Michael Izza 5 Oct 2017 04:57pm

Without Question: the profession on screen

We always seek to consider the big picture, and the global success of our first educational movie has prompted us to produce another

New technology is bringing about remarkable advances in almost all aspects of our lives and transforming the way we work, live and pursue our interests. But as we move to new ways of learning and change the way in which we receive and retain information, I think it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that some of the communication tools that have been with us for a long time are not yet beyond their sell-by date. Indeed, they can still be used very effectively and to great impact.

Take film. When Duncan Wiggetts, ICAEW’s executive director, professional standards, first joined in 2014, he persuaded us that films were actually an effective way of allowing professionals to learn about and discuss complex issues such as corporate governance and auditing judgements, in a safe space. As the veteran of four educational film dramas that he himself had scripted and produced, he was well aware how useful the medium is in providing a fresh perspective on professional challenges.

As a result, ICAEW funded our first film, False Assurance, using a script developed by Duncan with input from members and member firms.

This tells the story of two turbulent years in the life of a fictitious company that designs radar systems, seen through the eyes of the former CFO. He explains how the company was brought to its knees by the actions of its executive directors, the board of directors’ lack of vigilance and courage and the auditors’ failure to identify and investigate red flag issues. The film is divided into four sections to aid discussion of the issues.

It is no exaggeration to say that, since its launch, False Assurance has gone global. It’s now subtitled in French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Czech, Romanian, Russian, Turkish, Arabic, Japanese and Mandarin – soon to be joined by Polish, Thai, Vietnamese and Greek, and our licensees estimate that more than 200,000 auditors around the world will benefit from the training the film offers. We’ve presented it at the Financial Reporting Council in London, the US Public Company Accounting Oversight Board in Washington and to the governor and board of the Central Bank of Russia. We’ve also shown it at a meeting of the International Federation of Accountants’ forum of firms.

As well as licensing it to most of the top 30 UK firms, we have 11 global licences in place, including eight of the top 10 global accountancy networks, and we’ve just launched external licences to allow firms to use a re-edited version of the film with clients. And last month we launched a new commentary version with training embedded in the breaks in the film, which has been designed with smaller firms in mind.

On the back of the success of False Assurance, we have invested in a second film, Without Question, which we will be launching at the end of this month. The new film continues the overarching theme of professional scepticism from the first film but this time Duncan’s script has extended the scrutiny of behaviours to tax advisers as well as auditors, to probe issues such as reliance on experts, accounting estimates and confidentiality.

Set in a family-owned company, the film also looks at the conflicts that this can engender, the company’s difficult path towards becoming a listed entity and the founding shareholders’ struggle to cope with the loss of control involved and to deal with new independent directors bringing in a change in approach to good governance.

Watching Without Question being filmed in Chartered Accountants’ Hall in the early summer, I couldn’t fail to be impressed by the standard of acting. The film stars some great actors and well-known faces, including Bill Patterson (The Killing Fields, Law & Order) and Tim Dutton (The Bourne Identity). I was particularly interested to have the opportunity to speak to Timothy Bentinck – aka David Archer – which will mean little to you unless you have ever listened to The Archers, the world’s longest running radio soap opera.

I have now seen the completed film and I think that it is even better than False Assurance. We will be making a trailer available after the launch on our website, icaew.com, and I do hope that in due course you will have the opportunity to see it as well.

Michael lzza , ICAEW chief executive


Following publication of this article, Without Question premiered on 31 October 2017 and it is already emulating the global success of False Assurance. Visit icaew.com/withoutquestion to watch the trailer.