Last updated: 17 Apr 2023 10:00 Posted in: AIA
Shahram Moallemi has an extraordinary story to tell. After growing up in Iran and narrowly avoiding the Iranian revolution, he started up his own accountancy practice, initially earning just £150 a year. He went on to build a thriving multi-million pound company employing 20 staff.
Recently, we had the pleasure of interviewing Shahram in order to get to know more about the crucial role he plays leading the AIA council and what ultimately drives his passion and enthusiasm for the AIA and the accountancy industry as a whole.
Can you tell our readers what inspired you to become an accountant? And the journey you took to achieving your goal?
Well, I had a natural affinity for maths as a child and a career in accountancy always seemed a logical choice. In Iran at the time, university places were limited and failure to make the grade meant national service, so my father had the foresight to send me to the UK to study and remove the risk of not receiving a university place in Iran.
I moved to Brighton in 1970, where I took my O Levels and A Levels before joining a local accountancy firm. The plan had always been to return home, but with the onset of the Iranian revolution and subsequent Iraq invasion, combined with having a young family who I needed to support, my plans changed. The decision was made that the UK would become home.
Then in 1986, I made the daunting decision to set up my own business with just one client and earning only £150 a year. Initially, the business was built around the local Iranian community, but over the years this has transformed to a diverse portfolio of clients from sole traders to large multinational businesses. I now run the business with my son, Amir, and we employ a team of 20. Whilst the practice has grown over the years, I have always and will always follow one key ethos; we operate as a family business with employees and client welfare at our heart of operations.
So, what inspired a successful and very busy practice owner to join the AIA council and latterly to take on the role of AIA President?
Joining the council wasn’t on my radar when I was initially approached. Any spare time was a real luxury due to my practice commitments. However, I felt it only right to consider the opportunity with an open mind, so I asked myself some questions. Is AIA aligned with my beliefs? Can I add value? And can I help to progress AIA and the wider industry? As soon as I had answered yes to these questions, I felt that I couldn’t say no!
Taking the next step to become President was an absolute honour. It was an honour which I knew couldn’t be undertaken lightly as there were some big shoes to fill in former President Les Bradley. And time yet again was a factor that could not be ignored. So, I have taken a (slight) step back from my practice, which has allowed me additional time to focus my energy on imparting some of my business knowledge on the AIA as we strive to seek further accreditation and recognition.
Can you share what skills you feel you bring to the role of AIA President?
Due to my heritage and unique background, I feel I bring a wealth of experience to the role. Building a practice from nothing is no mean feat – it takes great commitment and makes you very resilient, whilst at the same time it makes you value the importance of building and maintaining relationships. Over the years, I have dealt with hundreds of clients from varying cultures, religions and backgrounds, and I can and do draw on this valuable experience time and time again as I fulfil my presidential role.
AIA is a truly diverse association so in your opinion what does it mean to be an international accountant?
For me, this is quite a simple answer. It is about being part of a truly integrated global movement. AIA operate as one unified body across the globe, instead of separate entities in each country.
Given your unique position, what do you see as the role of AIA as a professional accounting organisation?
I think first and foremost that the role of a professional accounting organisation is to act in the public interest. If we ever waiver from this, we shouldn’t be here... full stop!
The next question is what that entails, and for me I would break it down under the following headings: education standards, diversity and inclusion, and ethics.
Provision of world-class educational qualifications is imperative to impart wisdom and knowledge on the next generation of accountants, which in turn helps to continually advance the industry. Our role is to work in the public interest to produce professional accountants of the highest calibre.
Diversity and inclusion is a topic close to my heart, and I am very pleased to see that it seems to be moving up the agenda in most walks of life. The more that these issues are tackled head on, the more chance we have of changing attitudes. It is the responsibility of the AIA that, regardless of background or circumstance, everyone deserves the opportunity to develop and nurture their talents to their full potential.
Finally, ethics. Anybody can open a business and call themselves an accountant... To me, this is wrong because without the necessary academic qualifications and experience you are not able to provide the relevant level of service which any client should expect. Clients trust you and provide you with a lot of responsibility in their life. Accountants must be accountable!
As a professional accounting organisation, AIA’s ethical conduct is embedded in everything from qualifications, processes and procedures to business values. All our members are bound by the AIA constitution, which incorporates our Code of Ethics.
Having taken over the AIA presidency in November 2020 during Covid, can you briefly outline some of the challenges you have faced? And provide us with an insight into what you class as your key successes to date?
Covid, unsurprisingly, has been the main challenge within the first two years of my presidential tenure. The role by its nature requires a lot of interpersonal interaction – interaction which simply is not the same over a Teams call. However, we can now look forward on this front with renewed optimism in 2023. I say this as I am packing my bags for face-to-face visits with educational partners, branches and members in China and Hong Kong.
As for successes, I am very pleased to say I feel there have already been quite a few. One of these was joining the European Federation of Accountants and Auditors for small and medium-sized enterprises (EFAA for SMEs), alongside 15 national accounting, auditing and tax advisor organisations in June 2022. SMEs are the backbone of Europe’s economy and small and medium-sized accounting practices (SMPs) are their most important provider of compliance and advisory services. We can now work with EFAA in supporting and promoting SMPs, contributing to their work in the promotion of professional standards, and advocating for sustainable, ‘future ready’ SMPs.
We have also recruited several new council members who bring vast experience in the fields of diversity, inclusion and sustainability, which aligns with AIA’s vision, mission, values and strategy.
And finally, there is the launch of our scholarship programme (AIA Accountancy Scholarship UK and AIA Commonwealth Scholarship) in 2022. The programme reaffirms AIA’s commitment to Access Accountancy. We want to contribute to long lasting change in the global accountancy profession by helping students from under-represented groups to reach their career goals. The programme represents one of the steps AIA are taking to develop financial education and provide students with a real chance to fulfil their potential.
What’s next for the AIA President?
For me, the next 12 months will be about further strengthening relationships with regulators and overseas partners, and building upon the fantastic work the AIA team are doing in relation to the sustainable agenda. One thing for sure is that I won’t be resting on my laurels in 2023.
In the years to come, what would you like to see as your AIA ‘presidential’ legacy?
I would like to be remembered as a president who called upon his life experience to inject new impetus into the AIA, proactively helping to facilitate and embrace change.
Finally, what would be one piece of advice you would give to any aspiring accountants out there?
I always tell people that with the advancements in technology software anybody (within reason) can produce accounts. They may not understand what they are producing, but they can produce them. The key for me is wanting to help clients, and for this you need to be able to provide advice. Become a sponge and understand business with a 360-degree approach. Don’t pay me to do your accounts, pay me to give you advice.
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