professional – who assist with these queries.
What regulatory challenges does the Profession face?
The Accounting Expert in Spain, unlike countries such as France or Portugal, is not regulated at the national or government level. This regulatory environment can hinder the free movement of people and services and the freedom of establishment, two of the fundamental pillars on which the EU is based to facilitate the single market.
The challenge in Spain is that neither accounting activity nor the professional title are subject to public regulation, which makes it challenging to obtain professional recognition among the countries where it exists and increases the likelihood and risk of non-professionals undertaking finance and accounting roles. This places Spanish Accounting Experts at an obvious competitive disadvantage compared to professionals from other countries.
The regulatory framework in Spain also does not specify certain concepts, with issues such as:
- Ambiguity in definitions. The current Spanish commercial legislation includes many references to the concept of "independent experts." The appointment of an "independent expert" is regulated by the Regulations of the Commercial Registry, establishing that it will be designated among the natural or legal persons who belong to a profession directly related to the assets subject to valuation. In other sections, it refers directly to individuals experts in valuations or appraisals without specifying the Profession.
- Increased risks of clear definitions. The legislator has replaced the reference to auditors with the concept of an independent expert for various actions in the commercial field, mainly intended to strengthen auditors' independence. However, the change in terminology may pose a relevant problem with other characteristics. As the jobs and the level of knowledge that numerous accreditations or qualifications entail are not clearly defined in Spain, there are high levels of professional intrusion and risk of appointing professionals without their experience and knowledge being duly accredited.
What are the challenges and future of this accreditation in Spain?
We live in an increasingly complex world where companies, especially small and medium-sized entities (SMEs), need finance and accounting professionals to provide trusted accounting and advisory services with high-added value. Continued advocacy is critical to ensure employers, as well as users of financial information, continue to understand and accept the accreditation of the Accounting Expert in our country as the best way to contribute to the public interest, through accounting and financial services provided to society by accredited professionals from the PAOs that represent them, in addition to legal public recognition.