How to detect lies and recognise fact from fiction were just two of the themes explored at ICAEW’s recent annual training day for committee members. The training also featured updates on the work of ICAEW’s Professional Standards Department (PSD) and a session on ethics looking at the challenges involved in making values or principles-based judgments.
In providing this training to committee members, ICAEW aims to support good decision-making and equip them with usable skills and tools. But there is also a wider goal: to enable them to understand where their respective committees fit within ICAEW’s regulatory mechanisms.
“A joint training day for all the committees facilitates interaction with other committee members so that they walk away with a greater understanding of the bigger picture,” explains Kim Nyawira, senior lawyer, committees and tribunals, ICAEW. “It helps them understand how their specific committee and role fit within the rest of ICAEW and enhances a unity of purpose in relation to ICAEW's mission to protect the public interest.”
At the training days, which take place once a year, members across all the committees have an opportunity to interact with each other. For the last two years, the training has been online, but it usually takes place physically, face-to-face. Because of the sheer number of members (more than 80), they are usually spilt into two groups (following the same programme) over two days.
“Members are normally limited to interacting with others on their own committees, so having a universal training day gives people the opportunity to understand how things work across all the committees,” says Nyawira.
“The regulatory committees feed into the investigation committee which in turn feeds into the disciplinary committees, so understanding where you fit as part of the overall puzzle is crucial,” she explains. “And you only get that by meeting and having conversations with people whose work differs from your own. It allows you to put into perspective the part you play and how your work impacts other committees.”
The training days also bring committee members up-to-date with what is happening within ICAEW. “It’s useful for them to have an update on the work of PSD and a legal update,” says Nyawira. “This may be more relevant to some committees than others, but again, it’s about people understanding the bigger picture within which they work.”
Alongside the PSD and legal updates, attendees also hear about developments from the ICAEW Regulatory Board (IRB). The IRB is responsible for reviewing the effectiveness of these committees.
After that, there are more specific skills-building sessions. “The way we go about picking topics for training is to try to find something that works across the board, where everyone will learn something,” says Nyawira. “We’re talking to all the committees together and they all do so many different things, so that can be a challenge.”
The choice of topics also factors in training needs. “If we spot a trend happening across the committees that tells us members may not fully understand something, we try to address it,” says Nyawira. “Sometimes members may raise gaps in their training themselves so we usually ask what might interest them and where themes emerge, we will take that up because the members are best placed to tell us what they need to perform their duties effectively.”
Arming with tools
The most recent training day included two topic-specific sessions: one with Professor Roger Steare, who discussed ethics; and a second with Geoff Coughlin, Director, Emphasis on Skills who talked to members about distinguishing fact from fiction and explained what they can and can’t rely on in terms of documentation and credibility of witnesses.
Previous training days have looked both at specific regulatory issues such as anti-money laundering, and broader issues such as unconscious bias, and diversity and inclusion.
“We want to arm members with the best tools we can to help them do their jobs better,” stresses Nyawira. “We decided on ethics because it’s a topic that comes up often, and of course it’s important in terms of understanding decision-making,” she explains. “There isn’t anyone, whatever their role, who hasn’t had to deal with an ethical dilemma at work or personally.”
“We want people to make the right decisions,” says Steare, who advises organisations on leadership, culture and ethics. “If you’re a professional institute or you’re a member of a professional institute or a member of a professional standards committee, not only are you looking to see that ICAEW Chartered Accountants and firms who’ve been brought to your attention have complied with the rules, you also need to make a judgment as to whether or not they’ve upheld professional standards and principles, which start with integrity and include due care and diligence, and not bringing the profession into disrepute.”
“In a way, the easy bits to comply with, or not, are the rules,” he explains. “So when it comes to things like anti-money laundering it’s all quite straightforward: you either follow the process and you comply or you don’t follow the process and you’re in breach. It’s much trickier to help people to make difficult values or principles-based judgments, and also, critically, to make decisions that benefit the ‘public interest’.”
“The committees also need to be aware of the way in which they make their decisions,” he adds, “and the culture that the chair of the committee creates. So that people who have a different view can express it and challenge others without fear or favour. One of the things I teach is that better decisions are made when we don’t keep deferring to the person with what seems to be the most power in the room. And a really effective chair will lead from the front – not drive from the back.”
“People are often working in their cocoons,” says Nyawira. “But after the training, they walk away having learnt something new; even if that’s just down to the sheer number of people they’ve met who do completely different things. Somebody at some point is going to say something that teaches you something.”
Caroline Turnbull-Hall, who sits as an accountant member on the Investigation Committee, reinforces this. Although she is a very experienced committee member, she still goes away from the annual training days having learned something useful. “It’s fascinating to learn more and understand ICAEW’s priorities and forward plans,” she explains. She also appreciates the updates on relevant emerging issues and how these annual events focus on some of the softer skills, such as on unconscious bias training.
“The unconscious bias training was a revelation to many at the time,” says Nyawira. “And we now find not only are members taking it on board, they are also utilising it in practice, which is really good to hear.”
“Overall, the aim of the training days is to help committee members understand what they are there for and what their role is in the bigger picture,” she concludes. “Their overarching duty is to protect the public and the public interest, and to uphold professional standards, and we want to support them to do that in the best possible way.”
Regulatory and disciplinary committees
Independent regulatory and disciplinary committees oversee the ICAEW Professional Standards Department’s (PSD) monitoring activity, review firm applications to carry out work regulated by law (eg audit and probate) and hear disciplinary cases.
To ensure the interests of the public are maintained at all times, at least half of the members of each committee are lay members; ie they have never been accountants. In addition, the effectiveness of these committees is reviewed by the ICAEW Regulatory Board (IRB), an independent board which is responsible for ensuring that ICAEW’s regulatory and disciplinary work is carried out in the public interest.
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