Professional accountancy is not for wimps. Drawing on her many years of experience, Alison Thomas offers some light-hearted advice
This article was first published in the February 2018 UK edition of Accounting and Business magazine.
Q This may not be a very PC, but any shareholder will tell you it is the fiduciary duty of management to minimise the tax they pay. Isn’t it hypocritical to pretend otherwise?
A I agree wholeheartedly that it is hypocritical to pretend that your tax policy is something that it is not. If a company aims to minimise the taxes it pays, it should be open about the fact. But I struggle with the assumption underlying your first statement.
There are some shareholders who want today’s cost base to be as low as legally possible – these investors would argue that companies should do everything they can to avoid paying tax. However, a growing band of investors are looking for businesses that are sustainable over the long-term. And that means a tax rate that will withstand the growing scrutiny of global regulators – but more importantly, that will withstand the scrutiny of the societies they serve.
I am not arguing that a company should set its tax policy to please the readers of the Daily Mail. But consider talking to some of your major investors about your tax strategy. Who knows, they might surprise you.
Q Is current gender pay gap reporting too blunt an instrument to drive change?
A I agree it is a blunt instrument. It is so high level that I can imagine many a cynical employer explaining away awkward numbers through a bombast of colourful pie charts and well-rehearsed platitudes. But the fact that it has encouraged you to raise the question speaks legions.
When I started working, many women were not allowed to wear trousers to the office; I was told that this was because ‘girls’ are employed to ‘pretty up the office’. So before I embark on an equal pay rant, let us pause for a moment to reflect on the positive changes that have already hit the workplace.
But we clearly have a way to go. The fact that groups of people – whether women or particular ethnic minorities – are still routinely paid less than their white male peers is clearly ludicrous. The curious thing is that most reasonable employers would wholeheartedly agree with this. So why does the gender pay gap persist?
Academic studies and government reports abound. They talk of how jobs are evaluated – do we value roles that tend to be biased towards a given gender appropriately? Then there is the issue of children. Harder to nail are some of the more implicit barriers to career progression. The language used to describe roles or evaluate performance, for example, is all too often littered with macho terms – words rarely associated with women. Why bother applying for a job that sounds best suited to Arnold Schwarzenegger?
So, although gender pay gap reporting is undoubtedly a blunt tool, if it encourages a richer discussion about why pay gaps persist, then I am all for it.
Q I want to sign up to an internet dating site. As soon as they find out I am an accountant will they swipe left? What should I do?
A Swipe left? They would have to be insane. As an accountant, you tick all the boxes – dedicated to all that is true and fair, skilled in reconciling any differences, never losing sight of the material things in life… It is hard to imagine a better mix of qualities to bring to the table.
But how about the basics: inspiring romance and delivering that all-important good sense of humour? Well, when it comes to love, legend has it that it was an accountant who moved Elizabeth Barrett Browning to write: ‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways’. So the love aspect seems pretty well covered to me. As for the GSOH, given some of the recent financial reports that I have seen, it would be hard to deny that at least some of the profession has a sense of humour.
In short, rather than hide your profession, I would put it centre stage: ACCA WLTM...
"Legend has it that it was an accountant who moved Elizabeth Barrett Browning to write: ‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways’"