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Guest Article | Navigating the Compliance Network
Last updated: 03 Jan 2024 09:30
Posted in: AIA
Ian Waters explains why compliance is important to AIA and its members, and how to better understand the various requirements.
In accountancy practice, when we refer to compliance, we often mean the billable work that enables our clients to comply – in the areas of tax and financial reporting, in particular. But forget that for the purpose of this article. I’m talking about the compliance obligations that you have as an accountant in practice, including those obligations you have as a practising AIA member.
In this context, I suspect that ‘compliance’ is not a subject that gets you out of bed and enthusiastically into your office each morning. It is often seen as the necessary evil that should absorb as little of your time as possible. I wouldn’t completely disagree with you.
However, as a member of a professional body, if you cannot easily embrace the need to comply with laws and regulations, perhaps we can agree on the value provided by being seen to be regulated – and seen to be compliant.
Why should I embrace compliance?
Even an accountant in public practice who is not a member of a professional body must comply with the law. One of the areas of law that often springs to mind is that of anti-money laundering (AML) compliance.
In the UK, for example, even an accountancy practice that is not supervised by a professional body supervisor, such as AIA, will be required to comply with the Money Laundering Regulations, the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, etc., and will be supervised for compliance by HMRC. We must all comply with the law, and perhaps compliance is easier for a practising accountant who has a professional body to support them in doing so.
Some accountants in practice will be subject to statutory regulation where they are authorised to perform work in areas such as audit, insolvency or financial services. Although AIA does not supervise its members in these areas, some members are likely to work in firms that are subject to statutory regulation.
Compliance with the law and statutory regulation may be regarded as a minimum level of compliance: the same rules apply to everyone and have been developed following public consultation and detailed scrutiny. This enhances public confidence and meets the basic expectations of stakeholders – often to remedy a specific concern that has arisen. For example, we might recall that there was once a time when auditing standards and guidance were drafted by the professional bodies. No wonder the profession is often referred to as ‘self-regulatory’!
So let’s consider what ‘self-regulation’ means. An accountant is still able to practise in the UK and Ireland, for example, without formal qualifications and without the need to belong to a professional body. It has been argued by some that a formal accountancy qualification is not necessary to provide general accountancy services, such as tax advice, and that to restrict the use of the term ‘accountant’ would not serve the public interest.
The public’s access to affordable accountancy services is important, and I do not propose to venture here into the discussion of who should be allowed to describe themselves as an ‘accountant’. However, AIA certainly has the right to restrict the use of the designation ‘International Accountant’ and the public has the right to know what to expect from a member of a professional body.
“Transparent regulation demonstrates the high ethical and professional standards against which members are held accountable.”
Proportionate, targeted regulation of its members by a professional body sets those members apart from others. Transparent regulation demonstrates the high ethical and professional standards against which members are held accountable, and that transparency includes suitable publicity where those standards have not been met.
In that way, members of the public may have confidence that the majority of accountants who are members of a reputable professional body, such as AIA, are compliant with high ethical and professional standards, as well as being technically competent.
This serves the public interest, making it easier for the layperson in need of professional services to access those services. Of course, that confidence in regulated professionals also serves the interests of AIA members. Regulation that is seen to be robust, and high levels of compliance, enhance the reputation and trustworthiness of both the professional body and its members.
Where to find the requirements
Having addressed the question of ‘Why?’, let’s now turn to the question of what the various compliance requirements are and where you can find them.
Compliance with the law will be covered specifically in a later article, as will some of the detail in respect of AIA’s Bye-laws and Regulations. The rest of this article is mainly about regulatory navigation (or at least orientation) and knowing the various elements of compliance of which you should be aware.
The Bye-laws, Regulations and Code of Ethics are all set out in a single constitutional document, which is publicly available on the AIA website. The Bye-laws are the key to what AIA may expect of its members and students.
The Articles of Association authorise AIA’s Council to ‘make Bye-Laws and Regulations as it considers appropriate for the purpose of carrying on the business of the Association and regulating its affairs’. Any amendment or variation of the Articles shall only take effect if approved by AIA members.
The Bye-laws, on the other hand, may be amended by Council. They state that Council shall ‘prescribe or provide for in regulations … the obligations applicable to a member’. While it is reasonable to expect a degree of permanence in the Bye-laws, a set of Regulations may be amended more frequently – to enhance processes, demonstrate proportionality or adapt to a changing environment.
The Articles and Bye-laws are agreed by, and for, the collective AIA membership, and the tacit agreement of individual AIA members to abide by the Bye-laws and Regulations is clear – quite apart from the explicit undertaking they make on joining AIA and renewing their membership.
Fundamentally, the Bye-laws make clear that a member shall be liable to disciplinary action in the circumstances set out in the Bye-laws and Regulations, and that a member must, at all times, co-operate with the Investigations, Disciplinary and Appeals Committees. In fact, it might be said that much of the value of professional body membership is derived from members working together to further their common interests, which includes the expectation that they will share the same high professional and ethical standards.
The Regulations declare to the general public (more explicitly than the Bye-laws) the professional standards that AIA expects of its members and what will happen if those standards are not met.
There are six sets of AIA Regulations but, as we are focusing here on the professional standards required of members, we only need to consider three. I shall go deeper into the specific requirements in a future article. For now, the details of what you can expect to find in each set of Regulations below.
AIA Regulations: A summary
Fitness and propriety considerations regarding AIA membership
Use of the designation ‘International Accountant’
The obligation to submit annual returns to AIA
Public Practice Regulations
The need to hold a practising certificate and how to obtain one from the AIA
Additional fitness and propriety considerations
The monitoring of practising members and their firms
Professional indemnity insurance requirements
Continuity of practice arrangements in the event of death or incapacity
Custody of client assets
Internal complaints handling
Continuing Professional Development Regulations
The number of CPD units required over a period
Record-keeping and annual declarations
CPD monitoring by AIA
The Code of Ethics
Although the entire Code of Ethics is founded on five fundamental ethical principles, Part 3 (relating to Professional Accountants in Public Practice) carries some specific requirements in certain situations. Those requirements are entirely consistent with the framework explained in Part 1 of the Code, whereby the fundamental principles must be safeguarded when threats to compliance are identified.
Nevertheless, AIA Members must be aware of the Code’s specific contents in respect of:
conflicts of interest;
fees and other types of remuneration;
inducements, including gifts and hospitality; and
responding to non-compliance with laws and regulations.
Where to find guidance
Related to the Code of Ethics is the publication Professional Conduct in Relation to Taxation (PCRT), relevant to the UK. It has been drafted by representatives of seven professional bodies and endorsed by HMRC as an acceptable basis for dealings between accountants and HMRC.
AIA has adopted PCRT, which has been recognised in the courts as the standard for use by UK tax advisers.
AIA provides further compliance support for members, in the form of guidance and resources, through the secure area of the AIA website. So why not log-in soon and familiarise yourself with what’s available there?
Finally, as AML compliance is such an important area, I should remind you of the Guidance for the Accountancy Sector (often referred to as ‘AMLGAS’) produced in the UK by the Consultative Committee of Accountancy Bodies. As this has been approved by HM Treasury, it is an important point of reference for a better understanding of the statutory requirements and the expectations of the supervisory authorities.
Final thoughts When it comes to compliance with your professional body’s requirements – in other words, the expectations of your fellow AIA members – I urge you to make use of all the available guidance, which will help you to comply effectively and efficiently. I shall highlight aspects of that guidance in future articles.
And don’t forget the importance of CPD (which may take many forms). Plan your CPD in advance to ensure that you prioritise certain needs and achieve the desired outcomes effectively.
"Members of the public may have confidence that the majority of accountants who are members of a reputable professional body, such as AIA, are compliant with high ethical and professional standards, as well as being technically competent."
Ian Waters, Director at Compliance for Accountants Limited