In 2019, the Edinburgh Group (EG) published “The SMP of the Future in a Changing World” to address the challenges impacting small- and medium-sized practices (SMPs) operating in an increasingly volatile and uncertain environment, and how PAOs can assist SMPs to adapt and thrive. EG representatives also shared how their PAOs are delivering a range of support activities.
Throughout recent IFAC SMP Advisory Group meetings, several PAOs described their initiatives to support SMPs. An earlier article covers these technological initiatives and another the specific PAO support for sole practitioners. This article covers PAO initiatives focused on talent, professional development, branding, networking, and supporting SMPs through the pandemic.
Talent, Professional Development & Branding
Talent attraction and retention remain key issues for SMPs. The pandemic has driven more firms and PAOs to act and innovate, but many PAOs were already headed in this direction.
The Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA) developed a student recruitment website to expand its CPA student population amidst competition with other professions. Apart from web resources, it also seeks to promote diversity in the profession with scholarships and internship programs for ethnic minority undergraduates.
For firms that aspire to provide auditing services to publicly listed companies (PLCs) in China, the Chinese Institute of Certified Public Accountants (CICPA) provides a securities qualification certification free of charge. This program is intended to train staff of local accounting firms and increase the number of firms that have the capability to service the PLC markets in China. In addition, to attract talent from outside the profession, CICPA amended the criteria to be a partner of an accounting firm. Since 2017, CICPA has admitted more types of non-accounting professionals, such as tax lawyers—albeit with limitations to their equity ownership.
A strong brand for the accountancy profession is an important element in attracting talent. CPA Australia produced videos featuring satisfied small business clients being serviced by professional accountants as way of promoting the importance of small firms trusted business advisor relationships with their clients.
The Estonian Auditors’ Association (EAA) includes a section on their website called “For the Entrepreneur” explaining the value add of an auditor, along with several tools to determine if an audit is needed or whether other services such as a review might be acceptable. They have a section titled “Career as an Auditor” that describes the experience and training necessary to become a statutory auditor. They also have a register of all member firms, many of whom are SMEs/SMPs.
The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Sri Lanka signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Auditor General’s (AG) Office of Maldives to strengthen and develop the accounting and auditing profession in 2015. More recently, CA Sri Lanka provided technical assistance with the contribution of resources for a two-day workshop on how to apply Clarified Auditing Standards for the audit of SMEs to enable SMPs to carry out audits of SMEs in compliance with the International Standards on Auditing and other Best Practices. The registered audit professionals in Maldives and the staff of the Auditor General’s Office participated in this interactive program. They also developed a highly interactive three-day skill development program for students of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Sri Lanka that was converted into a virtual program due to COVID-19 restrictions in the country.
The Italian PAO, CNDCEC, launched an initiative to support SMPs to develop more multi-disciplinary and multi-functional services and practices. The networking initiative focuses on collaboration between SMPs and the legal profession, a unique feature in Italy. This is an effort to better equip SMPs to provide a holistic, one-stop service to their small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) clients.
Other PAOs, in Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore, have also implemented strategies to help SMPs to engage and grow with their peers at home and abroad. These involve a number of networking events in these jurisdictions and elsewhere that were organized before the COVID-19 pandemic. These kinds of events help SMPs to build their capacity to deliver on larger projects and diversify into new service areas.
One IFAC member in Guatemala, IGCPA, developed a Firm Directory that includes all sizes of firms, from B4 to small practices, with the aim of enhancing the quality of firms in the jurisdiction. The Directory has ambitious projects, starting with consistent professional training for firms’ employees, regulatory consistency, and working towards developing a voluntary quality assurance program.
An IFAC member in Brazil, IBRACON, has an SMP Working Group to debate and propose solutions to technical, professional, administrative, business and other problems that concern SMPs. Currently, the working group is discussing strategies to adopt the International Standards on Quality Management (ISQM) and how to leverage technology in service delivery.
Supporting SMPs Through the Pandemic
In 2019, the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (ISCA) launched an SMP Centre, a one-stop portal with information to support SMPs on their digitalisation journey. Some of initiatives driven by the SMP Centre include the curation of digital solutions that cater to SMPs’ business needs that lists relevant information on sector-specific digital solutions. They are running tech talks to promote understanding on how these tools can address some of the pain points of the profession and working with government agencies on funding schemes to help SMPs defray costs when adopting new digital solutions. The SMP Centre includes an online self-assessment toolkit, which SMPs can use it to determine their firm’s stage of digital readiness; and identify the suitable digital solutions and training programs depending on the stage of the firm’s digital development. They also provide advisory support to SMPs who need further guidance on the solutions suitable for their practices, the funding available, etc.
KICPA, the Korean PAO, has been operating an “SMP Audit Quality Support Center”. Through this center, SMPs are able to get financial support to establish their management system, including Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). And in August, this center opened a call center where SMPs could seek advice from experts regarding audit and accounting matters. They have also been operating a “Cooperation Committee for Mutual Prosperity” for both for larger firms and SMPs. It shares SMP materials such as working papers for audits and materials for fund (i.e., private equity fund) audits. It also provides an industry-specialized database to help auditors understand the industry and analyze risks when performing audit work. The source of the database comes from large accounting firms and some other related organizations. They even provide some of their educational materials free of charge.
CECCAR Romania has created a Romanian Business Resilience Network open to all stakeholders to support the business community to be prepared to respond in case of shocks / disasters, to recover, to reinvent and persevere in rebuilding their businesses, and to eventually thrive. The immediate objective of the network is to identify and promote solutions that can mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on business and the Romanian economy. In the long run, the network aims to contribute to strengthening the resilience of the business environment to future shocks / disasters.
In Sri Lanka, a virtual Session for SMPs titled “Auditors Leveraging Technology: Lessons from the Pandemic” was conducted in May 2021 by SMP experts with four days of sessions and it was planned with the purpose of advancement of knowledge of SMPs in auditing on the areas of audit planning, risk assessment, evidence gathering and execution, conclusion, and reporting.
FSR Denmark has an SME Portal with news, resources, and tools to help SMEs develop their business.
In many jurisdictions, SMPs tend to look to their PAOs for guidance and support. PAOs need to develop and enhance activities to assist their SMPs, especially in the continually challenging COVID-19 environment. The ability of SMPs to survive and eventually thrive will depend greatly on the success of such initiatives.