Accountants redefined: OED urged to update ‘archaic’ definitionFeb 01, 2019
The co-founder and managing director of cloud accounting software developer Xero has written to the OED’s in-house experts urging them to redefine the noun in order to better represent what it means to be an accountant in 2019.
Gary Turner has penned an open letter lobbying for the definition of accountant – which currently reads: ‘A person whose job is to keep or inspect financial accounts’ – to be updated to ‘A person whose job is to keep or inspect and advise on financial accounts’.
The change will help to shake off the “archaic” perception of the industry and to reflect how much the role of an accountant has changed in the last two decades.
In his letter, Mr Turner says: “Today, an accountant doesn’t just crunch the numbers and observe financial operations, but so much more. They advise business owners and aid and fuel business objectives such as business growth, improving efficiency, cost and productivity.
"The role of an accountant is far removed from what it once was. The adoption of new technologies such as cloud software and new regulations such as Open Banking are rapidly transforming business finance.”
Research by Xero, which has its headquarters in Central Milton Keynes, found that 30% of small business owners view accountants as their most trusted advisors, and 27% admit to asking their accountant for broader business advice. In addition to the letter, Xero has launched an online petition calling for 20,000 supporters to sign and back accounting professionals.
Mr Turner’s letter has the support of the Association of Chartered and Certified Accountants. Its head Claire Bennison said: “Technology is offering accountants greater opportunity to offer provide valuable business insight and advice to their clients.
"Xero’s proposed revision to the dictionary definition of the term accountant to add a small but vital verb – ‘advise’ – is a positive development we fully support as it reflects the changing role of a professionally qualified accountant as a trusted advisor to business.”
Mr Turner’s letter reads:
As one of the most reliable and respected sources for true definitions in the world, we at Xero are writing to request you, Oxford English Dictionary, change the definition of the word ‘accountant’ in your dictionary to what we believe it truly reflects
This is why we think the definition of the word ‘accountant’ needs to be updated:
The role of an accountant is far removed from what it once was. The adoption of new technologies such as cloud software and new regulations such as Open Banking are rapidly transforming business finance.
At Xero we are seeing an increasing number of practices embracing cloud technology. By using AI to their advantage, accountants are able to offer useful insights by analysing operational and financial data stored in the cloud. This enables them to establish areas where they could drive growth across different product lines, and work out how scenario planning (such as changing suppliers) will impact the bottom line.
Today, an accountant doesn’t just crunch the numbers and observe financial operations, but so much more. They advise business owners and aid and fuel business objectives such as business growth, improving efficiency, cost and productivity.
Insight from well-respected industry bodies such as ICAEW and IFAC finds that time and time again, accountants are a business owner’s most trusted advisor. We also know that accountants and bookkeepers are vital to the UK’s stability. Nearly two in three (65%) accountants believe that their jobs are having a major impact on the economy.
Furthermore, when asked about the qualities they value in an accountant, more small business owners cited good business advice (41%) than number crunching skills (34%).
We understand that the OED shows how words and meanings change over time. We have witnessed this first hand from our viewpoint at the front lines of this industrial change and through working with thousands of progressive modern day accountants. As the leading provider of accounting software to small businesses, around the world we are helping hundreds of thousands of accountants realise this new ambition.
Our suggestion for the updated definition is as follows: “Accountant: a person whose job is to keep or inspect and advise on financial accounts”.
Gary Turner, Co-founder and Managing Director at Xero.