The International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) recently released its 2017 Global Status Report which measures the progress of its members in adopting its international accounting standards. IFAC found that, although member organisations are committed to meeting their SMO’s (statement of member obligations) for each standard, the process is complex and progress is rarely quick. In fact, full implementation may take years.
As the report notes, professional organisations typically share responsibility for adoption with external stakeholders like government and educational institutions. Their ability to win the cooperation of these parties is therefore vital in achieving their end.
Why South Africa leads
It is encouraging that South Africa has been ranked number one in implementing IFAC standards over the previous five years, except for 2017. As a member of the South African Institute of Professional Accountants (SAIPA), I can attest that the country’s status as an early adopter is due in no small part to the organisation’s focus on relationship building and collaboration. The same is true of any of the nation’s various professional accounting organisations (PAO’s).
Adoption of IFAC standards starts in the country’s education system. Courses for accounting must meet government regulations and address the needs of industry. It is therefore appropriate that SAIPA, like most professional bodies, sits on the advisory committees at South Africa’s various universities. These panels review current curricula to evaluate if they are still relevant to industry requirements and incorporate international standards. The Institute also consults with other tertiary education providers. In addition, SAIPA works with the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA), the Council of Higher Education and the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations.
Government plays a key role in the adoption of IFAC standards and SAIPA’s relationship with them is extremely good and positive. The Institute has worked hard to win the right to positively influence regulation by being involved in and adding value to the legislation development process. The Institute provides representation to government in parliament on matters like tax and the Companies Act and is a member of the recognised controlling body (RCB) with SARS. Government is also entrusting professional bodies with more responsibility to ensure that regulations and standards are embraced by their members.
A country’s regulators can greatly accelerate adoption of IFAC standards by working together towards this goal. Fortunately, the many professional bodies in South Africa maintain a good working relationship with one another. This has contributed to our success. For standards that govern the field, SAIPA is represented with each stakeholder to ensure correct interpretation and implementation of the standards. These include the Financial Reporting Technical Committee, Accounting Standards Board and Ethics Standards Board.
If some of South Africa’s trade partners do not fully implement IFAC standards, this can reduce the benefits of our own adoption. To address the issue, SAIPA joined several African accounting bodies, most notably the Pan African Federation of Accountants (PAFA) and the Southern African Community Institutes of Accountant (SACIA) a sub-structure of PAFA that promotes collaboration and co-operation amongst regional PAO’s. This gives us the opportunity to help ensure standards are fully adopted across the continent.
For unaffiliated countries, SAIPA has signed memorandums of understanding (MOU) with several who wish to adopt the standards but lack the guidance or resources to do so. Currently, we offer our services to seven African professional bodies to assist them with adoption and developing a curriculum of minimum competencies.
All auditors in South Africa must belong to a professional body, but not all practicing accountants. This is of concern because non-regulated practitioners are under no material obligation to adhere to IFAC standards. Through the Forum of Accounting Bodies, SAIPA is working with Treasury on new regulations to compel all accountants to join a professional body. This will give their employer or clients the assurance that they are fully compliant, being bound by our code of conduct, investigation and disciplinary processes, and continuous professional development programmes. Treasury should begin rolling out a new regulatory framework by 2020.
Setting the pace
In adopting IFAC’s international standards, South Africa has become a yardstick for the rest of the world. International bodies are investigating our implementation frameworks, educational curricula and professional programmes as blueprints for their own endeavours. While collaboration is the key to making adoption happen, the secret ingredient is the hard work of relationship building that makes close cooperation possible.