Public value | Interview

Public value | Interview

Giving it his all

We ask Dr In-Ki Joo, incoming president of the International Federation of Accountants, about building the global body and his new role

Peter Williams, journalist

What do you think IFAC has achieved in your time on the board?

Our members have told us that speaking out on public interest issues adds significant value. Since joining the board in 2012, I’ve seen IFAC work meticulously to expand the profession’s presence in, and engagement with, major policy-setting groups. This has been particularly important as the profession’s skills evolve to meet the demands of businesses large and small, and at a time of record-low levels of public trust in institutions.

Engaging with these organisations has seen IFAC host the OECD’s sixth annual meeting of international organisations, and the B20 [the G20’s business advisory group] name IFAC as its anti-corruption partner last year. IFAC also partnered with the OECD to estimate the US$780bn cost of regulatory fragmentation in the financial services sector. Having the profession at the table helps policymakers while showing that the profession is part of the solution on many vexing issues.

IFAC has also worked hard, in partnership with our member organisations, to develop the accountancy profession’s capacity in 10 countries in Africa and Asia, through a seven-year programme.

What do you see as the key role of IFAC?

To best represent its members, IFAC consults them widely on its strategic plan. The 2019-20 plan reflects our shared desire to support a dynamic, future-focused global profession. Key to success will be working with and leveraging the efforts of our members.

In what key areas does IFAC want to bring influence to bear?

As the first IFAC president to come from academia, I think there is much the profession and academics can do together to advance a future-ready profession. We must prepare both personally and professionally, and uphold and demonstrate our code of ethics – our professional foundation. We must work to encourage good governance: how organisations tell their growth and prosperity story, or declare the challenges they face, is critical to long-term value creation. And we must build our skills: skills shortages are holding back organisations from achieving their goals. The most valued skills and competencies are changing rapidly and are increasingly those that help organisations build relationships, solve problems, innovate and communicate effectively.

What is the key risk to IFAC?

The monitoring group review of standard-setting arrangements is obviously something that continues to occupy management time. IFAC fully supports a standard-setting model that is effective, transparent, and operates in the public interest. We will continue to work constructively with the monitoring group and key stakeholders to bring this review to an end after many years.

The biggest challenge for the profession is also our biggest opportunity. Technology is already liberating accountants from their more mundane tasks. I recall when Excel first appeared and the gloomy predictions of its impact on the profession.

How do you see the work of IFAC progressing in different sectors?

Public sector. Accrual reforms are set to accelerate in the next five years. By the end of 2023, 65% of governments will report on an accrual basis, mainly through International Public Sector Accounting Standards. Greater transparency in the public sector is essential in fighting corruption, increasing citizen trust in governments and unlocking wealth.

Audit. The UK is not alone in conducting a review – so are Japan, the Netherlands and South Africa. In my opinion, audit is increasingly important as part of a broader conversation on good governance. [See also 'Part of the solution'.] To challenge and probe management, auditors must draw on a range of specialists – from big data professionals to experts in taxation, forensics, fraud and valuations. However, the multidisciplinary model isn’t enough in itself. A high-quality audit stems from a consistent culture of ethics and integrity throughout the entire firm and its service offerings. Above all, standards and regulation can never be the entire answer: mindset and commitment to doing the right thing enable truly effective governance. This is where our profession must play a crucial role.

Tax. The joint ACCA, CA ANZ and IFAC G20 2019 Trust in Tax survey showed that the public has the greatest trust in professional accountants, although strong distrust remains in many countries. As a global profession, we must work to build trust in tax systems across the globe. The current debate on taxing the digital economy is one area where I strongly encourage global collaboration.

Risk. The reality is that risk management remains underdeveloped in many organisations. Given today’s landscape of great change – and a future full of uncertainty – accountants must take advantage of their strategic, central role within organisations to drive better enterprise risk practices.

SMEs. Support for accountants in practice working with small businesses remains a key IFAC focus, and we continue to publish research, guides and thought leadership on issues of importance. Our highly popular guide to International Standards on Auditing is now in its fourth year, while our 2018 global SMP survey found that accountants working in small and medium practices are embracing technology to better serve their clients and attract and retain top talent.

What value do bodies such as ACCA and CA ANZ give to IFAC?

IFAC’s members drive the global accountancy profession’s future. ACCA and CA ANZ have deep and wide networks and decades of experience that contribute greatly to the overall profession. Your efforts to support capacity building in developing countries, contributed thought leadership on IFAC’s global knowledge gateway, and engagement with IFAC on important studies and reports like the G20 Public Trust in Tax survey all add up to a stronger global profession. The Trust in Tax research series shows, in practice, how leveraging the talents of our member organisations is critical to achieving IFAC’s overall mission.

What are the differences across the profession in different parts of the world?

The accountancy profession, united by a global code of ethics, is the world’s only truly global profession. Our diversity across geographies means we have an incredible amount to offer each other in terms of learning, including how to anticipate and overcome challenges. I see great opportunity in our differences.

Why did you want to be president?

It is a great honour to be president of IFAC, not least because I get to work closely with the brightest minds in our global profession. My accountancy students in Korea were, however, my biggest inspiration.

Can the accountancy profession make a positive impact on the world stage?

Yes, and there are a few key actions that will help expand that impact:

  • adopting integrated reporting throughout organisations
  • carrying out accrual reforms and adopting IPSAS in the public sector
  • helping build capacity for the profession in developing nations
  • fighting for greater diversity – gender and cultural – within the profession
  • supporting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

How will you personally cope with the challenges/stresses of the presidency?

There is always more to do, and I am motivated by the great opportunities ahead for the accountancy profession. There is more that unites everyone interested in the profession – including the regulatory community – than divides us. As the profession’s ambassador for the next two years, I am too energised by the opportunity and too humbled by the position to do anything other than give it my all!

Alan Johnson FCCA

IFAC appointed Alan Johnson FCCA as its deputy president in November 2018, having been nominated by ACCA. As with the office of president, his term as deputy will run until 2020. Johnson is also chair of ACCA’s Accountants for Business Global Forum, a non-executive director of the UK Department for International Development and chair of its audit and risk assurance committee. He is a former CFO of Jerónimo Martins, a food retailer with operations in Portugal, Poland and Colombia, and is now the independent chairman of the company’s internal control committee.