Features | From Pivot Magazine

How CPAs fight the flow of dirty money

The more professional accountants in a country, the less corrupt it will be

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Canadian currency hanging from a clothes line outside to dry“CPA Canada is actively engaged with the federal government on potential changes to regulations and legislation aimed at strengthening Canada’s anti-money laundering efforts,” says Joy Thomas, president and CEO of CPA Canada. (Shutterstock/Canadadude3D)

In the decade since the 2008 financial crisis, global fraud, money laundering and tax evasion have become top-of-mind concerns for governments, investors and regulators alike. And accountants make a huge difference in the fight against the torrent of dirty money, now estimated to be worth between two and five per cent of global GDP. According to a corruption study published in 2017 by the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), the more professional accountants there are working in a country, the better it scores on Transparency International’s global integrity index. 

The proportion of professional accountants in the economy—those who have subscribed to robust ethical, educational and oversight requirements—is three times more strongly linked with more favourable scores on international measures of corruption, than for individuals identifying as accountants but who may not have professional qualifications,” the study found.

The report’s key findings are worth noting, too: that corruption and money laundering are less likely to flourish in countries with a strong governance architecture that includes oversight from a range of entities, among them a robust accounting profession bound by ethical and regulatory standards. 

CPA Canada is actively engaged with the federal government on potential changes to regulations and legislation aimed at strengthening Canada’s anti-money laundering (AML) efforts. Under federal AML legislation, accountants and accounting firms are reporting entities with specific regulatory requirements when they engage in certain activities.

Joy Thomas, CEO and President of CPA CanadaJoy Thomas (Photo by Matt Barnes)

Canada is not immune when it comes to corruption and money laundering, critical issues that are drawing increasing focus both from Canadian authorities and international forums, such as the G20 and the B20. After all, corruption, fraud, tax evasion and money laundering are international activities that also generate knock-on effects in other countries, including Canada.

Carol Bellringer, British Columbia’s auditor general and a former member of IFAC’s board, knows this well. In this issue, she discusses the so-called “Vancouver Model” of laundering drug profits through casinos, real estate and other investment vehicles, as well as the measures that have been taken in recent years in B.C. to combat this problem.

“I’m a big believer in transparency,” Bellringer told Pivot.

What’s clear is that in order to confront these kinds of problems, we need a highly collaborative approach grounded in an overall strategy that includes improved corporate ownership transparency, creates a framework for whistle-blowing and ultimately protects Canada’s reputation and the integrity of our financial system.

WORLD CONGRESS OF ACCOUNTANTS (WCOA)

CPA Canada was well represented at the 2018 World Congress of Accountants, which took place in Sydney, Australia, in the fall. After four years of planning, WCOA brought together more than 5,000 accountants from around the world to discuss a wide range of economic and practice issues, ranging from the financial instability posed by Brexit to global questions, among them sustainability and rapid developments in technology, such as the use of artificial intelligence in accounting.

Gordon Beal, CPA Canada’s vice-president of research, guidance and support, addressed a packed room of professional accountants eager to contribute and outlined how they can utilize their existing skills to help organizations become more sustainable, strategic and adaptable in the face of mounting climate risk.

Later in the conference, I facilitated a panel discussion about innovation-led finance—a hot topic, given that a survey conducted during the Congress showed that building an innovation culture is a major concern for many delegates. This issue certainly resonates in Canada. As CPAs, we must be future-focused, recognizing that change will continue to disrupt business models and alter the way we work. Yet we must also remember that innovation is creating new opportunities for our clients.