Personality of the Year: Sue Almond

Reflections on IAFA 2022 win

Katherine Dumbell spoke to IAFA 2022 Personality of the Year award winner Sue Almond, IAASB Board member and Consultant at Grant Thornton International Ltd, about her views on the accounting sector and her career advocating for raising auditing standards 

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you enjoy most about your current role?

I have been firmly focussed on the international audit arena since 1988 when I was a member of the ground-breaking team that developed the first Grant Thornton International audit approach. I have held several global roles, most recently Global Head of Assurance with Grant Thornton International. I am now a Board member with IAASB, the International Audit and Assurance Standard Setting Board, which sets standards that are used by auditors worldwide. Global standards in all aspects of the reporting process underpin trust and confidence. I enjoy working with this diverse group, debating and reflecting on the different challenges and perspectives, to bring practical insight that ultimately promotes robust standards that are capable of being effectively implemented.

Why have you chosen to participate in IAFA’s 2022 conference?

While I have regularly attended previous conferences, 2022 has been my first year as a judge for the IAFA Awards, which gives added insight to some of the presentations. It is valuable for me to understand market developments that will impact how the profession evolves in the future. Use of technology by business and accountants is now really a given, the exciting part is seeing how it is being harnessed creatively to improve service and quality. And networking with a range of participants with shared interests is such a benefit, always interesting conversations!

What do you see as some of the key emerging trends that will pose a challenge to the accountancy sector over the next few years?

For my role, the biggest emerging trend is in sustainability reporting and its assurance. This is a fast-moving area with so many stakeholders, and a potentially broader interest and reach than ‘traditional’ financial reporting. And it is new to most people, so we are all developing together. With so much political pressure for monitoring and reporting, we are dealing with a really condensed timeline for businesses to design and implement systems that will support the (as yet largely undeveloped) reporting, and for assurance providers to similarly develop frameworks and methodologies.

It is easy to see this as potentially a ‘big business’ concern, but we are already seeing the impact on smaller businesses through supply chain reporting, and this will likely continue. So, everyone will need to be prepared.

It is important that the various standard setters globally work together to develop frameworks that work across borders to provide comparable, relevant and useful information. With sustainability covering such a wide range of areas, we will also need to work with many other non-accounting specialists. From an assurance perspective, IAASB is really fast-tracking this to identify the real areas of challenge and develop a framework for sustainability assurance standards for the future.

And sustainability will also impact some of the areas that have traditionally posed challenges in the audit sector – such as fraud and going concern. Pressure to link reward structures to sustainability performance could create fraud risks, as well as concerns around greenwashing. And we will have to question whether companies that do not have plans to meet government targets, for example, will themselves be sustainable in the future.

After several disruptive forces over the past few years, what lessons do you hope to take from them as we move forward?

I really hope that as a society we continue to recognize that different working arrangements can work together and be highly effective for both the organization and the individual. I have enjoyed various flexible hybrid working arrangements over the years (successfully working termtime hours, partly from home 30 years ago, pre-computers!) but have often been reluctant to be transparent about this because of varying perceptions. I also feel that consideration of alternative ways of working can contribute positively to sustainability – we have achieved so much through the sometimes-painful Zoom calls and I really feel that we should be looking at what we have learned and how we can harness technology to our benefit. ‘Back to normal’ doesn’t need to be ‘back to what we were doing 3 years ago’.

How do you feel about having won the IAFA 2022 Personality of the Year?

I was very honoured to receive the award. I am very grateful to the many people that I have worked with who have coached and supported me, as well as my long-suffering family. I look forward to continuing to contribute to support trust and confidence in business reporting.

Sue Almond, Board Member IAASB with Joe Pickard, Editor, The Accountant and Zoya Malik, Editor-in-Chief, Financial Services Practice, GlobalData