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Recent Initiatives to Support the Profession and Protect the Public Interest

Graham Ward, CBE | IFAC President (November 2004 to November 2006)
Mar 16, 2006 | Consiglio Nazionale dei Ragionieri e Periti Commerciali – Meeting with the Mayor of Rome and Institutional Authorities | Rome, Italy | English

I am honoured to be here with you today to share in this celebration of your 100th anniversary. Both personally, and on behalf of IFAC’s Board, committees, and staff, I offer you our sincerest congratulations on this important milestone. I would also like to thank the Consiglio Nazionale dei Ragionieri e Periti Commerciali, its President, William Santorelli and its Vice President, Francesco Distefano for inviting me to participate in this historic event by making some brief remarks about IFAC and the role of the international profession.

There can be no more appropriate place to discuss the international accountancy profession and to celebrate its history than here in Italy, the birthplace of Luca Pacioli who is credited with founding our great profession during the 14th century. Pacioli was a man of diverse backgrounds and talents: he was a tutor, a professor of mathematics, an author and a Franciscan Friar.  He associated with the common merchants, devising bookkeeping methods that could assist them with their businesses and, at the same time, counted Leonardo Di Vinci amongst his friends. A true Renaissance man, Pacioli continues to be a model for our profession today. Like Pacioli, our lives as professional accountants result in us working with individuals in all paths of life. We are continually challenged to understand business’s changing needs, to deliver credible financial information and to adopt the vision necessary to serve the public interest effectively in the years ahead.

The CNRPC is dedicated to helping professional accountants  to meet these goals. As an active member of the International Federation of Accountants for a dozen years, CNRPC has demonstrated its commitment to the development of a high quality accountancy profession both here inItalyand internationally. And we are very grateful to the leaders of your organization for sharing IFAC’s mission to protect the public interest. I would like to recognize and to thank those Italian representatives currently serving on our boards and committees,  whose support enables IFAC to achieve its mission and objectives: Dr. Roberto D’Imperio, a member of the IFAC Board and his technical advisor Gianfrancesco Padoan; Prof. Roberto Tizzano, a member of the International Auditing and Assurance Standards Board; Prof. Stefano Pozzoli, a public member of the International Public Sector Accounting Standards Board; and Lino De Vecchi, Deputy Chair of our Small and Medium Practices Committee. I would also like to thank Angelo Casò, who retired from the IFAC Board last November after more than five years of service on the Board and four years as Chair of the SMP Committee. These outstanding professional accountants, like the great Italian Pacioli, possess the leadership, integrity and vision necessary further to develop our profession and to serve the public interest.

Today, I would like to speak to you briefly about recent IFAC initiatives – initiatives that are themselves designed further to strengthen our accountancy profession and its ability to contribute to economic growth and stability worldwide.

IFAC’s activities are driven by a mission that reflects our broad vision to consider the public’s welfare. Our mission is:

To serve the public interest, IFAC will continue to strengthen the worldwide accountancy profession and contribute to the development of strong international economies by establishing and promoting adherence to high-quality professional standards, furthering the international convergence of such standards and speaking out on public interest issues where the profession's expertise is most relevant.

In striving to meet this mission, IFAC has taken significant steps in four key areas, working closely with its 160 member organizations:

  • Strengthening our standard setting and promoting ethical conduct;
  • Achieving convergence with international standards;
  • Reaching out to and supporting developing nations, professional accountants in business and small and medium practices and enterprises; and
  • Strengthening the financial reporting supply chain.

Our initiatives in each of these areas are central to our mission to serve and to protect the public interest. Let me begin with standard setting. IFAC sets international auditing and assurance, ethics, education and public sector accounting standards. Over the past year, we have continued to increase public interest input into these processes through Consultative Advisory Groups and other means and enhanced the transparency of those processes by including more information on the IFAC website ( Time does not permit me to outline all of our standard setting initiatives but I would like to highlight a few of the most significant ones for you now.

In the area of auditing standards, the International Auditing and Assurance Standards Board has undertaken a significant project to improve the clarity and structure of its standards. Last October, the IAASB issued four exposure drafts of proposed standards re-drafted using its new drafting style. This new style was developed based on input it received at a forum in July last year and through responses to its 2004 Proposed Policy Statement and Consultation Paper on Clarity. These proposed new standards are the first to be issued as part of an ambitious program to make IAASB standards more understandable and capable of being translated and to facilitate international convergence.

In addition to focusing on clarity, last year the IAASB released a new international standard on audit documentation, designed to enhance auditor performance and audit quality by establishing stricter requirements for audit documentation. Beginning with this standard, the IAASB staff is preparing a “Basis for Conclusions” for each new international standard to increase understanding about the development of the standards – in particular, how the IAASB has responded to input received. We hope that you find this to be helpful.

Other current IAASB projects are the development of standards on the audit of group financial statements and related parties issues. In January, the IAASB issued an exposure draft of a proposed revised International Standard on Auditing that would require the auditor to perform a minimum set of procedures to identify related party transactions and transactions not identified or disclosed by management.  I view this exposure draft as being particularly important.

In the area of ethics, IFAC’s International Ethics Standards Board for Accountants has updated the Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants, further emphasizing the five fundamental values, which are integrity, objectivity, professional competence and due care, confidentiality and professional behavior. The development of the updated Code is part of an ongoing effort to ensure that all professional accountants – whether they work in public practice, business or government – have clear, relevant and high quality ethical guidance.

The Ethics Standards Board is also addressing issues such as audit independence and whistle-blowing and is in the process of developing new guidance for professional accountants in government and in business.

IFAC’s International Accounting Education Standards Board is also focused on ethics, among other issues. It is in the process of developing a tool kit and an International Education Guideline to assist member bodies, academic institutions and others in instilling a strong ethical foundation in the accountants of tomorrow. The guideline will offer recommendations for good practice models of ethics education, while the tool kit will provide practical tools – such as sample course outlines, teaching notes and case studies – to be used by member bodies and educators. The tool kit and proposed guideline are expected to be available later this month.

As part of its effort to help ensure that there are competent professional accountants worldwide, the Education Standards Board is developing new guidance on the training of audit professionals. The Board is also in the process of updating International Education Guideline 11, Information Technology for Professional Accountants, to reflect changes in the information technology field, and it plans to release an exposure draft in the near future.

Through the International Public Sector Accounting Standards Board, IFAC develops Standards which are designed to improve public sector financial management and accountability. This is an area that we cannot afford to overlook and IFAC views it as an increasingly important area of activity. The IPSASB is currently addressing key issues for public sector accounting, including accounting for non-exchange revenue, heritage assets and budget reporting.

The IPSASB’s recent consultation paper on accounting for heritage assets, such as museum collections, historic buildings and nature reserves, will be very relevant toItaly, a country  that has such significant heritage assets.

In consultation with IFAC boards and committees, and other relevant interested parties, IFAC staff are further developing the concept of “international convergence.” The objective is to develop guidance to accompany IFAC’s Statements of Membership Obligations (SMOs), which require IFAC members and associates to use their best endeavors to incorporate international standards, set by IFAC and by the International Accounting Standards Board, into their national standards. The SMOs, which also require member bodies to implement quality assurance and investigation and discipline programs, form the basis of IFAC’s Member Body Compliance Program.

The Compliance Program supports the development of high quality auditing, accounting, ethical, educational and related quality assurance and disciplinary standards in IFAC member bodies throughout the world. The program is intended to guide accounting institutes in the full spectrum of their professional responsibilities, to demonstrate a shared commitment to our profession’s values of integrity, transparency and expertise.

Part 1 of the Compliance Program, a fact-based questionnaire to assess the regulatory and standard-setting frameworks of IFAC member bodies, is now complete. Responses from more than 130 member bodies, including the CNRPC, have been posted on the IFAC website, and the remaining responses are in the process of being agreed and posted.

Part 2, the SMO Self-Assessment Questionnaire, was launched last December and member body responses will be posted beginning in the second half of this year. The responses from these questionnaires will  provide a global snapshot of the accountancy profession from both a regulatory and standards perspective. Additionally, they can be used to help IFAC gauge where it needs to focus its efforts to support the development of the profession and to work to achieve convergence. Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, the responses to the questionnaires demonstrate the international accountancy profession’s willingness to be accountable for its actions to meet high standards, to deliver quality and to protect the public interest – all important responsibilities in the changing and complex environment in which we all work.

This focus on convergence is fundamental to all IFAC standard-setting activities. We firmly believe that it is in the public interest to have a single set of international standards, of the highest quality, set in the public interest by an international expert body which transparently consults with, and recognizes the legitimate interests of, the international community. The IAASB and  IFAC’s Education and Ethics Standards Boards develop standards that do meet these requirements. The independent international Public Interest Oversight Board, formed in February 2005, oversees these standard-setting activities as well as the IFAC Member Body Compliance Program. Last September, the PIOB approved the due process and working procedures for these standard-setting boards and in December,  it approved IFAC’s nominations of members of them .

In order to achieve its goal of developing a high quality profession that meets the public interest, IFAC must ensure that it supports the roles of all professional accountants. For this reason, over the past year, we have reached out to accountants in developing nations, to those in small and medium practices and to professional accountants in business. IFAC’s Small and Medium Practices Committee is increasingly active in representing the interests ofSMPs to both theIAASB and the International Accounting Standards Board. The committee is providing input to theIASB’s project considering the development of financial reporting standards for SMEs. It is also planning to develop guidance materials forSMPs, especially in relation to the application of ISAs to the audit of SMEs and to establish an electronic data exchange on SME andSMPissues.

Our Developing Nations Committee is also focused on the goal of high quality in the public interest. As a result of an extensive consultative process, the committee is preparing a country-specific approach to supporting developing nations, helping both those countries where there is no established profession and those that have only begun to build the professional, financial and regulatory architecture necessary to support economic growth.

In addition, to assist in the establishment and development of professional accountancy bodies, last year the committee released new good practice guidance on the roles and responsibilities of a professional body, education and examination and capacity development. This guidance addresses a range of situations, including where the accountancy profession does not exist in a country, where the profession exists and there is a desire to establish a professional accountancy body and where an existing professional body requires further development and enhancement. The guide also includes suggested areas for priority action based on short-, medium- and long-term goals and projects.

I believe that tools such as this new guidance are a key way that the accountancy profession can support economic growth and stability, which in turn can reduce poverty and improve the quality of life for citizens of developing nations.

IFAC is also working to help member bodies to meet the unique needs of professional accountants in business. These accountants hold a wide range of positions in companies inItalyand around the globe and are often the gatekeepers of financial information, and thus, of public trust. Recognizing this very critical role, our Professional Accountants in Business (PAIB) Committee has undertaken several initiatives to provide accountants in business with good practice guidance, including the forthcoming launch of an electronic resource center to provide one-stop access to current information on issues faced by this constituency.

Recognizing the critical role of ethical values and standards on protecting the public interest, the PAIB Committee has issued an exposure draft, Guidance for the Development of a Code of Corporate Conduct, proposing guidance to assist professional accountants and others in establishing and implementing codes of conduct in their organizations. The exposure draft may be downloaded from the IFAC website. The goal of this proposed new guidance is to support sound corporate governance policies worldwide.

Accounting and auditing firms play an important role in the financial reporting supply chain through the provision of assurance about the financial reports of the companies they audit. It is important, however, to keep in mind that accounting firms are only one part of that chain, which also includes accountants within businesses, analysts, lawyers, senior management and boards of directors. It is for this reason that IFAC’s Board agreed to begin a new initiative on enhancing the quality of the financial reporting supply chain. The project will identify investor expectations and needs and include practical suggestions for enhancements that the global accountancy profession can provide by direct action and those where it will need to engage with others to create change. Among the issues being considered in the new study are corporate management and governance, regulatory developments, auditor independence and rotation and the expectations around the board’s and auditor’s responsibility for the detection of fraud.

As IFAC looks to the future, we are aware that the profession’s reputation rests squarely on its ability to protect the public interest and to improve the transparency of financial markets. Ensuring high-quality financial reporting is an area where there is no room for compromise. The CNRPC and the accountancy profession here inItalyhave been vital participants in the development of the international accountancy profession. We are most grateful for your very active role in strengthening our profession and for your continued support for IFAC. Inspired by Pacioli, we need to keep in mind that together, we can make a difference. Together, we can serve the public effectively and strengthen capital markets. Together, we can contribute to stability and prosperity both here inItalyand worldwide.

Thank you very much for your attention.