Anton Colella: Looking beyond the numbers

Icas chief executive Anton Colella
Icas chief executive Anton Colella
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Charlie Munger, the right-hand man of Warren Buffett, is a billion dollar man.

The top book he recommends to investors is written by the American historian, Arthur Herman.

It is titled “How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe’s Poorest Nation Created Our World & Everything in It”.

Herman writes: “The point of this book is that being Scottish is more than just a matter of nationality or place of origin or clan or even culture. It is also a state of mind, a way of viewing the world and our place in it.” 
One of those inventions that Scotland gave the modern world, and shaped our place in it, is chartered accountancy.

One hundred and sixty one years ago, the first professional body of accountants was formed in Edinburgh.

Ever since that moment, the chartered accountants (CAs) who have qualified with Icas have ventured to every corner of the globe.

As leading finance professionals, they have spread commerce, built trading empires and worked tirelessly to improve the wealth and the prosperity of the communities where they settle.

These CAs have been pioneers of the profession and pioneers of bringing a socially responsible approach to business. CAs have always taken a global view.

In this modern, digital world their impact on the international stage may yet have an even wider impact than in the past.

Twenty-first century CAs are increasingly turning their attention beyond the traditional finance roles and now often seek to use their skills and leadership for a greater purpose well beyond the numbers.

This month, Indy Hothi, a truly 21st century CA, will represent Icas at the “One Young World” Conference in Thailand – a Davos for the young professional.

There, he will join a youthful army who want to use their energy and intelligence to make the world a better place for future generations.

Indy is well qualified for that. He has already in his short career made a huge contribution to humanitarian aid in disaster zones for Khalsa Aid, the relief organisation of which he is a trustee.

As a leading professional body of accountants, we are hugely focused on making a difference on the global stage. We have just recently secured work to help strengthen the accountancy profession in Uganda, in areas including education, quality assurance and financial management.

The Uganda project is being carried out by us for the International Federation of Accountants. This comes after the UK Department for International Development awarded more than £5 million for projects to fund education, training and capacity building in ten different countries over the next seven years.

We will be working in partnership with our colleagues from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy (Cipfa). We believe that this marriage will produce strong, sustainable results for the accountancy profession in Uganda and, ultimately, contribute to the development of that economy.

Across the last two decades, Icas has carried out similar development work in around 25 different countries. We have helped in Kazakhstan; worked with the World Bank in Moldova; and supported the Vietnamese Ministry of Finance. We have trained auditors in Albania and trained the trainers in Tanzania.

We have helped set up the Saudi Organisation of Certified Public Accountants and the Chamber of Financial Officers of Romania. In Armenia, China, Serbia and Slovakia, we have worked to share our knowledge for the greater good.

With history comes responsibility. As the world’s first professional body we have a long track record of reaching out to nurture and develop accountancy bodies around the world.

Better financial management, better governance, better transparency and the application of professional ethics are all vital ingredients to maturing a developing economy.

The ultimate winner of implementing these professional disciplines is the wider society in each and every one of these countries.

But at Icas our global vision now goes way beyond the international ambitions of our CAs and the international development work of our staff. We aim to create a truly global Institute of finance professionals.

We currently have 21,000 CAs as our members. More than half of these members live and work outside Scotland. More than 3,000 work outside the UK, in more than 100 countries.

This group of our membership is growing dramatically as young CAs follow the trends of an increasingly international profession and the globalisation of business. Many of these CAs are the leaders of the world’s best-known companies. Our vision is to create the world’s leading global professional community.

At the heart of that vision are the same values of professionalism laid down by the 60 Edinburgh businessmen who created our institute in 1854. Our headquarters may be at Haymarket but the ambitions of Icas lie way beyond there.

Those ambitions are for Icas and our CAs to make an even greater impact on the international stage in the future than we have in the past.

• Anton Colella is chief executive of Icas, the global body for chartered accountants