IFAC President Rachel Grimes on industry challenges
Acuity speaks with Sydney-based Rachel Grimes FCA, the newly elected president of the International Federation of Accountants
- In November 2016, former Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia (ICAA) president Rachel Grimes FCA was appointed president of the International Federation of Accountants
- Chartered Accountants ANZ has an important role on the global accounting stage and is in the top 12 member bodies in the world
- There are many great, diverse career options for young people in the profession, yet the stereotype of the "boring accountant" still exists
In November 2016, Sydney-based Rachel Grimes FCA was appointed president of International Federation of Accountants, after serving as deputy president since 2014 and as an IFAC board member since 2011. Grimes, a former president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia (ICAA), has more than 25 years experience across the financial services sector and is currently chief financial officer, group technology finance at Westpac Group. Grimes spoke with Acuity soon after commencing her tenure as IFAC president.
Congratulations on being elected to one of the most influential roles in the global accounting profession. What is on your agenda for your two-year term as IFAC president?
Thank you. I am grateful for the opportunity to play a role in leading what I believe is one of the world’s truly honourable professions.
What sets the accountancy profession apart is the framework of ethics we draw upon every day. So it’s fair to say that protecting this framework and helping every accountant continue to earn the trust of business, communities and governments is right at the top of my agenda.
While we need to fiercely protect this strength, the world is changing rapidly and we need to face both the challenges and opportunities arising from digitisation. We must understand how the role of accountants will change and the skills we need to adapt. Expanding our data and analytical skills is likely to be one example of how we can adapt.
One of our priorities as a profession needs to be holding onto and attracting talented people – this is something that I want to focus on over the next two years.
Also on my agenda is attracting, and keeping, talented people in the profession. There are so many great and diverse career options for young people available in the profession, yet the stereotype of the "boring accountant" is still out there. We need to show how many doors a career in accounting opens and that it really is possible to go anywhere.
What voice does Chartered Accountants ANZ – and the profession in this part of the world in general – have within the IFAC?
Chartered Accountants ANZ has an important role on the global accounting stage. It is in the top 12 member bodies in the world and it has a talented CEO in Lee White, who is often called upon to contribute. Chartered Accountants ANZ members are represented on the major IFAC committees and standard setting boards. Australia is well and truly hitting above its weight on the world stage.
What are the burning issues in the accounting profession that industry leaders need to address?
One of our priorities as a profession needs to be holding onto and attracting talented people – this is something that I want to focus on over the next two years. In addition to attracting talented young people beginning their careers, succession planning for small and medium practitioners is just as critical.
Secondly, the standard setting process is a crucial activity for the global profession. We need to ensure that this process continues to utilise the knowledge and expertise of our best and brightest stakeholders from around the world, while employing global best practice governance and oversight procedures.
What do you think is the single biggest challenge for the accounting profession worldwide?
The issues I’ve talked about [above] are all critical, but I would call out the global acceptance of accounting standards as perhaps our biggest challenge today.
International acceptance of these standards will help facilitate the flow of capital around the world, and in particular to regions where it is needed most. It will also bolster the accuracy, timeliness and relevance of accounting information to a greater audience of users. I believe it’s possible.
If you could change one thing about the accounting profession globally, what would it be?
Unfortunately the accounting profession is not immune to the challenges faced by many professions around the world – particularly the prevalence of decisions driven by self-interest, exacerbated by finger pointing between different countries. There needs to be a greater emphasis on a global view, acknowledging the need for a greater good.
You are only the second female IFAC president in the organisation’s 40-year history, and you’ve previously been vocal about diversity and inclusion within the workplace. Are gender issues in the accounting profession being nullified as quickly as they should be? Can more be done?
In Australia, our membership base is equally male and female below the age of 49. This is the result of:
1. flexible work practices. As an example, Westpac’s flexible working policy has allowed me the opportunity to take on the role as president of IFAC
2. accounting being a career that you can re-enter after time away from it, making it easier for parents to return to the workforce
3. diversified roles that provide challenges and opportunities at all levels.
However, more can always be done. Not all companies or countries provide the infrastructure and support that supports gender diversity at all levels.
Fast-forward to November 2018, what would you like your legacy as IFAC president to look like?
I would hope that we have moved a step closer to having accountants acknowledged as the most ethical profession around the globe and one that even more people want to be part of.
Part of this will be creating a governance model that allows the standard setters to focus on getting the best standards to the market in the most efficient way possible. This will allow us to best prepare accountants of the future with the best technology skills and resources, as well as robust ethical judgement.