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How chartered accountants can change the world: A student’s perspective

Sunny Yang and Olivia Carling from the Chartered Accountants Student Society London discuss the importance of the future of accountancy.

November 2021


Sunny Yang

Chartered accountants dominate key positions in the professional world: Over half of the FTSE 100 CEOs have a background in finance. According to the Global Accounting Network, 51% of the CEOs at the 100 biggest UK companies have a background in finance, while traditionally this position was held by sales or marketing people. Roughly half of audit committee chairs and CFOS in some of the biggest companies in the UK are ICAEW (ACA) alumni. In the top 100 companies in the country only two did not have a finance director and 18 without an accountancy qualification.

In the last decade, thanks to the emergence of the cloud, we have seen artificial intelligence, automation, and various other technologies allow accountants to move away from the mundane and monotonous admin errands which used to plague our daily lives. Chartered accountants must now use this ‘freed up time’ to focus on acquiring a more diverse understanding of the working world and use it to establish the right performance measures, drive sustainability and develop goal congruence towards long-term objectives. The post-covid world is becoming more focused on metrics describing sustainability, equality, and technological development compared to the monetary metrics which were previously considered the undisputed measurement of success and it will be the role of accountants to formulate and develop these changes.

How we can change the world

Currently,100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions. These companies, their shareholders, or their board members, may be your clients or employers. You may even be sitting on their boards yourself.

In an increasingly digitised landscape where little time is left to acclimatise, we must be innovators leveraging the technological advances of the 21st century and be willing to actively collaborate where there remains scope to learn. On an individual level, we can continue to educate ourselves and contribute valuably to the discussion of sustainability and how that looks for businesses. By working together, and with the cooperation of our governing body, we could build by investing resources to develop effective indicators for sustainability, developing the knowledge around green reporting and by providing practical, functional resources to support and guide our relevant industries.

The need to act and encourage more sustainable business practices are more vital than ever, and for students, sustainability will drive our careers. Rising temperatures have increased the frequency of wildfires devastating lives across the globe. The WHO estimates air pollution results in 7 million premature deaths each year. 45% of young people claim fear of climate change affects their everyday lives, 40% are hesitant to have children due to climate change related fears.

Chartered accountants at all levels act as advisors. By extending our counsel to offer trusted and reliable support on how to achieve sustainability in business, we can positively impact the attitudes of industries and individuals. At the moment, environmental reporting remains voluntary for many organisations. In 2020, less than 50% of N100 companies acknowledged the risk of climate change in their financial statements. In 2020 77% of N100 companies who were at medium or high risk from biodiversity loss did not include these risks in their annual reports. For those struggling with the incoming regulation relating to sustainability reporting, we must be understanding. By proactively providing support and guidance, those in the accountancy profession could take the opportunity to be leaders in sustainability, and shape attitudes toward greener businesses.

Our future

More than ever, chartered accountants have assimilated into the multitudes of management, c-suite and director roles. With this in mind, we must invest in developing voices for change and support forward thinking leaders who will be key to implementing sustainable, long term changes to make the world a better place. Our future chartered accountants must believe and encourage business to be a force for a social good. Our unique knowledge, experience and business skills, amplified by our scale, can positively impact millions of lives. Change is never easy, but the accounting profession has not lasted for over 7000 years by being stagnant. We must hold our integrity and hold corporations and individuals to account. We know accountants can change the world. Together, we can ensure we are changing the world for the better.

by. Sunny Yang and Olivia Carling from the Chartered Accountants Student Society London 

London Accountant

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