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A two-way street: reaping the benefits of committee work

Author: ICAEW

Published: 23 Jun 2021

Fascinating and fun are not words most of us associate with committee work. But when we talked to some accountant members about what they get out of serving on ICAEW’s regulatory and disciplinary committees these words cropped up more often than you might expect.

ICAEW’s regulatory and disciplinary committees rely on a broad mix of members, both accountant and lay, who come together in a collegiate way to make objective and reasoned decisions. Accountant members give their time and expertise voluntarily, and their initial motivation for joining is often to ‘give back’ to their profession. But they also find it’s a two-way street: they come away learning things they can take back to their practices, and that help their personal and career development.

Kaysen Pyndiah, a chartered accountant who runs his own firm Pyndiah & Co Ltd, joined the Practice Assurance (PA) Committee partly because he felt he had benefited from experiences and opportunities in the past that wouldn’t have come his way if he hadn’t been a chartered accountant. “I’ve always been grateful for the versatility of the qualification,” he says. “So it was my way of giving back to the Institute.”

He soon found that working on the committee continued to help him personally and professionally. “Being in practice, it offers a wonderful way of learning about what it is we should and shouldn’t do,” he explains. “I’ve almost become an anti-money laundering and client money expert among my accountant friends and colleagues,” he adds. “It’s not that I am, but I see all these cases that tell you how not to make expensive mistakes.”

Greg Whiting, a chartered accountant and consultant at Smith Cooper, echoes this. He has served on both the Audit Registration and Probate committees in the past and is about to join the PA Committee. “It has been useful to my role,” he explains. “And also I can provide valuable input from my day job. What I bring is my experience over a career spanning 40 years plus in practice. But also, I’m taking things back for my own practice. So for me, it’s certainly a two-way benefit.”

A learning experience

“From my perspective, getting an in-depth understanding of the investigation, enforcement and sanctioning procedure has been fascinating,” adds Caroline Turnbull-Hall, Director Corporate Affairs, and Regulation, PwC, who sits on the Investigation Committee (IC). “It’s really important to make sure that ICAEW’s standards are upheld and the profession’s reputation is upheld.”
She particularly appreciates the benefits of gaining a greater understanding of wider regulatory systems, as well as the different sorts of cases that come before the IC. “Every now and again, you see something, and think: I hope I have never done that,” she says. “From my experience from working in a client-facing perspective in both tax and audit, seeing such a broad spread of cases has been extremely stimulating.”

Will More-King, Tax Transformation Lead at AstraZeneca, who also sits on the IC, agrees. “We all have those ‘there but for the grace of god moments’ and think: I hadn’t realised that or thought about that before.” He also believes the experience makes “you a bit more of a humble accountant”. “It’s really difficult to know everything, so that means you have to go through a process, and make sure you are following the right rules and regulations. So it’s really helpful for that.”

What you take back from the committee can also challenge your behaviours and help you keep up to date with current issues. “The range of cases we’re getting through now is changing quite a lot,” explains More-King. “For example, we’re getting more ‘Me Too’ cases at the moment, so things that don’t have any tax content at all. There might be things we haven’t thought about in depth before. So I can take some of the learning from what I know is incredibly bad practice – that I see in the IC committee – and think about how we ensure we avoid any of those pitfalls in the future.”

A wider community

The committee members we talked to universally agreed that the varied make-up of their committees is part of their strength and their attraction. “To hear from other people from different professions and business backgrounds gives you a chance to broaden your breadth of knowledge,” says Turnbull-Hall.

“It’s invaluable to have this cross section of members and lay members,” adds Whiting. “I’ve worked with people from all walks of life and different backgrounds, from vets through to dental professionals to immigration officers. It’s very healthy not to overload the committees with chartered accountants and to get a broad range of perspectives on each case.”

“There are some views you have as an accountant as to the way things should be done, and what is best practice,” says More-King. “And it’s quite nice to have some of that challenged by people from the outside, who just keep asking: why? It makes you question things you may have taken for granted.”

“There’s a great buzz from working with people from different industries and professions,” adds Whiting. “I’ve certainly loved going down to London for the meetings and thoroughly enjoy it, which is why I’m carrying on doing more.”

More-King also appreciates the camaraderie and team work. “You’ve probably got 15 minutes to get though a case,” he explains. “And that means you tend to get very open, yet very informed, debates.” He finds people’s opinions are coming from very different perspectives, but they are willing to listen and be flexible.

“Having your views challenged is something that doesn’t happen to you as often as you get more senior,” he says. “So it’s great for someone to say: ‘I’ve seen this from a whole different angle.’ It makes you really consider your own practice.”

“It’s very collegiate,” adds Turnbull-Hall. “There’s no feeling that the professional members hold sway. It does really show the independence and impartial oversight that the Institute has.” 

Time and commitment

All the members told us that any prospective new colleagues must understand the time and commitment involved in committee work. The degree of time required varies by committee in terms of volume of cases, amount of paperwork and frequency of meetings. So it is important to think about that when signing up.

“What I wouldn’t underestimate is the amount of work involved,” says Whiting. “There is a lot of pre-meeting preparation and reading required to get the right background on each of the cases.”

During his interview for a role on the PA committee, the chair and secretary helped guide Pyndiah on this aspect. “The committee is very good at gauging the time commitment and helping new people coming on board know what they are letting themselves in for,” he explains.

“It’s really a matter of prioritisation and focusing your time well,” adds More-King. “So I think, although time is the biggest challenge, it’s pretty minor in the grand scheme of things.” He also notes that the way the Institute structures the processes and meetings means that “it limits your time to the bare minimum”, which is part of what makes it workable for senior people to get involved.

Observe to serve

ICAEW provides training and support to all new and existing committee members. Each new member attends an induction and then the annual cross-committee training days. Appointees are also invited to observe meetings of their own committee and two meetings of other committees (usually the IC) to help them get an initial understanding of how things work.

Whiting found the opportunity to observe committee meetings invaluable. “You get to see the type of cases they’re dealing with and how they deal with them,” he explains. “And what it did for me was to make me even more excited about what I was going to be doing than I might already have been.”

Despite being an experienced committee member, Turnbull-Hall still finds the annual training days useful. “It’s fascinating to learn more and understand the Institute’s priorities and forward plans,” she explains. She also appreciates the updates on relevant emerging issues and how these annual events focus on some of the softer skills, such as on unconscious bias training. 

A finishing school

More-King likens serving on a committee to attending a “finishing school across all areas of accountancy”. “It’s all the things you covered in your exams 20 years ago but here you’re actually seeing them in practice – it’s almost like having 101 case studies thrown at you every month, and you have to look at what was wrong where, how it happened, and how severe it was.”

“It’s also quite fun,” he concludes. “You’re going to meet like-minded people, trade ideas and gain new perspectives along the way.”

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