Even if you don’t work in practice, if you’re offering guidance and advice to clients that draws on your experience as a chartered accountant, the value of holding a practising certificate is an important thing to consider, especially as guideline changes are due to come into effect in January. But perhaps we shouldn’t be asking ourselves, “Do I need a practising certificate?” but rather, “Why would I not have a practising certificate?”
I was granted my practising certificate (PC) on 1 April 1994 and have pursued a portfolio career for over 25 years. I have always found it difficult to describe what I do and eventually landed on the term corporate strategist, even though my ICAEW chartered accountancy training underpins everything that I do.
My role is so different from that of a traditional sole practitioner that I often wonder whether I fit the description of being in practice and therefore whether I should maintain my PC.
To PC or not to PC
In fact, my work in financial modelling and forecasting means that I absolutely do need a PC.
However, I regularly meet independent consultants who describe themselves as portfolio finance directors but have never applied for one, yet the value-adding elements of such roles inevitably involve forward projections. I am also often asked by ICAEW members contemplating a portfolio career whether they need a PC.
Preparation for a recent quality assurance department visit (the periodic inspection by ICAEW of the procedures adopted by those holding a PC) made me reflect on what holding a certificate entails and the benefits it brings.
The benefits of a PC for those with portfolio careers
In the past, much of the Institute’s guidance has been focused on those engaged in more traditional practices, but that is changing and more resources are becoming available to support the evolving professional landscape of the 21st century.
The specifics will differ for every individual and you will need to consider your own circumstances, taking advice if necessary. My conclusion, however, is that ICAEW members pursuing a portfolio career should consider their regulatory environment in three broad categories:
1) Areas not specifically prescribed
As business advisors we are very good at helping clients develop their plans but frequently forget that, as independent consultants, we are running our own businesses. We should be able to quickly sum up the basics of our target market and how we serve and communicate with them whether we are required to by an external inspection or not.
2) Areas prescribed by Practice Assurance Regulations
Members holding a PC must comply with the Practice Assurance Regulations and standards, which cover four areas:
- compliance with relevant laws and regulations;
- client acceptance and disengagement;
- professional competence; and
- quality control.
It is true that much of the older guidance is directed at more traditional practices, but a critical reflection on what the standards are aiming to achieve (ultimately protection of the public within the context of the Institute’s Charter) can help you shape the processes within your business to achieve better outcomes for you and your clients.
And don’t forget that there are many laws and regulations, including anti-money laundering, professional indemnity, data protection and CPD, that all finance professionals would be well advised to consider, irrespective of their circumstances.
It is not only compliance but also the documentation of that compliance in a succinct and relevant form that will strengthen your business and its resilience to unforeseen challenges that may arise.
3) Back office functions
There are certain elements of compliance with best practice that might not immediately occur to you as an independent consultant, such as implementing anti-bribery and social media policies.
I confess that it feels a little strange adopting a policy that only applies to yourself, but templates are readily available and easily tailored. While these may only specify what you do as a matter of course, there can be no harm in having them available to demonstrate the seriousness with which you are approaching your chosen career path and on hand should you take on employees in the future.
Demonstrating a commitment to quality and best practice
In conclusion, I was advised over 25 years ago by those pursuing what is now called a portfolio career that I would need a PC. I have maintained that certificate within a regulatory and business environment that has significantly evolved and continues to do so.
While my career path does not automatically fit a framework designed for accountancy practices, a principles-based approach to the guidelines produces results that are adaptable and relevant.
Above all the Practice Assurance Regulations provide an environment for self-challenge and reflection that has enabled me to build better business processes. It is a demonstration to my clients of my commitment to quality and best practice. I do believe, then, that the relevant question is not “Do I need a practising certificate?” but “Why would I not have a practising certificate?”
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of ICAEW. Members should review their personal circumstances when deciding whether to apply for a practising certificate and if in doubt contact ICAEW for personalised advice.
Practising certificate changes
From 1 January 2024, guideline changes mean that even if you didn't need a practising certificate before you may now need one.