Incoming president Nick Parker is a man who likes a challenge, whether in his day job as a tax partner with RSM, his role as an ICAEW officeholder, or his spare time as family man and occasional adventurer. He is not one of life’s observers: he likes to get stuck in. “I am passionate about things,” he says, “and I love what I do.”
When he discovered accountancy, business and, later, tax, he knew he had found what he wanted to do with his life. “It was a light bulb moment and one that I owe to my father, who was also my headmaster. He persuaded Ealing Technical College to give me a chance after I had messed up my A-levels. I did my foundation course there and it was a complete revelation. I absolutely loved accountancy and from then on I never looked back.”
For him the profession is as much about interacting with clients – particularly family businesses where he has advised three different generations during his career – as dealing with the commercial side. His proudest moment has been the consensus achieved last year between seven normally competitive tax and accountancy bodies over PCRT (Professional Conduct in Relation to Tax). That came after former chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander introduced the idea of a new strict liability criminal offence for offshore tax evasion, and called on the tax and accountancy regulatory bodies to maximise their role in policing the profession by setting and enforcing clear standards around the promotion of both tax evasion and tax avoidance.
“When we went to see David Gauke after the Conservatives gained full power,” Parker recalls, “we asked him if it was something he would be parking and ignoring as it was Coalition policy.
He told us that unless we did something, the government would consider regulation. I am very proud we got agreement on something that we believe has satisfied government but hasn’t impeded our membership.
“It’s better that we work together,” he says. “We can debate the issues.” The same applies to ICAEW’s relationship with government ministers.
Being a tax practitioner, it’s not surprising that tax is one of the two themes for his presidential year. He believes it has the potential to be “a real Achilles heel” for the profession given the emphasis the government is placing on stamping out tax avoidance. “So much is changing and if one of our members does something that is not quite right, the risk of reputational damage is enormous.” So PCRT is still high on the agenda. With the support of government, the bodies are now working on simplifying the 58-page document (which Parker describes as “a jumble”) to make it more understandable and to clarify where the rules end and the guidance begins.
Another passion is diversity. He’s been chairing the ICAEW diversity advisory group since it was set up last July to ensure that the profession of the future reflects the current make-up of UK society. “There’s nothing we can do with our membership statistics,” he says. “What we can do is look at our student intake to make sure we are attracting as diverse a population as we can.
“We are doing pretty well with student intake gender: it is currently 58% male, 42% female. Clearly that should be 50/50 and we are doing a lot of work on encouraging women to come into the profession. As far as ethnicity is concerned, our stats are pretty good. Our Asian intake is beyond the national statistics. The real problem is how to attract more black students. We are up against the perception that accountancy equals bookkeeping.” He says the issue is not confined to ICAEW but to the accountancy profession in general. “The large firms have some fantastic initiatives – as do we – to try to encourage black students to join the profession and we are making inroads, but not fast enough.”
So over the next 12 months, expect lots of energy, enthusiasm and interesting projects.
This is the man, after all, who signed up to do the Sydney to Cape Town leg of the Global Challenge (sailing round the world the “wrong way”) and ended up becoming involved in the crew’s management, storing their equipment in his stables and flying out to every place they stopped. “I wanted to be involved with the whole crew, not just get on at Sydney not knowing people and get off at Cape Town having just shared an experience with them.” As a result, the crew used him as a mediator: “When you are locked on a 70ft yacht for 38 days in not very nice conditions, tempers do get a little frayed. I would chair sessions to try to get the group back together.”
His ability to keep his cool has also seen him acquire a private pilot’s licence (now ceased because of lack of time), trek to Everest Base Camp, climb Mounts Meru and Aconcagua (atrocious weather stopped him summiting), and go husky sledging in the Arctic Circle. And there are still plenty of adventures he’d like to tackle. “What’s next?” he laughs. “My presidential year, of course.”
I love being an ACA because… it has given me endless opportunities both professionally and personally.
I’m happiest when… I’m travelling to new places.
My favourite book is... I haven’t got a favourite but enjoy crime/thriller fiction.
My favourite films are the Bourne trilogy.
The hardest lesson to learn has been... no one is indispensable and there are some things that you can’t control.
I’d like to be remembered as... someone who always tried to do their best in whatever situation.
My most annoying habit is... being a control freak.
The love of my life is... sadly, my work.