Nick Martindale reports on how it is helping countries meet international requirements and create greater transparency to attract investment and develop economies
Strong accountancy profession lies at the heart of any stable or thriving economy, ensuring businesses are run efficiently and in line with national and international norms. Yet while the profession has developed and evolved over many decades in the UK, other parts of the world are not so fortunate.
There remains a real need to build and develop accountancy and audit pillars that will enable sustainable growth and economic prosperity. For the past 12 years, ICAEW has been helping to improve the provision of accountancy services and the associated infrastructure around the world. This has involved the completion of more than 50 projects in over 30 countries across Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East.
Backed by donor agencies including the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, the Department for International Development (DFID) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), as well as direct support from governments and regulators, its work includes preparing policy papers and strategic roadmaps, launching national professional qualifications, training examiners and tuition providers, and establishing quality assurance for monitoring and regulating audit firms.
“We work in a number of different fields: the education and qualification of accountants in countries where more professionals are needed; or on the regulatory side where we work to make sure countries are able to regulate auditors effectively and they have the operational capacity to do so,” explains Mark Campbell, director, international capacity building, ICAEW.
“In many countries we mentor inspectors who are then able to go and look at an auditor’s files and identify where there are shortfalls, and we also help countries to improve their compliance with international standards.
“A fourth area is where we help an institution to become much stronger in terms of its governance and its staffing numbers and operations, so we provide consultations, strategic plans and business plans to take an organisation on a journey from where it is to where it needs to get to,” he says.
Around 80% of countries where ICAEW assists are developing nations, but more recently the Institute has been approached by larger and higher-income countries including the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
“Originally the World Bank was the leader in this when we began in 2007 and we won our first project with them in Bangladesh,” recalls Campbell. “But today we have around 10 different donors at any one time and we’re just as likely to be approached by governments.”
In 2018, ICAEW worked on 13 projects in 10 countries, he adds, including new ones in Abu Dhabi and Georgia. The work around international capacity building has become a central part of ICAEW’s activities, and has helped to raise its profile outside the UK, says Campbell. “We felt as an institute that we had an obligation as part of our public interest to be more involved in helping countries to learn from our long history,” he recalls. “Twelve years on, this is now a very central part of what the Institute does.”
Samoa is one of four countries taking part in a project funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and supported by the Confederation of Asia and Pacific Accountants to strengthen financial management and improve the quality of audit in Asia and the Pacific.
After the initial development of the QA for Audit: good practice guide, countries including Cambodia, Nepal and Georgia are working to develop or improve audit regulations, create an operational procedures manual for audit assessors, recruit audit quality reviewers and devise practical training for accountants.
In Samoa, this included running a workshop for key representatives from all audit firms, outlining all aspects of the new audit regulations and explaining what firms should expect during the audit monitoring process and company visit. The Samoa Institute of Accountants (SIA) has reviewed five audit firms and aims to review 10 more in 2019. It has also hired its first external reviewer, Paul Selwyn-Smith, who has around 40 years of audit monitoring experience in New Zealand.
Susana Laulu, CEO of the SIA, says: “The vision is to drive improvements to financial reporting in all sectors leading to increased investor confidence, capital market development and economic growth.” In January, ICAEW was awarded a third round of ADB funding to continue further training for local monitoring teams and mentoring at each stage of the inspection process.
Among other things, “this will help in the development of capable and competent accountancy professionals”, explains Akmal Nartayev, project officer and senior financial management specialist in the public financial management division at the ADB.
In 2014, ICAEW developed a ‘train the trainer’ programme on IFRS and IPSAS with the Kampuchea Institute of Certified Public Accountants and Auditors (KICPAA). More recently, it has worked to devise both a professional qualification and an accounting technician qualification.
The professional qualification is in the process of being rolled out, which will see the first students take exams at the end of 2019. “This has been very valuable to us, not only on the technical professional qualification aspects but also in strengthening our own capacity to develop and prepare a high-quality accounting qualification,” says Seida Heng, president of KICPAA.
“The project will have a great impact on the profession and the accounting education in the country as a whole. It will serve as the guiding framework for universities looking to improve their quality and curriculum. Employers and the economy as a whole will benefit from the successful implementation of the project.”
In addition, ICAEW has been working with UNDP to produce an accounting technician qualification, aimed mainly at school leavers. ICAEW’s Mark Campbell says: “It’s going to give skills to kids who might otherwise not have the finance to go to university, and which employers are desperately in need of. We’re going to run that in both English and Kymer so everyone will have an opportunity to develop accounting skills.”
The accounting technician qualification is currently scheduled to launch in January 2020, and ICAEW also hopes to use the Cambodia qualification as the basis for other countries in the future.
ICAEW has been working in Ghana since 2012, putting in place a range of measures designed to strengthen the accounting profession and the audit regulatory structure. Initially, this involved developing a training and certification scheme for members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, Ghana (ICAG), in a project funded by the World Bank, as well as the development of an audit regulatory team to inspect audit firms and make sure they comply with international standards.
“That was very important because at that time there was a significant increase in oil revenues in Ghana, which can lead to corruption and bad audits,” says Campbell. In 2015/16, a new project financed by DFID and overseen by the International Federation of Accountants saw the development of a professional qualification, and a registration and grading scheme for tuition providers.
Today, there are 59 registered partners in learning and 35 authorised training employers. The number of students has also increased, from 10,000 four years ago to 16,000 today, while the pass rate has also improved from 15% to 26%.
“There is a very strong correlation between our work to strengthen the Ghana qualification and its attraction to employers and students, mainly graduates,” adds Campbell. ICAG president Professor Kwame AdomFrimpong says: “ICAG now has a professional qualification examinations structure and learning materials that are comparable to any world-class accountancy body.”
As well as helping build a world of strong economies through its international capacity building, ICAEW is also helping to shape the future of the profession by creating lifechanging opportunities for students from financially challenged backgrounds.
Its Foundation launched in 2007 and, with the support of ICAEW members, the charity has raised £2.6m of its £10m target. Through its Changing Futures bursary programme it is assisting aspiring students in universities across the UK, as well as in Cyprus and Hong Kong, to study for a degree in accountancy and finance.
And in recent years it has grown its geographical reach: its Building Futures programme now gives bursaries to a growing number of talented and ambitious students of new chartered professional accountancy qualifications in countries such as Ghana and Malawi. When Paul Aplin became ICAEW president in 2018 he launched Challenge Ten, seeking financial support from ICAEW members for the provision of 10 new ICAEW Foundation Building Futures bursaries in new countries.
The Foundation is seeking funding to support a number of students to study towards obtaining professional chartered accountancy qualifications in Lesotho and in Cambodia. These new local qualifications were developed with assistance from ICAEW’s international capacity building team and are an opportunity for chartered accountants to make a real difference to the aspiring professional lives of current and future generations.
Funding the future
Bismark Appiah, now an assistant internal auditor at Enyan Denkyira Rural Bank, signed up for the new professional qualification offered by the Institute of Chartered Accountants, Ghana, in 2017, and won funding for a scholarship offered by the ICAEW Foundation for his studies.
“With a meagre salary, I used to worry how I was going to finance this professional course,” he says. “In my first sitting, I took out a loan through my workplace to enable me to pay for my tuition, annual subscription, student registration and exams.
“The scholarship was a timely intervention. Now all I have to worry about is studying effectively to pass my course papers because my tuition fees, exam fees, subscription and study manuals are being covered by the ICAEW Foundation bursary.”
ICAEW worked on a twinning project to strengthen the accounting profession in Malawi. This included devising a national professional qualification to boost audit regulation, and deliver training on international standards, audit quality assurance and professional ethics.
The focus now is on improving the quality of teaching to improve pass rates, with the aim of ensuring more students become qualified accountants. ICAEW also teamed up with CA Sri Lanka to develop an audit quality assurance unit and a programme to ensure compliance with IFRS, including developing high-level training for trainers and accountants.
In Turkey and Belgium, ICAEW teamed up with PwC on a project to train NATO personnel. This included running training sessions and workshops to deliver official IPSAS and IFRS certification. Similar work has been carried out in other countries, including Cyprus.