Jim Flynn, the President of CPA Associates International, spoke to AfricaMoney on the sidelines of the CPAAI summit held in Mauritius last month. He stated that the future of the accounting profession would continue to be bright, even as software and automation change the face of the profession as we know it today. He also noted that the Mauritius conference saw fruitful discussions taking place between the delegates as they developed professional and personal networks to improve and expand their accounting practice.

  • Please tell us about your experience with holding the CPA Associates International conference in Mauritius.

My experience has been very positive and all delegates here are enjoying the beautiful location too. So, it is a great experience to bring our members together from all over the world to give them the opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas, to help them improve their practice and to listen to presentations from top speakers in various fields of accountancy. It is also a great opportunity for people to develop their professional and personal networks that will enable them in turn to improve their accountancy practice and help them to do business with others around the world.

  • Also, you mentioned at the opening ceremony of the conference that a major threat faced by CPAAI is that more and more associations and networks are springing up, which results in intensified competition. Can you please elaborate this statement?

The concept of the association, bringing together CPA firms and Chartered Accounting firms under one roof, is a good one. Firms that reach a certain size understand that they need to be linked to a network of fellow members in order to share expertise and experience. And, because the concept is so good, many additional associations have sprung up. But, because we have many more organizations coming up, there is also more competition for all firms in different market places where members of our association operate. We usually limit our association membership to a few firms in a given location so that we can focus on meeting their growth and profitability needs. So, you see us operating like an international firm but we are actually an organization that is made up of multiple independent firms.

  • Besides, you also noted that another threat is that of falling profitability margins. Please elaborate on the steps that are being taken to improve profitability.

We are certainly trying to help our firms grow their practices through different types of marketing programs and business development programs to improve the topline for their respective organizations. We also have presentations and advisory services to help our member firms better manage their practices, improve their operational efficiency and boost their bottom line. Hence, we are trying to help our members firms grow their practice and improve profitability at the same time.

  • What is being done to increase the satisfaction level of members, as was mentioned in the course of the conference?

We are basically trying to cover a number of different areas over the long run. First of all, we have taken steps to expand our membership. We have to continue to grow our membership base so we can provide our expertise to many more firms, which can then help each other out in turn. We also want to improve education programs and expand such programs at the same time, so that our members are assured that they receive high-quality information that is guaranteed from a wide-based and global organization like ours. We can tailor our programs because our member firms and our committee members tell us the key issues that need to be discussed in educational programs. We then take those recommendations and ideas and organize education forums to bring key people together to talk about these issues and to exchange ideas for themselves.

  • Please provide your views on the status of the accounting profession and its potential for growth.

I think that the growth potential for the accounting profession in all parts of the world will continue to be strong. Accounting describes the basics of what business is all about. Firms need to have a strong accounting framework to control themselves, to be able to look back and see how they have done in the past year to forecast their future financials. They need financial information to be able to evaluate how they are doing as an operating entity. Hence, there will always be a need for accountants. It may possibly be a bit different because of the software and automation that are being introduced into the accounting profession. Today, when people go into the accounting profession, it is much more high-flown work than it was 40 years ago. People are currently able to do much more in-depth work with the help of computers, and as a result, firms are not as ‘labor-intensive’ as they used to be. But, I think for an individual who has an interest in this area, accounting is a very desirable profession indeed as it will always be in demand.

  • With more and more focus on sustainable development, is green accounting expected to gain increasing prominence going forward?

I personally think Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is an important area. I wrote my Masters on CSR and saw early on the need for firms and companies to be more open-minded and responsive to the enlarged environment behind the business and the industry. I think that the focus on CSR is certainly going to continue as the United Nations is very vocal in its support for it and many countries are ploughing full steam ahead with it. Professionals are throwing their full weight behind green accounting and large accounting firms that tend to do things a bit more professionally are certainly involved in green accounting. Green accounting essentially translates into being more sensitive to the environment, to the needs of people, and to the greater health of our planet.

  • Finally, the theme for this year’s conference being ‘Challenges facing the accounting profession’, could you please elaborate on the way forward for CPAs and Chartered Accountants globally.

The challenge currently facing accounting firms, especially mid-size organizations doing well, such as De Chazal & Associates, to take an example from Mauritius, is to continue to recruit high quality people. Succession planning is a very important part of firm practice, as is the process of retaining people by helping them grow within their practice and therefore become leaders and sustain their future within the firm.

[Edited excerpts from an exclusive interview]

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