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Alternative success, not alternative facts!

By Græme Gordon, Executive Director, Praxity

We live, I am told, in a “post-truth” world where “alternative facts” are currency and two plus two can make whatever you want if you go through the likes of Panama.

It may surprise you to know that I think this is good news for our profession and those who promote it.

Promoting, marketing and selling “accounting” services can often seem like a thankless role. The audit is viewed both as a necessary evil and more and more as a simple commodity, thus driving down both price and perceived value.

Tax advice, even legal and allowable tax avoidance, is often questioned on the grounds that it lacks moral justification. Although I do wonder how many of the questioners would have taken the same route in the same circumstance. In a recent BBC poll of 1,000 persons who said such action was wrong, over 50 percent admitted that, if in a similar position, they would have adopted a similar tax avoidance scheme.

So why should the fact that “facts” have become corrupted be a boon to the profession?

Well, as any fully-qualified accountant will explain, one of the key attributes that is drummed into us during our training is scepticism.

It used to be that we needed to be sceptical about information we received from the firm we were auditing. But now, with the likes of 100 percent data analytics, we know what all the issues are and no longer need to adopt the approach of the suspicious sceptic to find what we need.

Nowadays, however, we can and should turn our trained scepticism on these so-called alternative facts.

Equally, the trained ability to see through the fog of facts, semi-truths and obfuscation is a real USP that the profession as a whole should promote and that individual firms can use to their own specific and competitive benefit.

A recent survey for the G20 by IFAC, ACCA and CAANZ showed that 57 percent of the “public” trusts or highly trusts professional accountants on taxation issues, with tax lawyers a poor second at 49 percent and NGOs at 35 percent. The recent Edelman Trust Barometer actually found that the media is distrusted in 80 percent of the countries it surveyed. Trust is a valued commodity, unevenly distributed across government, business and commentators.

I don’t know of a firm within our profession that doesn’t market themselves to some degree as “Trusted Advisers”. Well now is the time, I would submit, to walk the walk.

Trust, and being trusted, is an advantage for our profession. It is embedded in the public psyche. We should do everything to retain that trust, build advocacy for the profession and use it to differentiate us when marketing ourselves.

Many of our governing bodies profess a “public interest” element to their existence, and I know of no greater public interest that ensuring our clients, and the public in general, can trust us to give them the truth, cutting though alternative facts, myths and downright lies to remain essential guardians of integrity.​