If you read, or even glance at the financial press, the name Alex Malley will be familiar territory. CEO of the Australian Society of Certified Practising Accountants (CPA) organisation, Malley went from being a recalcitrant schoolboy to best-selling author, media personality and head of one of the two main (with apologies to the NIA) accounting bodies in Australia. Charged with taking CPA international, and then (responding to regulatory pressures) providing a seemingly sensible (but failed) bridge for accountants to become financial advisors, Alex was, two weeks ago, sacked.
The sacking was one thing, but the lead-up was more interesting. Survey after survey shows that people take for granted that accountants are respected pillars of our community. What the unhappy events revealed is that the second most (and that is a close second) respected advocate for the Accounting Profession (the CPA Association), is in fact, arguably, with snouts in the trough and a pre-disposal to turning blind eye, just as likely to ignore external rules and expectations and rules of its own, and make a mockery of many of the regulatory changes it has been instrumental in arguing for.
While much commentary on this matter is titillating, the thing that gets me is the propensity for practitioners in whatever endeavour to aggressively align themselves with organisations that purport to bestow an aura of professionalism. The seeming lemming-like acceptance of these alignments suggests a society-wide failure to grasp what professionalism is.
Probably eight years ago, an executive of the Financial Planning Association (FPA) berated me in front of others for not wearing a tie. Now this was during my breakfast, on my work trip, and I just happened to run into him on the downstairs café of a Sydney Hotel. I know and like this guy, but in front of three others he noted that it was not professional to come to breakfast without a tie. Lovers of ties, forgive me, but I am standing there thinking of the grief that was the GFC, and the devastation caused by Storm Financial (at the time, an FPA member), and the best this well dressed, educated and charming guy can come up with is to tell me to wear a tie.
In the example of the CPA and in my short anecdote above, I am smelling bulls**t. And so should you reader. There are many, many people – financial planners, lawyers, accountants, doctors, soldiers, murderers and prostitutes who, whether or not they belong to any particular organisation, are professionals. The reason they are professionals is they put the subject matter of their work above (especially immediate) personal interest.
They stand up for a “good” that they think is right or required. They do the task justice. They do it regardless of what they might wear and regardless of what others think. They take the consequences. This is the only mark of a professional, everything else is fluff.
Long-time readers will know that for many years I railed against the Financial Planning Association (FPA), an organisation of which I am now the local representative. You may think that change a little odd, but for a time at least (beginning around the time of the “tie incident”), the FPA undertook enormous efforts to, and from within, reform the financial advising industry, in the process losing many disgruntled members from the “old-guard”. You have to give credit where due. And business can be lonely – there is a place for well-run, forward thinking, inclusive organisations that represent whatever industry.
Be that as it may, in my 17 years of dealing with the public, I have never been asked if I am a member of the FPA, and I suspect few accountants, doctors or even prostitutes have been asked about their alignment with their particular industry organisation either. In the end its trust that matters, and trust a personal thing.
Those who have a genuine claim to it are true professionals, and clients who can recognise it will rarely go wrong.