So, you think you are an accountant?

Cantillon: No qualifications are necessary to trade as an accountant – but there is an obvious need for restrictions

Anybody can open up an accountancy practice, no matter how innumerate they may be.

Anybody can open up an accountancy practice, no matter how innumerate they may be.

 

Fancy opening up an accountancy practice? Worried that you might struggle to cope with the years of professional training and rigorous examinations?

Don’t fret, because no qualifications are necessary to trade as an accountant. Anybody can open up a practice, no matter how innumerate they may be – there are no absolutely restrictions on the use of the term “accountant”.

Remarkable, isn’t it?

A delegation from the accountancy industry was invited this week to appear before the Oireachtas committee on jobs, enterprise and innovation. The purpose of their visit was to comment upon the mammoth Companies Bill, which is inching its way through the parliamentary process. Their most interesting observations, however, were reserved for some glaring omissions from the Bill, such as a restriction over the description of an accountant.

The need for restrictions is obvious. Over the years, several qualified accountants have been booted out of their professional bodies over allegations of misconduct. According to industry insiders, many of them are still practising.

Consumers and small businesses who seek financial advice are being put at risk. The issue has been a bone of contention for at least a decade, since the passage of the 2003 Companies Act. There appears to be no plausible excuse for not addressing this in the upcoming Bill.

The only legal restriction in this area covers auditors, who must be registered. But even with this protection, there have been problems with the profession.

Bank auditors have been accused by some as being partly culpable for the destruction wrought on Ireland’s financial system, although the firms involved deny any culpability.

The Companies Bill is also vague on another long-running idea: to transfer responsibility for the oversight of the auditors of banks and other nationally systemic firms to the State, where it should reside.There are industry murmurs that the hold-up is down to a stand- off between Government departments over providing the resources to carry out the supervision. Another flimsy excuse for such an important issue.

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