The IRB, which is responsible for oversight of the regulatory and disciplinary work carried out by the ICAEW Professional Standards Department, is at a pivotal point in its development. The government’s proposed reforms to audit, reporting and corporate governance, as well as the current consultation on the regulatory framework for insolvency, have the potential to reshape ICAEW’s future regulatory role.
The challenges ahead make it crucial that the board remains active, effective and adaptive, and attracts the right mix of people, experience and expertise. “There’s a place for all different kinds of skills,” says Steve Barrow who is a founder member of the IRB. “A good board is a combination of people that bring different and complementary skills. It’s about a blend of skills and backgrounds.”
Steve, who has wide ranging experience in the regulatory field both as part of an executive within organisations and also in portfolio roles. He enjoys the intellectual challenge, particularly when the board is dealing with strategic matters.
As a founder member, he was involved in getting the board up and running, creating its identity and seeing it develop. “That has been especially satisfying,” he says. “Part of it has been getting our name out there and getting other people to appreciate who we are and what we do. And that is an ongoing task.”
As well as the intellectual challenge, serving on the board means continuing to learn. “I’m also still learning,” he stresses. “I still see things that other people do and it rings a bell and I think: ‘Yes, that’s a good idea, a good way of doing it.’ So, there’s always an opportunity to learn and grow, as well as to put something back.”
Michael Sufrin, a founder non-lay IRB member, has been a chartered accountant for more than 40 years. One of his key motivations for joining the board was also to “give something back”; in this case, to his own profession.
He particularly wanted to play a role in maintaining the highest professional standards, and this continues at the top of his agenda. “I wanted to help emphasise the importance of effective regulation in ensuring public confidence in the accountancy profession and ICAEW, and to further improve that regulation,” he explains.
More than a stepping stone
The IRB’s primary objective is to uphold the public interest, as well as to promote the highest professional standards. Parjinder Basra, a lay member of the IRB who was appointed in January 2021, previously spent 16 years working within the police sector, and before that held a mix of roles in the civil service and local government. “I’ve always been a public servant,” he says. “And during that time have had a lot of interaction with the accountancy sector, from going through austerity within policing to the capital side of change programmes.”
He initially applied to join the IRB partly as a ‘stepping stone’ to the next stage of his career as a non-executive director. “I knew I needed to get some experience of different sectors and areas under my belt,” he explains. “So I decided the regulatory sphere could be my stepping stone.”
In practice, he has found membership of the IRB much more than a stepping stone. “What I then found was that I was getting a lot of what I wanted in terms of interest, fulfilment and satisfaction from the board,” he says. “This is partly because it’s so diverse in the nature of its work. It’s introduced something a little bit different into the mix of what I do.”
“As a board member you can get involved in different areas, be it risk management at one end of the spectrum to consultations on areas where I previously had little knowledge, such as audit,” he adds. “So it’s been a great learning opportunity as well. It’s given me the opportunity to explore a different sector, but also to bring in the knowledge I have.”
A broad spectrum
Lay board member Ann Wright, previously a partner at law firm Nabarro and former chief executive of the Intellectual Property Regulation Board, also highlights the range of areas IRB members can get involved in. “Officially we have six board meetings a year but there are many sub-groups who take on specific tasks or projects,” she says.
Some of these sub-groups are part of the general business of the board, while others look at more specific or wider issues. For example, the board has a risk group, an anti-money laundering project board, an audit group, and groups that work more closely with the wider ICAEW committees – in particular on diversity, and education and training.
One of the standing sub-groups she has been involved in is ‘Project Light’, which has been reviewing aspects of transparency around the activities of the board and the Professional Standards Department. She started working on this soon after she joined the board in 2017.
“If you cut me in half as a solicitor, you would see the word ‘confidentiality’,” she says. “So the idea of transparency was a quantum leap. But transparency is critical. How can our public and our profession have confidence in us if what we do is behind closed doors?”
Contributing from the inside
Jonathan Williams, an accountant member of the board and previously a partner at Bishop Fleming, joined in January this year. “Unlike the lay members I’ve worked on the inside of the profession,” he says. “But I don’t have a particularly technical or regulatory background, other than as an insolvency practitioner and chartered accountant.”
Like Parjinder and Ann, he values the breadth of areas he covers as a board member. “The profession is huge and in terms of a field to get involved in it’s very interesting,” he says. “Being a chartered accountant is just an opener to an enormous range of services. And with the global reach of the top ten firms, there’s an international angle too.”
“The quality of the staff within the Professional Standards Department is second to none,” he adds. “And as a board member you have to think very fast keep up with them, particularly when, like me, you are learning about regulation.”
Given the universal nature of the challenges, Parjinder urges prospective IRB board members, whatever their background or experience, to take the plunge and get involved.
“What it has demonstrated to me is that no matter what sector you go into, a lot of the challenges are exactly the same in terms of the standing of the sector, the positioning of the profession and the key issues, such as diversity and inclusion,” he says. “So my initial concerns about whether I would have much to contribute were allayed because we’ve all got so much to contribute.”
Recruitment for the ICAEW Regulatory Board is carried out by the Regulatory and Conduct Appointments Committee and usually takes place at the end of the calendar year. Please continue to check our ICAEW Regulatory Board web page for further information or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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