How Dutch accountants rebuilt broken trust
A series of Carillion-style accounting scandals shattered consumer trust in the Dutch accountancy and audit sector. Yet the profession has staged a successful comeback. How did they manage it?
“It’s a long story,” says Berry Wammes, CEO of Nederlandse Beroepsorganisatie van Accountants (NBA). He explains that collaboration was key. Conflict of interests doesn’t have to mean conflict – Dutch accountants now try to solve it through relationship-building and looking for win-win solutions.
The scandals came to a head in spring 2014. The accountancy and audit profession was seen as putting profit before duty, sparking public outrage. It was front-page news and led to a parliamentary debate on the subject. The Minister of Finance said, “This has to stop.”
During a public Finance Committee meeting, he gave industry leaders five months to come up with a plan to reform their profession – “or we will do it for you.”
The NBA worked with accountancy firms to put together a team of seven young professionals to create the reform plan. They came back with 53 measures, which were accepted by the profession and the government in autumn 2014 and implemented over the next few years.
Accountants and the Dutch industry regulator put together several groups to monitor progress. The regulator produced progress reports and identified areas that still needed work.
It’s been an ongoing process since then. “Two years ago, we had about 100 people working on audit reform,” Wammes says.
A further Dutch parliamentary debate last year concluded that the profession was making progress but still had more work to do.
At the moment, Wammes says they have a steering group composed of heads of audit from accounting firms and the president of the professional body. It oversees large project groups working on areas like fraud, continuity, culture, and the future of the audit. It’s an extensive programme – they have 19 projects on fraud alone.
“What you see is a new model where we collaborate with all kinds of stakeholders and develop the programmes together with them,” he says. It’s so different from five or six years ago. Trust in the profession has improved a lot.”