I'm proud to be a Certified Accountant (CA) since 1996, when I received my professional number from the Chartered Accountants' Association. Throughout these almost 25 years of career I've been watching closely the evolution of the profession and all the mutations it has experienced in the way companies are managed, in the way their relationships work, in the way our relationships, as professionals, work, and especially in the way our relationship with (I dare say) the main stakeholder of financial information, the State, works.
According to Article 10 of the Statutes of the Certified Accountants' Association* we established that the law grants us exclusive competences for the following activities:
- "Planning, organizing and coordinating the execution of public or private entities' accounting, that keep ou should keep accounts according to the officially applicable accounting plans or the accounting normalization system, depending on the case respecting the legal standards, accounting principles in force and guidelines of entities with competences in terms of accounting normalization;
- Taking responsibility for the technical regularity, in the accounting and taxation areas, of the entities referred in the previous point;
- Signing, together with the legal representative of the entities referred in point a), the financial statement and tax form, attesting its quality, under the terms and conditions defined by the Association, without prejudice of the competence and responsabilities established by the commercial and tax law to the respective organs."
But also, although not exclusively, other attributions:
- "To carry out consultancy duties in the areas of accounting and taxation;
- Intervene, representing taxable persons for whose accounting you are responsible, in the gracious phase of the taxation procedure and in the taxation process, up to the limit, after which, in legal terms, it is mandatory to be represented by an lawyer regarding questions related to your specific competences;
- Carry out any other duties defined by the law, that are related to the carrying out of their own duties, namely those of expert appointed by the courts or by other public or private entities."
We can hereby conclude that, according to the law, the CA has a relevant role with exclusive competences and responsibilities in the areas of accounting and taxation, being able, through his/her know-how and expertise, to develop activities as Consultant.
But how does society see us?
Let's start from the beginning, the meaning**:
. Accountant [gender neutral]
1. person versed in accounting
2. expert bookkeeper
. Consultant [masculine noun]
2. expert in a given topic tied to an organism or company, to provide consultancy services whenever a doubt arises on the topic in which he/she specializes
According to the definition, an Account is, therefore, someone who masters accounting matters (of course, who else!), but who is also an expert bookkeeper, in other words, someone in charge of handling the bookkeeping of a company. The term "bookkeeping" transports us to the historic universe of the Accountant's functions, who were in charge of keeping a complete and organized set of (commercial) books of the company.
The accounting cycle revolves around the chronological (and usually daily) recording of financial and non-financial transactions, as well as other occurences at a given moment.
In turn, the consultant emerges as an expert in a given topic, let's specify in this case for all due purposes, in the areas of accounting and taxation, able to give advice (the adviser) based on the analysis of the elements that he/she himself/herself generated (as Accountant) or that were provided to him/her.
It is, indeed, critical for companies to keep their accounting records, their bookkeeping updated, so that elements can later be extracted to categorize and interpret the historic financial data, but also and more importantly, to create possibilities to carry out predictive analyses, where potential scenarios can be pondered.
Considering the technological advances that already happened and the great digital transformation that draws closer for our profession, I believe that the secret for the Certified Accountant's success will depend on the way each of us will transition from the Accountant paradigm to the Consultant paradigm. In other words, they need to stop focusing only on historic recording, because this function of recording transactions will become increasingly automatic and automated, and start focusing in results delivery and, primordially, in the analysis of obtained data, caring about the past, but first and foremost about the creation of future scenarios, always trying to stand by the businessman/businesswoman's side during the decision-making process, as an adviser. This way, we will finally be able to alter the paradigm of the main stakeholder of companies, letting the State take on this role and share the attention with the remaining ones: holders of capital, financial backers, service providers, clients, managers, coworkers, among others.
Thus, the Certified Accountant (companies' Consultant in the 21st Century) will no longer be seen, in the organizations, as someone who is focused on what is in the rear-view mirror (the past), but as someone who is focused on the GPS (the future) of the company, helping, with his/her work and knowledge, the managers in the decision-making process.
* Portuguese Decree-Law nº452/99, of November 5th, modified by the Portuguese Decree-Law nº310/2009, of October 26th, with the modifications introduced by the Laws 139/2015, of September 7th, and nº 119/2019, of September 18th.
** “Dicionário da Língua Portuguesa – Dicionários Editora”, Porto Editora, 2012.