Date posted: 24/08/2018 4 min read

What's so special about the World Congress of Accountants?

WCOA veteran Stephen Harrison explains why attending the World Congress of Accountants, held around the globe every four years, is a unique experience.

In Brief

  • WCOA brings the global accounting profession together at a single event
  • Historically, each world congress offers something different to the next
  • The developed world meets with the developing in a context of mutual respect

By Stephen Harrison.

An event for the global profession

What is it like to attend a World Congress of Accountants? There have been six WCOA events since I became involved with the accounting profession in the early 1990s. I have attended four: Washington DC, Hong Kong, Istanbul, and Kuala Lumpur. I missed Paris, and also Rome where I believe a highlight was a special audience with His Holiness the Pope. I didn't like missing any because every single one I attended has been both rewarding and enjoyable, but all different in their own way.

The developed world meets with the developing

The accounting profession is probably the most organised internationally. The International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), formed by a relatively small number of accounting Institutes 40 years ago, has been the engine room. Nowhere do you get a better sense of its achievements or of the importance of the international reach of the profession than at a World Congress, sponsored by IFAC. Accountants attend from the most developed to the most developing countries, from the largest to the smallest accounting practices, from the largest Professional Accounting Organisation (now the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants) to the newest and smallest and from key public entities regulating, supporting and working with the profession. The developed world meets with the developing in a context of mutual respect and support. You meet new faces and renew old friendships, and hear of the differing contemporary issues facing the profession around the world; their similarities and their differences.

You make contacts that can last a lifetime, or just enjoy a casual chat with a complete stranger.
Stephen Harrison CEO of Global Accounting Alliance and former CEO of Chartered Accountants ANZ

Punching above our weight

My first Congress was in Washington DC in 1994 and I was impressed by how Australia was punching well above its weight. In that year Australia provided the President of IFAC, the Chairman of the International Accounting Standards Committee and the President of the International Association for Accounting Education and Research; the Big Three! In Hong Kong in 2002 I saw the power of China on display and the determination to make the profession in that country world class, with thousands of Chinese accountants, many in training, surrounding you at all sessions.  I was immensely inspired by the power of human courage, also in Hong Kong, whilst watching a senior office bearer of IFAC deliver an incredible opening keynote speech whilst suffering facial paralysis caused overnight by Bell's palsy.

Breaking new barriers

The symbolism of Istanbul in 2006 when East really met West. The majesty of the architecture, the worldwide influence of the profession, the strength of the professional program and the enjoyment provided by the social program. How could you forget the Whirling Dervishes! No matter where you sit in the profession there are many things to learn from these exchanges, for little is entirely new. Where the profession is breaking new barriers we do it better together than separately, and nowhere are new ideas more apparent than amongst the many exhibitors displaying their offerings, whether it be in technology, education, systems or in the role of accounting in supporting Sustainability.

Nowhere are new ideas more apparent than amongst the many exhibitors displaying their offerings,
Stephen Harrison CEO of Global Accounting Alliance and former CEO of Chartered Accountants ANZ

It's Sydney's turn in 2018

I am looking forward to attending my fifth WCOA in my city in November, making new acquaintances, seeing old friends, learning more about the challenges facing the profession and fully participating in the social events which are such an important part of such occasions.

I look forward to showing off Australia and my home city. Join me and the thousands of accountants travelling from around the globe to experience WCOA.

Stephen Harrison is CEO of Global Accounting Alliance and former CEO of Chartered Accountants ANZ.

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