IFAC's Points of View
Embracing a People-Centered Profession
The accountancy profession is first and foremost a profession made of people—individuals and teams working collaboratively and collectively. Events like the COVID-19 pandemic help us reflect on what really matters—the human element of the profession and the work that it does. Every year, millions of professional accountants worldwide create billions of dollars of value for a wide spectrum of stakeholders while acting in the public interest. They do this by acting ethically and with integrity while applying their professional judgment, technical skills, high level of education, and training to support business resilience and success.  Understanding the connection between people, education, professional judgment, ethics, value and the public interest, is central to the ongoing relevance of the profession.
Digital transformation and technology will continue to change the day-to-day work of professional accountants regardless of their role or location. However, the reallocation of tasks from manual processes to technologically-assisted solutions will only increase the value and importance of trust and professional judgment—the cornerstones of the accountancy profession. Only people can engender trust and apply professional judgment. The profession must seize this transition as an opportunity by focusing on the basics of ethics and integrity, while developing the digital skills—as well as the human and other skills—required to ensure the ongoing relevance of the profession.
As the technological environment changes rapidly, so too does the societal environment. The spirit of society’s evolving priorities and expectations is captured by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Businesses and Governments both have a role to play and must rise to the occasion. The accountancy profession intersects with the SDGs in a number of ways, and it is incumbent on everyone working within the professional accountancy ecosystem to align themselves with these goals.
Firms, Professional Accountancy Organizations (PAOs), standard setting boards, businesses, regulators and professional accountants themselves must embrace the notion that the continued relevance of the accountancy profession fundamentally depends on people. It is about continuing to maximize the value that professional accountants contribute to a broad range of stakeholders, in the public interest, and creating an environment where talented people are attracted to careers in a dynamic profession that contributes to sustainable businesses and societies. All participants in the accountancy ecosystem, most notably PAOs and their members, must act proactively rather than reactively in the face of a dynamic future.
“Workplace stress had caused 42% of respondents to consider resigning, while 40% had looked for a new job elsewhere. Nearly one in seven (14%) had actually handed in their notice because of workplace stress.”
1. A profession made of individuals.
Beyond simply ‘human capital,’ professional accountants are individuals, each with their own unique competencies, experiences and aspirations. Firms, organizations and PAOs that approach members, staff and clients from this perspective will be better able to attract, challenge, and retain talented people throughout their careers. Moreover, appreciating the individual characteristics of professional accountants helps foster an environment where trust and judgment can thrive. At the same time, professional accountants must embrace their role in ensuring an ethical, future-relevant profession.
- Under normal circumstances, professional accountancy work is challenging, often with tight timelines, long hours and increasing expectations from stakeholders and regulators. During times of stress—be it a pandemic, natural disaster, or other systemic/societal disruption—these challenges increase. Acknowledging this, we encourage employers, PAOs, and accountants to foster meaningful work-life balance. Conditions that enable work-life balance—supporting professional and personal satisfaction—make high performance sustainable at the individual level. If there is a silver lining to the COVID pandemic, it has demonstrated how technology enables greater flexibility. Accommodating flexible work arrangements makes the profession accessible and attractive to a broader array of individuals, facilitating greater diversity and inclusiveness.
- Mental health is as important to well-being and productivity as physical health, yet the stigma associated with acknowledging mental health issues can prevent many from getting needed help. Employers and PAOs must take a holistic and non-discriminatory approach to health.
- We encourage firms and PAOs to consider how they can support their staff and members. This might involve:
- promoting the importance of, and facilitating access to, mental health and overall wellness and self-care;
- reinforcing a diverse and inclusive environment that supports mental health;
- establishing networks that help build relationships and the exchange of experiences among peers; and
- establishing, communicating and reiterating confidential processes to help individual accountants and/or staff deal with ethical issues that they may be facing in their work.
IFAC, in turn, looks to be a resource for PAOs in developing these initiatives by leveraging our global network and role as a convener.
- Beyond the professional value that accountants provide, we encourage them—as people and members of society—to play an active leadership role in their communities by leveraging their education, skills, business acumen and integrity. Where possible, professional accountants should consider making volunteering and/or pro bono work a meaningful part of their professional life, especially during times of adversity. We encourage PAOs and firms to accommodate and facilitate such activities amongst staff/members.
- IFAC believes that a diverse and inclusive culture, where professional accountants can bring their authentic selves to work, combined with meaningful work-life balance and appropriate mental health awareness, all contribute to a culture of trust and integrity. For the global accountancy profession, a culture of trust and integrity supports its ability to deliver on its public interest mandate, thereby increasing its relevance into the future.
Modified work arrangements have great value
1. Nexus 2: The Accountancy Profession – A Global Value Add, IFAC, November 12, 2015.
2. IFAC’s Practice Transformation Action Plan discusses how practices and professional accountants can best evolve with technology, move from transactional to strategic services, and continue to enhance their relevance into the future.
3. See Prediction Machines: The Simple Economics of Artificial Intelligence, Agrawal, Gans, & Goldfarb, 2018. Artificial intelligence does not bring us intelligence but instead a critical component of intelligence—prediction. Advances in “artificial intelligence” applications dramatically reduce the cost of prediction so as to materially increase the value of complements to prediction, including judgment.
6. For example, FinBiz2030, a joint initiative between Chartered Accountants Worldwide and One Young World, aims to establish an active and engaged business community globally that is dedicated to achieving the SDGs by 2030.
7. See Audit in Action from the CAQ for a series of stories highlighting how auditors are innovating to continue to deliver value to the capital markets. See, for example, Keeping the Audit Profession Attractive.
8. See, for example, Keeping the Audit Profession Attractive.
11. This is of particular importance for people entering the profession, who significantly benefit from young professional networks and mentoring programs, and cite access to a network as a key motivation for joining a PAO. See Accountancy Europe’s The Future of Professional Organisations.
12. Accountancy Europe provides inspiring stories of accountants making a difference in its Stories from Practice. IFAC, for its part, has developed the IFAC Cares volunteering program where IFAC can spend time volunteering for the local community in New York City. See https://twitter.com/IFAC/status/1156999602320658432