ICAEW’s new president for 2019/20, Fiona Wilkinson, has stated she plans to use her time in office to be an ambassador for inclusion in accountancy and to rebuild the reputation of the profession after it has been slated for audit performance
Wilkinson plans to work with government and regulators to ensure the accounting and audit profession is fit for the future, particularly as auditors and accountants have been coming in for heavy criticism by MPs, government and the Competition and Market Authority, over the quality and integrity of audit work and lack of competition across the audit market. This follows a string of audit failures from BHS to Carillion and Patisserie Valerie.
‘We need to look forward to the future and make audit something that is valued and useful. We need to ask what the users of accounts actually want from us, be positive about change, and ensure a bright future for the profession,’ Wilkinson said.
On diversity and gender equality, one of her aims in the role is to celebrate the centenary of Mary Harris Smith, who was the first woman to become a chartered accountant and a member of ICAEW in 1920.
Wilkinson said: ‘Mary Harris Smith applied several times to join the institute and was turned down before finally being accepted. I want to celebrate her resilience and determination to achieve the qualification she wanted.’
A number of events are planned to mark the centenary, including the commissioning of a portrait of Smith, and events are being held to celebrate female members in ICAEW district societies in the UK, and around the world.
A century later, the accounting world still has a poor reputation for diversity across senior echelons and there is a disproportionate number of men in partner and senior roles. The gender split between male and female partners at the Big Four firms is 26% at Deloitte while the worst is KPMG at 19%. Beyond the Big Four, the figures are even worse with only a negligible 16% of women partners at Grant Thornton and 15% at BDO.
After qualifying in 1980, Wilkinson worked for Deloitte for 11 years in locations such as London, Milan, and Canada, before going on to start her own practice, Fiona Wilkinson Ltd, working as a technical consultant to firms advising them on auditing, financial reporting and practice assurance. She became president of the ICAEW south west district society in 2004 and focused on encouraging younger members, women and student members to become involved. Recently she has also served as chair of the professional standards board, ICAEW board director, chair of the ethics advisory committee and chair of the diversity advisory group.
Over the next 12 months, Wilkinson will be supported by new deputy president and KPMG partner David Matthews, and new vice president Will Brooks, managing director at Eximus Capital.
Pat Sweet, Sara White