As of 2019, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW) has over 181,000 members , including students, across 148 countries. And this number is climbing at a higher rate than ever, with nearly 9,000 signing up last year. Add to this that the Institute has offices in mainland Europe, the middle east, and across Asia, and that 16% of members are located outside of the UK, there is little doubt that to oversee sectoral adherence to rules and standards is not an insubstantial challenge.
How are members regulated by the ICAEW?
The regulatory approach of the ICAEW is based on principles and a code of ethics , rather than a tightly defined rulebook. Those principles being integrity, objectivity, professional competence and due care, confidentiality, and professional behaviour. In order to ensure conformity, the Institute adopts a ‘threat and safeguards’ model, whereby threats to the adherence with the principles are identified and mitigations (safeguards) put in place.
The five threats that the Institute is alert to include: self-interest, self-review, advocacy (promoting the position of a client or employer’s position in a manner which impairs objectivity), familiarity, and intimidation.
The ICAEW is revising its code of ethics to take effect from 1 January 2020.
The ICAEW’s Duty to Report
One of the main ways in which ICAEW are alerted to possible misconduct by members is through their complaints system, combined with a clearly stated duty placed on other firms and members to report such behaviour. According to the Institute’s Disciplinary Bye-laws (9.1 and 9.2) , “It shall be the duty of every member where it is in the public interest to do so to report any facts or matters indicating that a member and/or firm or provisional member may have become liable to disciplinary action”. Furthermore, the scope of conduct which may give rise for consideration by the Institute’s Investigation Committee, is broad, including if the member is believed to have:
- committed an act of dishonesty, fraud or cheating
- committed any imprisonable offence under Part V of the Criminal Justice Act 1993, the Insolvency Act 1986, the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986, the Companies Acts 1985 and 1989, the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, or any similar or related legislation in the fields of corporate or financial services been convicted of any offence for which he or she has received a custodial sentence, (suspended or not)
- been responsible for a serious breach of the Institute’s Investment Business regulations or the regulations contained in ICAEW’s DPB (Investment Business) Handbook under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000
- breached the ICAEW’s Audit Regulations
- breached the Insolvency Act or Rules or the ICAEW’s Insolvency Licensing Regulations
- breached the ICAEW’s Clients’ Money Regulations
- breached the Money Laundering Regulations 2003 or 2007
- performed their professional work with gross incompetence
- seriously breached faith in a professional respect;
- committed a serious financial irregularity
While the breadth of possible breaches is certainly broad, as reflects the nature of the accounting profession, the ICAEW does make it clear that any complaints must be accompanied with clear facts of misconduct; and that vexatious complaints or speculation will unlikely meet the bar to demonstrate liability for disciplinary action. If you have received a notification from the Institute that you are being considered for investigation for misconduct, it is essential to seek legal guidance and support from a Solicitor specialising in defending Chartered Accountants in disciplinary matters. They will quickly be able to establish if the complaint which is being taken seriously by the Institute meets the institute’s own threshold for consideration.
What are the possible outcomes of an investigation by ICAEW?
There are two broad routes for how complaints are handled. If a matter is considered serious enough to warrant investigation, it will be considered by the Investigation Committee (IC) first (there is no opportunity to make a representation to the IC at this stage), who will determine if there is a case to answer – if not, the issue will be closed. If there is a case to answer, then it will either:
- Take no action – the decision is recorded but does not become part of a disciplinary record;
- Invite the member or firm to accept an unpublicised caution – caution is noted formally, but no public comment or fine is issued;
- Invite the firm or member to consent to an order – this is a public order and may include a reprimand or fine;
- Refer the complaint to the Disciplinary Committee (DC)
Serious complaints will be referred to the DC, which will lead to a public hearing (a tribunal made up of three people, including one Chartered Accountant, and an independent barrister or Solicitor who will provide advice on legal procedure only). Sanction options available to the Tribunal include no penalty, a reprimand, fine, removal of the practising certificate, or removal from ICAEW membership. It is possible to appeal decisions made.
Defending a claim of misconduct as a Chartered Accountant
If you are being investigated by the Institute, it is essential to comply with their requests, in a timely manner, and with professional courtesy. It is then important to seek legal representation from a Solicitor specialising in regulatory and disciplinary law and defending disciplinary matters with the ICAEW. Not only do they understand what the IC and DC will take into account when considering your matter, they know the process which should be followed, including the information which you must be provided with, and the deadlines for each stage.
Your Solicitor will also explain the legal options available given your circumstances, build a case which places you in the best possible light, and endeavour to keep the matter out of the public domain, for the protection of your career, your reputation, and that of your firm.
Given the speed with which the IC may make decisions, time is of the essence, and by acting quickly and formulating a robust case, sanctions can often be avoided, or if not, reduced in severity.
If you are an Accountant the subject of investigation or disciplinary proceedings by ICAEW, we can help you. One of our Accountant clients said, following a hearing before the Disciplinary Committee, “Following an investigation into a breach of audit regulations I was facing a disciplinary hearing by my regulatory body, The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales. The right decision to appoint him. Not only was he very knowledgeable of disciplinary proceedings, he was also supportive during an extremely stressful time.
Throughout the hearing Jon’s skills as an experienced advocate shone through and the outcome he achieved for me was nothing short of miraculous!
It is fair to say that without Jon’s expert representation I would have found myself excluded from membership of the ICAEW and I cannot thank him enough for saving my career”.
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