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April 7, 2014

Editor’s letter: Join the global battle for transparency

One of the recurrent themes of this year’s World Survey is transparency. The role of accountants as transparency champions has come up in every conversation we’ve had with global industry leaders to prepare this special report. Improving non-financial disclosures through tools such as the integrated reporting (<IR>) framework seems to be vital to entice investors and to have more advanced indicators of a company’s sustainability. "The greatest benefit that the profession can bring is transparency," Helen Brand, chief executive of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants said.

However the need for more transparent organisations not only applies to the private sector. Interviewed global leaders see the reform of public sector financial management as a top priority that should be on the agenda of all governments around the world. But politicians don’t usually like transparency because it doesn’t necessarily get them votes, as Warren Allen, president of the International Federation of Accountants told us. Interesting to note in that regard, is the connection between the words ‘accountancy’ and ‘accountability’, which possibly share more than mere linguistic roots.

Proposals launched in 2013 to extend the auditor’s report seem to go in the same direction. Auditors are certainly relevant players in the corporate reporting chain. As external and, in theory, independent providers of assurance their views on the financial situation of a company should gain more prominence. Their reporting model, therefore, should go beyond the current binary format.

After hours and hours of scrutiny and examination of financial statements, the auditor’s work shouldn’t be reduced to a one-page document which merely states if a company passes or fails the assurance test. Both the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) and the International Auditing and Assurance Standards Board have proposals in such a direction. Indeed, global regulators agree the auditor’s report should change, according to Lewis Ferguson, chair of the International Forum of Independent Audit Regulators and PCAOB member.

The Accountant’s World Survey requires from participants certain commitment to disclose information too. This information is basically the number of members and students that institutes have in the surveyed countries, as well as the gender split for each of them. In that sense, our World Survey could be seen as a mock exam on non-financial reporting. As much as being a report on the current state of the global profession, it’s also an opportunity for professional bodies to put in practice what they demand from businesses and from future qualified accountants. Better non-financial disclosures will ensure stakeholders’ future trust.

I want to thank personally those institutes who’ve gone that extra mile for transparency and fully participated in this survey. I truly understand sourcing data from more than 40 markets is a tedious task. However our readers, many of them accountancy students from around the world, will have noticed the absences of some institutes. Their participation next year will be a reassuring symbol of improved transparency that I urge them all to consider.

Carlos Martin Tornerocarlos.tornero@uk.timetric.com

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