It’s a common myth that when it comes to complaining, the British have it down to a fine art. In her analysis of the hidden rules of English behaviour, social anthropologist Kate Fox explains that as a nation, we tend to complain to the people who can’t do anything about our gripes, be it our partners or a random person next to us in a queue (incidentally, another peculiarly British pastime).
For ICAEW Deputy President Malcolm Bacchus, the ability to get involved in important issues – and, where necessary, to do more than just complain – is important and for ICAEW specifically, he argues, active involvement by members is essential.
“I’ve always believed that a professional organisation such as ICAEW needs a good balance of input from people – not just the staff who understand everything, but also the members who are at the coalface. It’s important for ICAEW to know what members need, what they want and the way they see the world. It follows therefore that their active involvement in its committees is fundamental to its effective functioning.”
However, against a backdrop of dwindling volunteering rates across society as a whole, the need for volunteers across ICAEW’s many committees has never been greater as the accountancy profession continues to grapple with significant issues – audit regulation, accounting for sustainability and the growing impact of new technologies on ways of working, to name just three.
As Deputy President, part of Bacchus’s remit is overseeing the process for recruiting new members to the principal committees at the centre of the Institute. “This is more than a desire for ICAEW to involve members in the decisions it makes,” Bacchus says, “it’s a need. If the Institute lost contact with its members, it would rapidly become irrelevant. So one of the things I have done over the past two years, and will continue to do, is to go out and talk to as many groups of members as possible about committee opportunities.
“We have loads of members who are already involved in ICAEW’s regional networks or faculties who might want to step up to these roles, but equally there are many members out there who have never had an involvement with ICAEW to date – and this is their chance.”
All vacant posts will be advertised on the ICAEW website on 4 January and will appear in ICAEW’s social media feeds and email newsletters. “We want to encourage people to look at those and consider what they might want to stand for. If a member has a specific interest, be it financial reporting, ethics, corporate finance, insolvency or whatever, we have committees that will interest them and we would value their input. Rather than wait for the roles to be advertised, I am encouraging members to start thinking about how they might like to get involved and make the future of the Institute their own.”
As a previous chair of ICAEW’s ethics standards committee, not to mention holding a host of other posts over the years, Bacchus is well versed in the workings of ICAEW committees. He understands from firsthand experience the value that committees add and the personal satisfaction they give.
“I got involved on the ethics standards committee because I’d been yelling an awful lot about how fundamental it was to the profession. I wasn’t an ethics partner, just the finance director of a public company, but with very firm views that this was fundamentally important to the Institute.”
Bacchus is acutely conscious that the decision to volunteer can hinge on goodwill on the part of employers to allow staff time off to participate in ICAEW committee meetings. Selling the benefits of allowing time off to participate is key, he believes. “I would love to have a lot more younger people involved. The potential issue there is employer resistance to giving people time off to volunteer or a failure to appreciate that it is a good part of their training and development.
“There can be an attitude within some organisations – certainly not all of them – that time off for Institute meetings is ‘unproductive time’. It isn’t. It’s the future of the profession and of those firms that is at stake. And most firms can plan for this if they have time, which is why it’s important to start talking about it now before the new year.”
Meanwhile, it’s a fact of life that members nearing the end of their careers are more likely to volunteer on committees than those at earlier stages, but for most people the time commitment required is far from onerous. It varies from committee to committee, but most meet four times a year for a half day, although, as with anything, there is preparation time involved.
“An interest in the committee’s specific area of work must be a minimum requirement. But we also want a diverse group of people to get involved,” Bacchus says. “It’s important that we have people from different spheres of life with different professional backgrounds. Diversity of skills and experience is fundamental, whether that’s big firms, small firms, big industry, small industry, finance directors, partners and newly qualified trainees.”
Nor is this a one-way thing, Bacchus says. “Personally, it has made me very happy to be contributing to something and feel like I’m making a difference, but it can also do wonders for your own skill set and career progression. And, of course, you meet so many wonderful people with so many different experiences and ideas.”
Bacchus urges members to think about how they might be able to get involved and to look for the details when they come out in January. “You don’t just have to sit back and complain to your neighbour,” he says. “You can make a difference.”
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