Chris Poullaos and Suki Sian
Accountancy and Empire
The British Legacy of Professional Organization
For an empire supposedly founded on the back of trade, not much attention has been paid to how the finances of the British Empire were organized- or to the people who organized them. Chris Poullaos‘ and Suki Sian‘s pioneering compendium, Accountancy and Empire: The British Legacy of Professional Organization (Routledge, 2010), however, changes all that as it examines how Chartered Accountants fought for the right to be so called from Trinidad to India to Malaysia, and how the profession negotiated the change from colonialism to post-colonialism. Initially it was British Chartered Accountants who went out to work in the Empire, and in time local accounting bodies gradually codified and standardized the accounting profession as it existed in their countries, even as many people continued to travel to England to obtain the British Chartered Accountancy qualification.
So Chartered Accountancy was never just about numbers. It might be said that all that should have mattered was that at the end of the day’s work, the books should balance; but the profession could not insulate itself from the socio-political context of the world in which it operated. Close to half a century after the last wave of decolonization, questions linger as to the role the organization and codification of the accountancy profession played in perpetuating British, or ‘Western’ influence, across the globe – and whether this globalization by default is commendable or not, especially in view of the desirability of integrating world accounting systems.