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No ‘Chinese curse’ for new London President

As Helen Brennan takes up her role as President of the London Society of Chartered Accountants, she is determined to help its members thrive in interesting times.

July 2018

Like the ‘Chinese curse’, there is no doubt that times are indeed interesting, disrupted and uncertain, but rather than seeing this as a threat, chartered accountants should see these times as an opportunity for their businesses, and their clients, to thrive.

“Would you want to live through these times, manage a business or run an organisation in these times?” asks Helen Brennan, newly elected LSCA President. “Probably not, but we don’t have a choice, so the question now is how we move away from surviving to thriving.”

Brennan says there are the wider business issues that revolve around Brexit and digital disruption, but also closer to home for accountants, there are the ongoing debates over the value of audit, corporate governance and financial regulation.

“The key is not to let everything get us down, but instead make the most of it,” Brennan says, suggesting that the business basics of identifying and managing risk while remaining flexible and agile will help organisations to thrive. “Smaller businesses must collaborate as we are stronger together, and this collaboration can extend to organisations, such as ICAEW as well,” she says, adding that this is particularly true for small accountancy practices that are going through a period of transformation. “Should small practitioners being going through this by themselves or should we be looking at models where they retain their independence but through collaborating with others are able to take advantage of technology?”

The issue of trust will also figure in Brennan’s agenda for her year as President, echoing newly-installed ICAEW President Paul Aplin’s theme of rebuilding trust in the chartered accountancy profession. “This is a challenge to rise to,” Brennan says. "The opportunities are there for us to be the advisers that can be relied upon, but we have got to live up to that.”

Building on this theme, Brennan is delighted that the guest speakers at this year’s Pan Accountancy Lunch on 5 October at The Mansion House will include Lord Mayor (and LSCA member) Charles Bowman and Baroness O’Neill, who will also be addressing the need for trust in business today.

In addition, Brennan is working with outgoing LSCA President Malcolm Bacchus to formulate the LSCA’s input to the Kingman Review of the Financial Reporting Council, with a particular focus on how the work of the FRC affects smaller accountancy practices. “We need to make sure everyone gets heard on this,” she says.

Brennan is a director in the audit quality team at KPMG specialising in assurance over non-financial reporting. She is an elected member of ICAEW Council as well as a member of ICAEW’s Diversity Advisory Group and Audit & Assurance Innovation Panel. On diversity, she says she wants to see the debate help identify the barriers to inclusion. “Who are we excluding without realising it?” she asks. “We need to take out the barriers.”

She continues her work as a trustee and director of the Apostleship of the Sea UK, an agency of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England & Wales and of Scotland. The charity is building capacity in its overseas organisations as well as expanding in the UK – one of the areas it is actively involved in is fighting human trafficking and modern slavery. “There is an invisible workforce in shipping, which will be impacted by Brexit as more cargo ships will be coming to the UK from all around the world, so we need to be vigilant,” Brennan says.

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