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Professional Standards update – Duncan Wiggetts (March 2021)

One of the important lessons I have learned from the pandemic is the value of regular and effective communications, so I am delighted to share my first monthly update which will also be included in a new monthly e-newsletter.

The aim is to ensure you are much better informed about the work being carried out by the Professional Standards Department, to alert you to regulatory or conduct developments and to collate all recently-published guidance and advisory material in one place for ease of reference. Sign up to receive the e-newletters here.

I am aware of how difficult it was during 2020 for many ICAEW members and firms to move to the new ways of working and how well obstacles were overcome. I thought I’d share some reflections on the changes we saw in our work in 2020 and what changes will continue. The first thing to say is that my team is very grateful for the adaptability and flexibility of firms which has allowed us to continue with our core regulatory activity such as quality assurance monitoring reviews. In fact, with your help, we were able to complete over 2,600 monitoring visits (remotely) during 2020 against a pre COVID-19 target of 3,044 (87%) set by the oversight bodies with on-site reviews being remodelled and carried out remotely as desktop reviews. This is a phenomenal achievement by the Quality Assurance team but it was only made possible with your assistance. 

While the Committees & Tribunals team moved all Investigation Committee and regulatory committee meetings seamlessly online during the first lockdown, there was no option other than to cancel all face-to-face disciplinary hearings scheduled from March to July. However, by September, disciplinary hearings were re-started on a virtual platform. This has gone very smoothly and helped show us an alternative way of working for our tribunals in the future which could help to reduce the costs of disciplinary cases. A total of 46 disciplinary, appeal, fitness and review hearings were carried out remotely in 2020 which ensured cases could be concluded. If you or your firm has been informed about a complaint, our Investigation Team has provided some guidance on how to react.

I am a firm believer that a regulator should spend as much time educating and prompting improvements as time spent on enforcement. Our communications therefore include a summary of the reminders and webinar recordings that are available to support you and continue our work to promote higher standards. These include upcoming key deadlines for probate-accredited firms relating to the diversity survey and the inclusion of pricing and service information.

I also wanted to highlight the significant focus now from Government and our newest oversight regulator, OPBAS, on the part which all professionals, including accountants, are expected to play in the fight against economic crime. I represented ICAEW and the accountancy sector at the recent Economic Crime Strategic Board meeting on 17 February reporting on progress made over the last 12 months and agreeing future priorities. The meeting was chaired by the Home Secretary, the Rt. Hon. Priti Patel MP and attendees included the Attorney-General, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, the Governor of the Bank of England, the CEO of the FCA, the CEO of the Law Society and senior representatives of the major banks. My objective was to ensure that Government knew how much accountants were doing in this fight while resisting additional financial burdens being placed on the sector. To indicate ICAEW’s commitment to the cause, I should also mention how pleased I am that Michelle Giddings, our Head of AML, has been elected as the Chair of the AML Supervisors Forum for the next 12 months. You can read more about Michelle’s appointment, her goals for 2021 and the expectations on firms to understand the risks of money laundering.

I am also hoping that our new monthly e-newsletters will help us to showcase the great work carried out by lay members and volunteer chartered accountants on all of our disciplinary and regulatory committees so I have asked the chairs of our committees to contribute articles on what issues they are seeing so as to provide insight into areas for potential improvement. I am delighted that we have been able to include the observations of Rama Krishnan, the first lay Chair of the Audit Registration Committee in our March e-newsletter. We will also be including, as a standing item, a summary of recent decisions published by the Investigation Committee and Disciplinary Tribunals to highlight the conduct which might lead to disciplinary action being taken against members or firms. I am hoping that this will act as a warning, and impetus, not to end up in a similar situation to those who faced sanctions.

I hope you find these new resources helpful and I welcome feedback on how we might improve and on what further issues you would like us to cover in future editions.

Duncan Wiggetts
Executive Director, Professional Standards