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November 26, 2014

Warren Allen: “All roads lead from Rome”

On behalf of the International Federation of Accountants, IFAC, it is my honor and great pleasure to welcome you to Rome for the 19th World Congress of Accountants.

We gather here on the 110th anniversary of the first World Congress, held in St. Louis, Missouri, in the United States in 1904.

But that inaugural event is scarcely comparable, both in attendance and influence, to its modern counterpart.

At the turn of the 20th century, it was known as the "Congress of Accountants" and was part of the 1904 World’s Fair. Historical records tell us that only 81 people attended and historians doubt whether it was a truly international event. Some, like J.M. Samuels, writing in The Accounting Historians Journal, have described the "slight international involvement" as "little more than window dressing."

Compare that to this week’s attendance: More than 3900 delegates from 140 nations and all continents. Certainly, the modern World Congress of Accountants leaves no doubt this is a significant global event.

I have heard this event called the "Olympics of the Accountancy Profession," perhaps because it is held once every four years, but I submit to you that it is collaboration, not competition, that brings us together. But, similar to the Olympics, we will actively celebrate. We will celebrate what we, as a profession, mean to the global community we serve.

The theme of this conference, "2020 Vision: Learning from the Past, Building the Future," reflects the idea that we have come here to communicate and collaborate with others, sharing our past experiences and ideas for the future.

The experiences of our profession range from the days of Luca Pacioli’s handwritten ledgers to technology advances like cloud computing and 3D printing. But in coming here, each of us realize we must look beyond today to foresee how our profession can sustain and enhance its relevance tomorrow.

Even this venue, the Parco Della Musica, mirrors the theme of this Congress. This modern, 21st century facility shares a city with structures thousands of years older, yet it is creating its own history as one of Europe’s most visited music facilities as well as a world-famous venue for international events like this.

And, to further underscore this theme, during the construction of the foundations for this magnificent facility, the remains of a sixth century BC villa were unearthed. The plans for the concert halls were modified, so that they could be built up and around the ruins, and so that the ruins could remain visible. They became an integral part of the project… the remnants of the ancient past intertwined with this futuristic structure.

I invite you to join us this week as we look at the intersection of history and what’s to come — and as we learn from the past and build the future.

Some might ask "What relevance do the ruins of an ancient society have to us who live in a modern, air-conditioned world of gleaming high-rise buildings?"As we gather here in Rome, we walk in the footsteps of an ancient yet sophisticated civilization. That civilization brought us innovations still in use today, like concrete, newspapers, a government system that subsidized education, food, and other needs, and a system of roads and highways that allowed travel over great distances.

Historians have researched the reasons behind the decline of the mighty Roman Empire. Foremost among these, they found, were economic troubles, public sector overspending, and government corruption.

In 2014, more than 1,500 years after the fall of Rome, these issues still plague us: The aftershocks of the financial and sovereign debt crises are still being felt. More than six years later, nations remain in recession and governments still struggle with massive debt, high unemployment rates, and anemic economic growth.

And sadly, in nations where aid and investment is needed most, too much of it is lost due to shadowy and secret dealings. Without doubt, there is a need for greater transparency and accountability.

Strengthening the accountancy profession in these nations and regions helps to combat corruption and waste. It can help curb overspending. It fuels economic development and growth.

So, truly, our vision for the future is not just for the accountancy profession — but also for the global business environment in which we operate, the prosperity of the economies we serve and ultimately the reduction of the incidence of poverty.

Today, we commence a quadrennial event that provides an opportunity to hear from dignitaries of the finance and business community… speakers that represent some of the brightest and most innovative minds, not just from the accountancy profession, but also from business and industry, government, and global organizations.

We will have the opportunity to share ideas and best practices with accountancy professionals from all corners of the globe, and debate and discuss the trends, opportunities, and challenges of our modern profession. Many of you will leave this Congress with new thinking or with newly found access to resources. Hopefully all of you will leave with new and valuable professional contacts gained through the networking opportunities this event provides.

This Congress’ plenary sessions — focusing on businesses thriving in disruptive times, enhancing government transparency and accountability, and integrated thinking — provide information and expertise to help us find solutions to the challenges we face today. Similarly, the concurrent sessions deal with key issues in our profession such as ethics, capacity building, education, financial reporting, assurance, and business advisory services. These sessions promise to be informative, interactive, and innovative and I personally look forward to attending them.

So, as we begin this Congress, in a spirit of gaining inspiration from the past to build a promising future, I invite you to consider the following three questions:

  • Firstly, How can we, the global accounting profession, continue to contribute to economic growth and stability?
  • Secondly, How can we take on a larger role and leverage our talents and experience across the private- and public sectors?
  • Thirdly, How can we remain leaders in areas like ethics and continue to uphold the integrity that is a hallmark of our profession?

As I mentioned previously, one of the legacies of the Roman Empire was its highway system, and some of you may be familiar with the expression, "All roads lead to Rome."

Today, I say "All roads lead from Rome." I challenge each of you to use this World Congress of Accountants as a starting point from which your continued development as a professional accountant — and our future progress as a global accountancy profession — can be measured.

Thank you for joining us here at this important event in this historical city. It is my sincere wish that your experience here is a productive and rewarding one.

Thank you and enjoy the Congress.


This speech was pronounced during the opening ceremony of the World Congress of Accountants 2014 in Rome on the 10 November 2014. The original speech was slightly edited by The Accountant for ease of read.

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