We live in a world where each one of us is influenced by accounting directly or indirectly. It’s how money is earned or saved, how bills are paid, budgets maintained and loans repaid. There is a whole science and global profession of accountants, with Indian-origin accountants regarded as one of the most competent, talented and professional groups in the whole world. In India today it is 10 times harder to qualify as a Chartered Accountant than anywhere else in the world. There is a high status accorded to the profession.
With the climate and economic crisis, profound questions are being asked about the science and the training in the profession. Given their duty to protect public interest, why are so many accountants, especially in the Big 4 firms, dedicated to tax avoidance and exploitative accounting which depletes the environment and harms society? Is there something in the numbers and techniques which misses this big picture of responsibility and accountability? What has happened to the ethics and independence of the profession, with the Big 4 firms PWC, Deloitte, EY and KPMG constantly involved in poor auditing, corporate frauds and failures, offshore secrecy and tax avoidance?
Fortunately, a new global rebellion led by students who started Rethinking Economics has begun and it is called Rethinking Accounting and I am a member of the founding advisory board. These profound questions are urgent and the professional bodies ought to rise from their capture by the Big 4 firms and directly address their role in promoting fraud, exploitation, tax illegality and irresponsible behaviour.
Students going into accounting at university or in the profession should ask these questions of their teachers and Professors. When they apply for jobs in the Big 4, they should interview the employers and ask them for evidence on cultural and ethical reform. A simple question: do they have offices in the tax havens of Jersey, Panama, Virgin Islands, Mauritius or Luxembourg? When will these be shut down?
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The high technical content of the curriculum is helpful in hiding the politics and the ethics giving the lies that numbers are totally neutral and objective. Research shows this is far from the truth. Culture and belief need to be woven into the curriculum, and the vast diversity of accounting practice in charities, families and governments also taught alongside the corporate syllabus.
Faith and belief influences accounting leaders and their conduct yet that is never discussed. True stories of how accounting can be a force for building a better society and environment can be shared to bring hope and positivity in the classroom to help nurture a new generation of responsible professionals. Nothing less will do.
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Professor Atul K. Shah [@atulkshah] teaches and writes about Indian wisdom on business, culture and community at various UK universities and is a renowned international author, speaker and broadcaster.
*Info: Rethinking Accounting