Donal Nugent, journalist

In an era of high interest rates, insolvency cases have increased but are still at relatively low levels, leaving Brian McEnery FCCA optimistic for the future.

‘While there will be a need for restructuring among some companies, the fundamentals of corporate Ireland remain strong,’ says the managing partner of BDO Ireland (and former ACCA president), who has built his career in corporate finance and restructuring. ‘The economy is buoyant even as growth slows to more normal levels; unemployment rates are low, and corporate and personal savings built up during Covid times remain significant.’

Expansion expectations

Cybersecurity is a relatively new area where McEnery envisages strong growth for practitioners. He believes they already have the basics right with existing risk advisory services. ‘There has been heavy investment in risk advisory over the years,’ he says.

But the biggest opportunity of all for growth among Ireland’s accountancy firms is coming from the development of the environmental, social and governance (ESG) agenda. At the heart of this is the implementation of the corporate sustainability reporting directive (CSRD), and McEnery believes that the requirements for businesses to disclose information on environmental and social risks is only going to grow more intense.

‘ESG is going to be relevant to everything accounting and advisory firms do’

‘ESG is going to be relevant to everything accounting and advisory firms do,’ he says. ‘The right ESG credentials are going to become a necessity of the supply chain infrastructure and will be a significant part of a business’s preparedness to come to market in terms of due diligence.’

Growing through service expertise in sustainability requires firms investing in themselves first, McEnery says. ‘What is critical before we offer a suite of services to others is to map our own sustainability credentials. At BDO, for example, we are currently undergoing an independent audit process, and our ultimate objective is that all of the partners will be extensively trained in sustainability.’

Change is also in the offing in the audit landscape, and with it comes opportunity. In 2025, the CSRD is set to be introduced and there will be significant changes to FRS 102. ‘We have seen stronger regulatory coordination to ensure that audit remains fit for purpose and is the assurance mechanism that it’s perceived to be,’ McEnery says. ‘Regulators should be robust and should have an improvement agenda, because it’s ultimately about getting better outcomes, and I think that is the approach here in Ireland.’

Hire and hold

Talent is a crucial issue already for the sector, and growth is likely to intensify the battle for it. McEnery says that getting ahead of the coming audit changes makes ‘getting good graduates and having a workplace environment that’s attractive to them’ a key priority.

With recruitment now such a pressing issue across the profession and increasingly critical in audit, McEnery says ‘a learning process that is high quality from the outset’ is key to attraction and retention. ‘That means being predominantly an office-based environment where assistant managers and managers are also showing up on site. That’s the foundation of knowledge transfer.’

‘A shortage of talent in virtually every discipline is a real challenge for everyone’

Upskilling is part of the sector offer. ‘I am a believer in life-long learning,’ he says. ‘It is always important to keep skillsets fresh.’ McEnery himself is currently doing a master’s in central banking.

He adds: ‘A shortage of talent in virtually every discipline is a real challenge for everyone and particularly for a business in growth mode. Offshoring is no longer a matter of choice when the business model necessitates it. There’s a lot that has to be got right for it to work, but with the right controls in place it can be a very effective choice for a whole host of reasons.’

BDO itself has made a €5m move to the Miesian Plaza complex in Dublin to accommodate plans to expand the firm’s Dublin headcount by up to 100 as part of a strategy to increase revenues from €70m to around €100m a year by 2026. The new offices, McEnery says, offer an ‘environment designed to make the workspace a place our people want to spend as much time as possible in’.

Given the growth expectations he has for the sector, a talent influx will certainly be needed to create enough capacity to service it.

Watch and learn

Brian McEnery shared his insights on the issues discussed at ACCA’s Virtual Public Sector Conference in its closing session. Register to watch on demand