Professional bodies forget the  meaning of professionalism
(Robert Bruce, The Times, 11 Feb 2000, page 39)

 THERE is really only one purpose for professional bodies. And that is to be professional bodies. Sadly few of them bother with this objective any more. Increasingly they see themselves as mundane members' services organisations, like one of the motoring organisations in which perceptions are all and response times come to appear more important than the quality of the repair.

 The result of this has been painfully obvious for years. Instead of building the reputation of the profession, the various bodies spend more time on initiatives to find out why they are falling down on the members' services side of the business. Speaking about the relevance of  professions in a new century, Graham Ward, the English ICA's president, told a conference  recently that "we must guarantee our relevance by entering new and closer partnerships with members and must earn respect by embracing transparency in education and training,  technical standards and discipline".

 The problem for the professional bodies is that the more they pester members with initiatives,
 market research and all the plethora of attempts to get closer to members, the more  infuriated members become. The result is that  professional bodies are imploding.

 Next Thursday the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants faces an extraordinary meeting costing about £80,000 simply because it has been a shambles at dealing with its members. The whole business is startlingly complicated. It involves presidents being  booted out on the day they were to be made president, ex-council members saying the  council is a disgrace, uproar in Malaysia, censorship allegations and much more. All of  this is conducted in the sort of breathless staccato langauge we probably last heard in  some arcane battle over the leadership of the students' union.

And there is a feel to the ACCA that they have somehow never grown up. They have been squabbling for years, mostly with themselves. It is only in such an atmosphere that someone like Prem Sikka could flourish. A grown-up organisation would have recognised a  maverick and found a way of bringing him inside. Instead they have, with varying degrees of amateurishness, kept him on the outside, where he has flourished through sniping, pamphlets and EGMs.

The EGM vote is ostensibly to appoint an independent commission to look into the governance of the ACCA. But anyone looking at the list of grievances on the one side and the lengthy document of justification from the ACCA council would be little the wiser. The  meeting shows all the signs of being one at which a whirlwind of hundreds of half-understood issues will swirl around in a duststorm of argument and confusion. It is small wonder that one chief executive of the English ICA used to refer despairingly to the ACCA as "the Albanians". But as the ACCA is one of the six main accounting bodies, the other five have to take it seriously.

 The essential point is that this sort of thing is characteristic of an immature organisation. None of it does anything for Britain's accounting profession. Nor does much of the work of the English ICA, the country's leading accounting organisation. It is lost in the process of annoying as many members as is possible by deluging them with a tidal wave of members' services nonsense.

 Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the institute is, like the ACCA, imploding. A recent edition of  its in-house magazine talks of the introduction of four values by which the body is to be run.  These are integrity, mutual respect and teamwork, excellence and professionalism and openness. Members might assume that their institute is a benign bureaucracy. However, recent events suggest that it is changing into something different. On several occasions, long-serving staff have been dismissed and escorted from the building, with their personal effects sent on later. It is behaviour more akin to macho merchant banking. The contrast between what actually happens and what the outside world thinks is happening has never been more marked.

 All of these are the terrible signs of organisations on the slide. And, frankly, they are on the slide because they no longer do what they are there for. It is time for a bit more professionalism.