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Leader: Accountants are victims of their own success

Advisers' ability to permeate and influence throughout the business world makes them a target for vilification, suggests Kevin Reed

28 Jan 2013 Accountancy Age

By Kevin Reed

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IT WAS A WEEK of the accountancy profession bared naked for the all world to see - politically speaking of course.

The European Commission's Legal Affairs Committee (aka JURI) bickered over changes to impending plans to ‘improve audit quality', or in other words, alter the way the market operates.

Lords were kept busy, (along with accountancy journalists reporting on them), as they spoke to a plethora of the profession's most senior heads about the limitations of GAAR - and also dished out more stick about auditors' inability to have helped prevent the credit crisis.

As if that wasn't enough, five of seven Lord Justices voted against extending legal privilege to accountants.

Oh, and prime minister David Cameron spoke of ‘caravans of accountants and lawyers' appearing at the World Economic forum, and referring to them as avoidance helpers.

Accountants have long suffered an image problem. Basically, you were thought of as boring.

But now a couple of new images are being constructed: that of aggressive smart-Alecs focused on lowering tax bills by hook or sometimes, by crook; less in the public eye but by no means less important is that of auditors intent on maximising client profits by cosying up to them and not asking the right questions.

Neither image is palatable but Accountancy Age believes that, while these types are peddled, they are few and far between. There is a more accurate image of accountants, an image that has seen the profession prove massively popular with the UK's students, and where accounting professionals' have proved sought-after for the biggest decision-making business posts in the UK.

We have argued before that the profession should work better as a whole to promote itself.

But, in reality, the biggest problem advisers face is that they are a victim of their own success. They have made the biggest effort to utilise their numerical and financial skills to best understand the ebbs and flows of the business cycle, and are placed to help out at any point.

Therefore any business that goes wrong, or tax bill in question, will see the finger pointed at accountants. Most of the abuse they receive is empty rhetoric, but it pays to avoid complacency. While firms are not known for being particularly sophisticated at using or understanding marketing, sometimes you can only tell it works when you stop doing it.

In other words talk yourself up, we're confident you're doing a fantastic job - perhaps apart from letting others know you are.

Kevin Reed is editor of Accountancy Age

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