My fellow members of the Institute of Company Secretaries of India (ICSI) may be going to a booth for voting while reading this post. Similarly, members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) just concluded their voting last week. These two elections are crucial for the future for these two eminent professions in India, which impact most on financial and non-financial reporting, disclosures and transparency in the working of Corporate India. Admit or not, these two institutes are facing a crucial issue of survival.
National Financial Reporting Authority – NFRA is already here to oversee accounting standards, auditing standards and quality of services provided by Chartered Accountants. The law establishing the National Financial Reporting Authority – NFRA was incorporate in the statute by Man Mohan Singh Government. Soon thereafter, Chartered Accountants communities made its hue and cry about this law. There was news of some success for them. Soon after demonetization, Prime Minister Narendra Modi raised a question on quality of services, ethics and values of Chartered Accountants in a much-hyped program organized by ICAI itself. Demonetization failure made it clear that Modi Government will enforce provisions given in the statute for the establishment of NFRA. Finally, it is enforced recently in a slight tone down version. This tone down is, unfortunately, not a face-saving for the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India. There is a reasonable apprehension that, irrespective of the party in power, there may be some efforts to extend the application of these provisions to other auditors like company secretaries. Soon to be elected councils of both institutes will certainly draw a plan to take on such an eventuality.
The second challenge for government and to some extent for these self-regulatory statutory institutes is to create completion in regulations and quality standards. The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 created a super insolvency regulator the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India with three professional regulators competing with each other. There are suggestions to create such competing professional regulators for auditing bodies – Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, Institute of Cost Accountants of India and Institute of Company Secretaries of India. Will NFRA be the super audit regulator or these three professional bodies be super-regulator for their specific domain? How will they deal with the challenge? Do their members care?
Another challenge is a proposal for a council with representation from all stakeholders (appointed by Government not just elected representatives of regulated professionals). Recently, the Medical Council of India saw drastic changes. Unfortunately, all self-regulatory statutory bodies BCI, MCI, ICAI, ICAI (CMA), ICSI and others have a poor record for their professional duty to regulate their respective profession. Their image is not of statutory regulatory bodies but of a trade union. This is at sharp contrast with other statutory regulatory bodies like Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) which regulates brokers, advisors and many other market professionals; Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) which regulates Actuaries, Undertakers and other insurance professionals; and Reserve Bank of India (RBI) which regulators bankers and other financial advisors. The difference lies in their top management – their council or governing board. Will self-regulatory statutory bodies like ICAI and ICSI develop themselves as true professional regulators or be remain downgraded to be a trade union?
Recently, we saw these self-regulatory statutory bodies took advice from big and powerful advisory firms and companies. Some of these firms and companies have a multinational and national presence. Unfortunately, their powerhouses directly and indirectly influence councils of these self regulatory statutory bodies. This need urgent attention and introduction of organizational governance akin to corporate governance and independency norms.
Our major challenges are from inside but one growing challenge is to regulate multinational firms coming to India. India cannot stop them from coming under WTO regulation. We have one clue to govern them from IBBI regulations. We can ask foreign professional to be part of some firms which are governed under Indian regulations. I should clearly say Big – 4 should be governed by these self regulatory statutory bodies. If not, these self regulatory statutory bodies may be scrapped, sooner than later.
Is India prepared?