by Peter Chakty

Anyone who has been fortunate (or cursed) enough to have worked as an accountant, are likely to have been greeted at one time or another by the same response when explaining their profession to their family and friends. It goes something like this, “Oh you’re an accountant?” “How boring” “Don’t you just add up numbers all day?” This couldn’t be further from the truth and is a common and frustrating misconception of what it means to be a ‘modern accountant.’

The misunderstanding of what an accountant actually does is so widespread that in January of 2019 Mr Gary Turner, Co-founder and Managing Director of Xero UK (a global leading cloud accounting software), launched an online petition urging for the Oxford English Dictionary (“OED”) to change their ‘out of date’ definition of the word “accountant”.  

Accountant is currently defined in the OED as “a person whose job is to keep or inspect financial accounts”.  The petition proposes that a mere three words are to be added to the definition so that it better capitulates the current role of the modern accountant.  The definition that has been brought forward reads as “a person whose job is to keep or inspect and advise on financial accounts.” Mr. Turner believes that this new definition would help shake off the obsolete and alarmingly, outdated perception that the outside world has of who accountants are and what they do.

Mr. Turner in his open letter to OED states, “The role of an accountant is far removed from what it once was. The adoption of new technologies such as cloud software and new regulations such as ‘Open Banking’ are rapidly transforming business finance.” He goes on to write that “Today, an accountant doesn’t just crunch the numbers and observe financial operations, but so much more. They advise business owners and aid and fuel business objectives such as business growth, improving efficiency, cost and productivity.”

Many professionals in the accounting industry are likely to agree with the proposed definition change. In fact, almost 65% of accountants believe that their roles have a significant and overwhelming effect on the economy. Ms. Claire Bennison, head of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (“ACCA”) in the UK, profoundly agrees with the proposed definition change. She states, “Technology is offering accountants greater opportunity to offer provide valuable business insight and advice to their clients. Xero’s proposed revision to the dictionary definition of the term accountant to add a small but vital verb – ‘advise’ – is a positive development we fully support as it reflects the changing role of a professionally qualified accountant as a trusted advisor to business.”

Even in the late 1990’s, those who were studying at Australian Universities were taught that an accountant is a trained professional analyst of financial accounts who not only advises on them but then is required to interpret those accounts and explain what they represent or what they tell in a story like fashion.

However, and most importantly, it is not just pompous accountants that think so highly of themselves and the services they offer. 41% of small business owners value good business advise from their accountants. A further study by Xero also signified that 30% of small business owners view accountants as their most trusted advisors, and an additional 27% often ask their accountant for broader business advice.

There is no denying that the role of an accountant has evolved dramatically over the last three decades.  Accountants are no longer mere number crunchers who produce financial reports, lodge tax returns or ensure compliance to an endless and mundane list of accounting standards. They do much more. Accounting is depicted as one of the pivotal building blocks of any successful business and accountants are often involved in solving key business problems and being a growth proponent to many companies. Simultaneously, those at the helm of businesses often see accountants as equals, rather than just a financial enquiry resource.

With the ever-growing development of technology, change in consumer and business demands and frequent revision of regulation, the accounting industry is likely to face even more changes in the coming years. Any business owner that wishes to prosper against the competitive corporate environment must unequivocal look to engage a truthful, informed, reliable and not so boring ‘modern accountant’ who is well adapted to dealing with and advising on every business’s unique needs.

Veritas Advisory perfectly embodies what it truly means to be a ‘modern accountant’. Having dealt with matters in all industries throughout Australia, New Zealand and various other countries, including services in the insolvency, turnaround, forensic and advisory sectors, they are familiar with their client's needs and expectations and are confident in their ‘one team’ approach.  This approach is founded on a culture of positive teamwork, which envisages to deliver the best possible outcome. With a solid experience in business, personal and government advisory, there is not a solution that the team at Veritas Advisory cannot assist with.

A link to sign Xero’s petition on Change.org can be found here.

References as required

Change.Org – Change Oxford English Dictionary’s Archaic Definition of the Word ‘Accountant’

Xero- Why we are calling for the definition of the word ‘accountant’ to be changed

Accountancy Age- Should the dictionary definition of the word 'accountant' be changed?

Anthill- The rise of the ‘techountant’: how tech is changing the role of accountants in business

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