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 April 2019 UK edition of Accounting and Business magazine.
Q A headhunter recently told me that, though highly qualified, I don’t have a hope of landing a senior position because companies in my industry are ‘trying to look more diverse’. I think this is an outrage. What do you think?
A I understand how you feel. I too had my career put on hold by those who thought my gender a disadvantage. It’s more than infuriating; it’s madness.
If your headhunter is right – if companies are ‘trying to look more diverse’ – then all I can say to management is: ‘Stop! You’re not doing anyone any favours.’ No one wants to feel that they’ve been given a job for any reason other than merit. And no one respects colleagues who are clearly out of their depth.
However, if your headhunter meant to say that companies are trying to be more diverse, then that’s different. Just as genetic diversity allows populations to adapt to changing environments, so a diversity of perspectives and experiences allows businesses to endure in today’s frenetic world.
Q My niece is about to graduate from her French degree course. Would you advise a graduate in a non-related subject to join the accountancy profession?
A Absolutely. Some affinity for numbers is helpful. But given that, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. I understand why some might hesitate to recommend a career in accounting. The profession faces a period of extraordinary change. Process automation is everywhere. Many of the traditional day-to-day activities of an accountant will disappear. But I would argue that what’s left is the juicy bit. A computer may be able to spit out numbers at the push of a button. But interpreting those numbers and understanding what they mean for a business and its strategy – that’s the kind of pivotal role that someone joining the profession today should aspire to.
Added to this, explain to your niece that the value of accounting training goes well beyond the role of business adviser. I know many an entrepreneur who’s come a cropper for want of an understanding of cashflow.
So rather than sound a note of caution to those interested in joining the profession, I suggest the grounding the profession offers should be considered an essential foundation for all who wish to pursue a career in business today.
Q Investors seem to think the audit is a waste of time and effort. Am I alone in feeling unloved?
A You need a hug. But I understand why you might feel a little surplus to requirements. If you believe the media, then investors think of the audit profession as being either in the pocket of management or woefully incompetent. But that ‘believing the media’ caveat is a big one. Loud voices get airtime. The silent majority does not.
So I’d like evidence. I’d like to understand whether the wider investment community shares these concerns. If so, what’s the basis of that concern? I know investors who are former auditors – who speak with authority about the process. But most don’t have that inside track. Do they understand the checks and balances that are in place within the profession? If not, would that allay some of their fears? Or do their concerns lie elsewhere? In short, lets understand the problem before jumping to a solution.
For one investor’s take on the audit, see John Kattar’s video.
Q Given the Paris Accord, how can coal-fired power stations think it is okay to depreciate new plants over 25 years?
A You’re right – 25 years does seem rather optimistic. But this is a problem that goes well beyond the industries that are obviously dependent on fossil fuels. From financial services to manufacturing, companies face a serious re-evaluation of their business models. My big question is: do accountants have what they need to challenge age-old assumptions about asset values, depreciation rates, etc?
Some standard-setters, such as the Australian ones, are providing additional climate-related guidance. But is that enough? What would you find useful? Let us know.
Alison Thomas, consultant