Sir,[QQ] I am a member of the ICAEW and I read your leader (If apathy wins, the ICAEW loses, Financial Director, July/August 1999) with interest, because I have to say I don’t agree with your view. One of the first things that struck me (when I was a pretty snotty 25-year-old with two degrees, a couple of years in retailing and running my own mail-order business) was how incredible it was that even snottier newly-qualified 25-year-olds, with no “sharp-end” experience would tell people who had been successfully running businesses where they were going wrong – all with the assurance and aplomb that having a heavy accounting brand name gives one. I took the following view: 1. It’s a big and complex area, this accounting lark. 2. It pretty much all fits together (some of my best work was dealing with the messes tax and financial planners created because they forgot about the VAT implications). The reason to try to “cover all the bases” is that we need to keep the broader view. 3. I want competent people. This means proven knowledge of basics. 4. Information technology changes so fast that any syllabus the ICAEW sets will be out of date by the time the exam is sat. 5. The argument that the syllabus needs reform is fine – it is too heavily weighted towards audit/compliance. I have for years thought that in general the certifieds have a better system (don’t tell the ICAEW!). 6. If there are electives, there will be endless arguments over whether different exams were equally testing, etc, and it will raise training costs. I can safely say that when I was in practice I was jolly unimpressed with a lot of the Big Five work I saw. Not all of these people are going to end up in Andersen Consulting. Many of them will end up as the sole source of financial wisdom in small businesses. It would be irresponsible to put the SME market at risk by pandering to the Big Five in this way. Personally, I would require: 1. All chartered accountants who wish to engage in public practice OR consulting to have at least one year (two years for consulting) working outside “the profession” in a line-management or profit-responsible role. 2. Reform the exams with far more on business information generally and sensible analysis tools (including IT). They won’t like the maths though! 3. Have compulsory (non-examinable) training in people management, selling, soft-skills, etc. Yes, it costs, but it pays back. Yes, the apathy was appalling and typical of the attitude of a lot of business practice (something e-business may sort out). The proposals were too heavily slanted towards the (short-term) requirements of the big players. It’s really just internal politics anyway, isn’t it? Joe Reevy Editor, Lawzone Letters may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or see page 5 for fax/postal address contact details.
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