There are those who I know who forget that despite all the work I do on tax, corporate accountability and development I am also a practicing chartered accountant. And yesterday it was my turn to have one of the, still relatively new, practice assurance visits from the ICAEW both on my general work and on the fact that I retain an investment business authorisation.
I can write quite happily about this. My inspector, who was courteous, charming even, competent and experienced in these issues (having done more than 200 of these visits) was pleased to note that I was only the second practice he’d visited where he was able to say there was nothing I either had to deal with to meet the requirements of practice assurance standards, or that he could recommend I dealt with to improve the quality of what I am doing.
All of which only proves that I am really competent at ticking all the right boxes and filling in the right forms at the right time. Regrettably, and however important I think this might be (and I do, or I would not willingly do it or expect others to do the same) I had one closing comment to make on the visit. And this was that I as advised in writing at the end of it that:
This Practice Assurance visit does not include an assessment of the technical quality of the firm’s advice to clients.
Which is just not good enough. Knowing your client and so on is important. But if you’re either incompetent or are plain straightforwardly offering crooked advice, then both should also be the subject of review. After all, do the public want accountants who can photocopy their passports as supposed proof of identity (I say supposed because I think I signed the passport applications for at least half of my current clients, which somehow reduces their value for the purpose of proving client identity in my opinion) or do they want accountants who are 1) straight 2) competent? I think it’s the last two things.
And why, did my Inspector opine are the Institute unable to undertake review on the quality of work done? Why — because the members of the ICAEW don’t want that to happen, that’s why. Which begs the question in whose interests is this being done? Clearly not the publics.
As I’ve said before, we’ve got a long way to go.