Brussels, Belgium. An emotional president of the French institute of chartered accountants (CSOEC), Philippe Arraou, took to the stage to open the institute’s 71st congress in Brussels, the institute’s first congress outside French borders.

“To be here today in front of you today it’s… wow,” he said. “It is ‘wow’ because there is so many of you, but also because when we first mentioned the idea of doing the congress outside of France, in Brussels, there were some resistance and we had to overcome some hurdles.”

The resistance, he explained, came from the reticence to go to another country but also the recent bombings in the Belgium capital contributed to the arguments that it might not be a good idea.

“But we’ve moved forward and here we are and from the bottom of my heart I thank you to answer this call,” he said.

Referring to the Brexit vote in the UK, he added: “You’ve answered our call to be European which is positive in this day and age.”

While the congress could claim its international flavour just by having relocated to a neighbouring country, the French institute has also managed to attract an international audience. So much so that it looks more like an IFAC’s mini-WCOA (or World Congress of Accountants) rather than a local institute event.

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Five thousands delegates have registered to the event according to Arraou, a number well inflated by the presence of the Belgium profession: 1,600 delegates out of the 5,000.

Fifty four different nationalities from four different continents are represented at the congress, Arraou continued, highlighting the record number of Cameroonians (50) attending the event.

“In addition we have 40 presidents of professional bodies attending the event,” he added. “This really shows the place of the French profession in the world, and that our congress whilst French is a European and global event recognised by the global profession key players.”

Arraou then introduced the theme of the congress which will be around the evolving role of the chartered accountant in terms of tax in the context of the digitalisation of the economy.

The digital economy was the theme of the previous congress, and Arraou explained that there was a clear link between digitalisation and the role of accountants when it comes to tax. In French chartered accountant is ‘expert comptable’ or accounting expert, and Arrou said the most important word in that phrase is ‘expert’ not ‘accounting’.

“In this evolving economy we are doing less and less accounting work and have more and more a role of advisor to businesses,” he said. “And what is the first topic a company think of when taking to their accountant: tax.”