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ICAEW President David Matthews on accountants’ role in building back fairer and better

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Published: 12 Sep 2020

The public wants a more sustainable, fairer world to emerge post-pandemic, and this provides accountants with an opportunity and responsibility

Chartered accountants will play a critical role supporting businesses in the next phase of their recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The exponential rise in visitors to the COVID-19 and global recovery hubs at ICAEW.com demonstrates the trust endowed in our institute as a source of timely, accurate and objective information.

This surge of interest should also serve as a lesson for us as we look to the next phase of global recovery, and our members’ role in making sure that the public demand for a different world post-COVID-19 is met. My sense is that the public at large want a more sustainable, fairer world to emerge. That provides us with an opportunity and a responsibility as chartered accountants.

Despite government support, some businesses are going to struggle. But whether businesses are struggling or thriving, and whether you’re in business or in practice, chartered accountants’ knowledge, skills and expertise in planning, assessing risks, identifying and exploiting opportunities, strategising to address challenges, and measuring the success of those strategies are critical.

For businesses that are struggling, and possibly failing, preparers and auditors need to ensure that they are making the right assessments of a business’s prospects and being clear where there are doubts about going concern, a transparency which is essential if trust is to be upheld in the profession. 

To ‘build back better’, we need to help identify what that world looks like. The focus on working conditions in the UK retail industry in early summer has grown in recent months and is another reminder that businesses cannot be complacent about their own role in delivering the UN SDGs. We need to define and shape the role of accountants in terms of helping companies understand what risks they face, not only in their own business, but in their supply chains and contract base, and how to mitigate those risks.

In the UK, as in many parts of the world, we are going to end up with some major changes in economic policy. Those developments will need to be subject to significant scrutiny to ensure the country can pay back its debts in a fair and just way while investing for the future to make us resilient to future crises.

Our institute has a vital role to play, informing government policy and, if necessary, challenging the underlying bases for, and projected outcomes of, some of these policies. Considering the policies against the wider lens not just of what it means for the economy, but also for society and the environment will be critical. By virtue of being independent and objective, ICAEW, with its in-house expertise and through its 154,000 members around the world, has a huge role to play in forming and shaping government policy. And we stand ready to help.