Liz Fisher, journalist

After two years of Covid, the threat of climate change, and political and economic uncertainty a constant presence, the world feels like a precarious place. But what can we do to make things better? Collective action is a powerful force, and the collective power of the accountancy profession worldwide can make a significant difference.

That is the positive central message in a new report from ACCA, Accounting for a Better World – priorities for transforming the profession. The profession, it argues, has always sought to play its part in making the world a better place – and by focusing on key priorities, it has the power to support the rebuilding of resilient economies.

The report identifies seven key priorities for the global profession.

Resilient economies

The report argues that the accountancy profession is ‘the super connector in the global economy’, working with partners, regulators, governments and donor communities across the world to support trade, good governance and sustainable infrastructure development.

Accountancy, finance and evidence-based decision-making skills need to be at the heart of the work of government

This role will be particularly important in the coming years. The report stresses that the profession needs to focus in particular on driving financial literacy worldwide (which will be essential in underpinning the sustainable development of emerging markets) and leading the fight against corruption.

Its role in promoting trade and collaboration – while also contributing to the development of governance and regulatory frameworks – is also key, and the report argues that the profession can help to unlock growth and job creation by advocating the greater participation of small and medium-sized businesses in international commerce.

Tomorrow’s talent

The accountancy profession offers a lifelong career and vocations with purpose. Its world-class global education and learning programmes have already helped to improve social mobility and expand access to good quality jobs.

The report argues that professional bodies will play a pivotal role in developing the talent of tomorrow – a diverse workforce equipped with the behaviours and mindsets to build a sustainable future – and providing the vital financial and business skills that will be needed across economies.

Digital skills are especially important as technology continues to transform work. ‘Professional accountants must be equipped with the right digital skills in response,’ says the report. ‘Deep skills in areas such as data analytics, business insight, automation and machine learning are becoming ever more relevant to the work of accountants, leveraging technologies to increase business value in their organisations.’

Sustainable business

As businesses across the globe strive to create long-term value that benefits all stakeholders, professional accountants will play a key role. ‘There is no greater opportunity for the profession than helping businesses respond to the environmental emergency, as well as helping them achieve the broader, desired social outcomes at the heart of a fair and inclusive economy,’ says the report.

Accountants will play a critical role in explaining the risks and opportunities of net-zero, and the financial and risk impacts relating to climate change. Strong assurance practices will also be vital to help mitigate greenwashing.

The demand for stronger ethics is a clarion call for the profession to reinvigorate its core purpose

Advancing regulation

The profession is uniquely placed to help transform global standards and regulation for the better, says the report, striking the right balance between protecting stakeholders and the public interest, while making sure that innovation and growth are not stifled.

In particular, evolving reporting requirements ‘provide new opportunities for professional accountants to tell the corporate story more compellingly’.

The prize for the profession, it adds, ‘lies in adequately accounting, beyond the financials, for the wider value-creation activities of organisations’. But regulation will also need to evolve to account for a digital economy if stakeholders are to have trust in legal frameworks.

Public sector transformation

Public finances are in need of repair following the pandemic, and professional accountants are already at the frontline of the work. But a wider transformation is also underway, as governments and other public sector bodies seek to make policy and spending decisions that will lead to a more digital, green and equitable future, prompted by global initiatives such as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

The report argues that this means that accountancy, finance and evidence-based decision-making skills need to be at the heart of the work of government. ‘Accountancy in the public sector is on a unique transformational journey,’ it says, ‘tasked with providing financial support and expertise to support the myriad different, and often competing, national and subnational government priorities’.

Entrepreneurial growth

The accountancy profession has long provided foundational support for entrepreneurial businesses, and this will become even more vital as we build a better tomorrow (see the AB video ‘Being an entrepreneur in a post-pandemic world’). Smaller accountancy practices will play an important role as they act as a natural business adviser at every stage of the growth process.

Ethics and trust

Trust and ethical behaviour are a cornerstone of the global profession, says the report, and this will be essential to restoring trust in business, government and other institutions. The demand for stronger ethics and rebuilt trust, it says, ‘are a clarion call for the profession to reinvigorate its core purpose’.

The report is a welcome reminder of the role that the accountancy profession plays in business and wider society, and of the potential it has to drive positive change and play a leading role in transforming the world for the better.

More information

Listen to ACCA’s podcast on ‘Accounting for a better world’