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Julia Penny: my first quarter as ICAEW President

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 08 Sep 2022

This year’s ICAEW President reflects on her first three months in the role and looks at the issues that are important to her, and to the membership as a whole.

If, like me, you’re one of our UK-based members, you too will have just lived through one of the hottest, driest summers in history – a record-breaker in fact. I’ll be returning to this theme of climate shortly, but having just come to the end of my first quarter as President of ICAEW, I thought you might like to read a few reflections on my activities during those sultry summer months.

It started on 8 June, with the Incoming President’s Lunch following on from the meeting where I officially took up office. This gave a chance to set out my key thoughts of where we, as members, need to take action in the year ahead. Of course, all of the themes in ICAEW’s strategy are critical areas of focus for us, but I wanted to specifically highlight the issues of sustainability, diversity and inclusion. These are areas that I continue to engage on as I meet members around the UK and across the world. But why are these areas so important?

ICAEW Chartered Accountants are trusted because of our reputation for world-leading knowledge, skills and ethics. Because we are trusted, our colleagues and clients ask for assistance on the issues of the day but are also receptive to us telling them about those issues. And looming large among them are the UN Sustainable Development Goals, providing a focus on the sustainability of our planet and the diversity and inclusion of our businesses and wider economies.

I see it as an important part of my role to spread the message that our members should be thinking about sustainability, diversity and inclusion in their own businesses – planning strategically to make a difference and ensure their company or clients adjust their business models to adapt to an environment where energy efficiency is vital. This is a world where even human resources are scarce, and we must make sure we are giving everyone the opportunity to shine. Sustainability, diversity and inclusion, though, are only part of the story that has been revealed in the meetings and events I’ve attended, of which I will try to give you a flavour.

I’ve met with newly qualified members, partners, managers and associates, in both large and small firms. I’ve met with members in business, and would be glad to meet more of you! I’ve met with those heavily involved with ICAEW and their district societies or local groups, with presidents and CEOs from other professional bodies and even the British Ambassador to Greece. These meetings took place in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Loughborough and Brighton, and further afield in Athens and Brussels. ICAEW members are diverse in location as well as in expertise. 

I’ve had lunch looking up at the Acropolis discussing the relevance of our anti-money laundering film, All Too Familiar, to members wherever they are. I’ve sat in a conference room in Loughborough hearing concerns from sole practitioners about the impending Making Tax Digital impacts and discussing how challenger firms can deal with listed audits. I’ve had dinner in the iconic Grand Hotel, Brighton (a return to the city where I studied for my accountancy degree), and discussed with district societies whether there is good enough communication with members – answers on a postcard please!

I’ve talked with a Big Four firm about the changes they are seeing, and helping to drive, on sustainability. For example, with debt financing necessarily including clauses on sustainability and clients wanting help to plot their climate risks and transition to net zero.

I’ve talked to students, anxious about ensuring they apply appropriate professional and ethical judgement to their work, even when their approach may differ from their superiors.

And wherever I have been there is concern that the staff just aren’t available, and that audit could become an unattractive career option, whatever the newspapers might have us believe. That climate is top of the agenda for big businesses and hasn’t even reached the agenda for most small ones.

The latter part of summer has been quieter in terms of visits, but it is already apparent that there are some major short- to medium-term challenges for members and wider economies. The energy and cost-of-living crises and continued shortages of components driven by the war in Ukraine, and in some cases still by the impact of COVID-19, will loom large over the coming months. I look forward to having discussions about these critical issues and learning what more ICAEW can do to help.

This might seem like a random collection of thoughts, but to me it highlights who our members really are and that despite the variety of roles and locations there are some common themes. It has shown me that we are more diverse than when I started out, but there is still work to be done. And on sustainability there has been a huge shift in attitude over the last 2-3 years, but that hasn’t resulted in much action outside of big business, yet. So now is the time for Chartered Accountants to Save the World

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