Date posted: 27/11/2017 7 min read

Sydney set to shine as WCOA 2018 comes to town

Sydney’s World Congress of Accountants (WCOA) is set to attract a record number of 6,000 delegates from 130 countries when it is held in November 2018.

In Brief

  • Sydney is to host WCOA for the first time since 1972, with next year’s event set to be worth $18 million to NSW.
  • Themed ‘Global Challenges, Global Leaders’, WCOA is jointly hosted by Chartered Accountants ANZ and CPA Australia.
  • Sponsored by the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), President Rachel Grimes says there will be a focus on technology.

By Michael Blayney.

After 46 years of globetrotting, with successful stopovers in Rome, Paris and Washington, the World Congress of Accountants (WCOA) is returning to Sydney.

It’s been a long time away. When WCOA last visited Sydney’s shores in 1972, television transmitted in black and white only, most financial markets were still regulated, and a spreadsheet was still just two pages of a bound paper ledger.

In 2014, Sydneysider Rachel Grimes FCA was in Rome when the Sydney hosting announcement was met with universal approval. As the current President of the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), the worldwide accountancy organisation and sponsor of WCOA 2018, Grimes was honoured to showcase the harbour city to the IFAC Board two years ago in preparation for WCOA.

“Sydney is one of the great global destinations and there was a unanimous feeling that it was time to bring the congress back to these shores,” she says. “I’m particularly looking forward to sharing best practice, uniting the profession and celebrating in the city I call home.”

In 1972, the 10th WCOA attracted more than 5,000 delegates to Sydney from over 80 countries. Next year in November, an estimated 6,000 attendees from 130 countries are expected to attend Sydney for the 20th Congress. A few seasoned delegates will be preparing for their second Sydney WCOA.

The history of WCOA dates back to 1904, when the first congress took place alongside the World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri, with 81 people in attendance – a far cry from attendances of the modern era. Political tensions and two world wars made predictable scheduling an afterthought until the 1950s. Today, though, a WCOA is held every four years, with Rome (2014), Kuala Lumpur (2010) and Istanbul (2006) the previous three host cities.

The Sydney conference promises to be a bittersweet affair for Grimes, signifying the end of her two-year tenure as IFAC President. Grimes is determined to make this WCOA the best ever, with the same focus on technology that has been a strong feature of her presidency.

“There’s no denying that the accounting profession is being challenged by developments in technology, but there are broader opportunities with the advent of artificial intelligence, robotics and cyber security,” says Grimes, a Westpac CFO in the technology space when she removes her IFAC president’s hat.

The aim of the four-day Congress

“Young people, in particular, are entering the profession looking for opportunities to work in fields like cyber security,” she says. “Yes, many of the compliance roles will be replaced by advisory roles, but in order to succeed in a more competitive environment, accounting firms must make significant strategic decisions and implement effectively.”

Proudly joint-hosted by Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand and CPA Australia, the conference has selected ‘Global Challenges, Global Leaders’ as its overriding theme, addressing how accountants can transform professional challenges into opportunities.

The aim of the four-day Congress is to embrace technology advancements, build greater public trust and prosperity, promote sustainability, attract new talent and safeguard the future of accounting. Attendees will be encouraged to identify new challenges, assume leadership positions, share knowledge and set new strategic directions.

“I’ve heard people call WCOA the ‘Olympics of Accountants’ -- I guess because it’s held every four years, and brings together the best business and finance minds from around the world,” says Rick Ellis, CEO, Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand. 

It truly is a milestone event for our profession
Rick Ellis CEO of Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand

“It truly is a milestone event for our profession. To give you an idea of the calibre of speaker and global insight afforded delegates, Pope Francis spoke at the last WCOA in Rome 2014 about the positive impact our profession can make on society.” 

The line-up of speakers and leaders next year is yet to be finalised, but Grimes promises that the wide range of topics set for discussion will reflect the true state of play in the industry today. She’s also well aware that choosing the most relevant conversations in a business landscape that is changing so rapidly presents a formidable challenge.

“Looking back to the last conference in Rome, artificial intelligence was in its infancy and wasn’t extensively covered, if at all. It was more a hypothetical back then – but now it’s reality. That’s a tangible example of how much things can change very quickly.”

Over the four days, the congress will showcase more than 50 displays promoting the latest offerings from the fintech industry, and a dedicated pavilion will focus on the latest research from finance sector leaders. Alongside these displays, a series of interactive workshops will highlight public sector accountability, globalisation, innovation and sustainability.

Down-time will take on a distinctly Australian flavour, featuring a host of networking opportunities and interactive pastimes. If you’ve always fancied wielding the willow on an indoor cricket pitch or patrolling a “shoreline” with an Aussie lifesaver, here’s your chance to share the experience on your social media feed with the rest of the world. On day two, the nation’s iconic horse race, the Melbourne Cup, will also be appropriately celebrated in local fashion.

Celebrate the profession

Entertainment aside, WCOA is being designed as a true celebration of the accounting profession. Grimes emphasises how our behaviour relates to the bigger picture.

“Ethics completely underpins our profession,” she says. “The business world is increasingly turning to people with strong ethics, to those with an understanding of the numbers who are willingly prepared to take on risk, compliance and leadership. It’s important to note that more CFOs than ever are making the transition into a CEO role.”

“The pride we take in our work sets us apart. We have global standards and there’s real strength and power in that. It’s proven that the greater number of accountants in a membership body, the lower the rate of fraud. This makes it vitally important that people from all nations have access to the knowledge on offer.”   

Michael Blayney is a Melbourne journalist and writer.

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