Whatever happened to all the bright young male accountants?

Posted on November 23, 2017 by Guy Atkinson

The chief executive of ACCA muses on why women are taking over and other matters

Whatever happened to all the bright young male accountants

THE accountant of the future is female, ambitious and Asian. Women from the Far East are poised to outnumber men in accountancy in the coming decades.

“There is a gender wave coming through,” says Allen Blewitt, chief executive of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), the world’s largest accountancy organisation outside China. “If you look in the Far East and the developing world, the vast majority of entrants to the profession are female. In ten years’ time, in most countries, the profession will be dominated numerically by women.”

Some 38 per cent of ACCA’s members — and 50 per cent of students — are female. “I talk to lawyers, even some of the engineers, and they’re seeing the same thing,” says Blewitt. “The interesting question is, what’s happening to the bright young men?”

ACCA has more than 105,000 members and 240,000 students in more than 170 countries. It recruited 68,000 students last year alone, a quarter of them in China, Malaysia and Singapore.

Blewitt, 54, is 18 months into a five-year stint as the chief executive of ACCA. A former university lecturer from Sydney, he has taken to banging the ACCA drum, lobbying politicians, making speeches and jetting around the organisation’s international network.

It is no easy task. In the notoriously snobbish accountancy profession, ACCA has stumbled along in the shadow of that elite club, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW). When the ICAEW announced plans to merge with the body representing public finance accountants, it was no surprise when ACCA openly attacked the idea.

Those plans are continuing. Blewitt, who witnessed two failed attempts to merge institutes in Australia, believes the ICAEW will find it hard going. “The model for merging accountancy bodies is probably flawed,” he says. “We educated accountants to be sceptical and conservative, yet you are asking people to forget years of entrenched mindsets.”

He believes that institutes should collaborate first, then worry about whether or not to merge.

As for all that snobbish rivalry, Blewitt adopts the tone of the underdog. “I think there’s probably a need for the profession in the UK to take a bit of a helicopter view and say, ‘forget your own narrow piece of turf, there are bigger issues that we have to face as a profession.’ That means compromise and mutual respect.”

Where the ICAEW speaks for the City and large blue chip companies, ACCA, with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) making up nearly 60 per cent of its membership, brings its own perspective. “If the whole model was based on mutual respect and collaboration, we might get somewhere,” Blewitt says. He may well be right, but there’s no incentive for the ICAEW to find common ground.

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