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Committing to the Public Interest, A Speech by Dr. Stavros Thomadakis

Remarks to the Public Interest Oversight Board 15th E-Anniversary Seminar

Dr. Stavros Thomadakis | Chairman, International Ethics Standards Board for Accountants
Sep 30, 2020 | English

Congratulations to the PIOB for the organization’s 15th anniversary. The PIOB has fulfilled successfully a demanding mandate: to build and operate an oversight framework; to ensure that international standards for audit and ethics embody clear public interest objectives; and respond to the needs of global users, while maintaining clarity and high quality.

The content and influence of the international standards have extended considerably over the period. The PIOB deserves a good share of credit for this achievement. It has followed proactively the planning and execution of standard setting, the due process, the sharpening of public interest language, and objectives. It has been alert and communicative, but at arms-length from the technical work of standard setting.

Looking at the whole system since 2005, I would certainly assess its performance as an overall success—a success premised on a collaborative stance of the PIOB and the Standard Setting Boards in their respective roles.   We should now build on this success as we move onto a new phase with the recommendations for reform that the Monitoring Group has issued, which we welcome.  This seminar is a unique opportunity to discuss ideas and directions for the future. I thank the PIOB for the opportunity.

The deeper challenge underlying the PIOB’s and the Standard Setting Boards’ missions has been to keep abreast of a dynamic public interest—a set of concepts and values varying across space and changing across time. This dynamic has taught both the Boards and the PIOB to remain open to new and evolving needs and perceptions. Corporate failures, financial turbulences, technological disruptions, looming crises such as Climate Change and the COVID-19 pandemic, have spearheaded new and broader perceptions of the public interest.

The Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) agenda defines clear objectives and expectations underpinning the global public interest. This is a development that informs also our more particular notions of public interest. It is all the more critical as we observe new forces towards economic nationalism. These developments create repercussions for international standards, which we need to reflect and strategize on, both as standard setters and overseers of standard setting.

My thinking, taking especially into account the technological disruptions, is that all of us should work to ensure broader adoption and more comprehensive use of the international standards. For that to happen, those standards must be globally applicable. Applicability is an overarching desideratum. International standards must respond to emerging objectives but also push for tangible improvement in practical outcomes. It is important to see the actual positive effects of the standards in real time. In my conversations with many stakeholders, I have realized how pressing and precious this is.

Examples of recent actions that focus on applicability: 

  • Closer link between the Standard Setting Boards and National Standard Setters
  • Systematic adoption of post-implementation reviews for impactful standards.
  • Coordinated initiatives (among the Standard Setting Boards, International Federation of Accountants and the PIOB) aimed at awareness raising, facilitating adoption and providing ease of access and clarity to support effective implementation.
  • Widening use of surveys of “users and beneficiaries” of the international standards as a global public good.

In closing, I want to share thoughts on coordination between the IESBA and the International Auditing and Assurance Standards Board (IAASB).

From occasional collaboration, we have moved over the last 4 years to systematic coordination of work. Collaboration at the level of leadership, task forces, staff, and joint meetings of the two Boards. These efforts were initiated with Prof. Arnold Schilder, former IAASB Chairman, and are now being actively pursued under the leadership of Chairman Tom Seidenstein.

In substantive terms, we are moving from seeking “consistency” to building “synergy” of the standards. Our ambition is that our respective standards are not just consistent and non-conflicting, but that they are increasingly becoming mutually reinforcing. This is real progress and creates a strong incentive for users to adopt both sets of standards. This also has implications on future practice including

(a) on how strategies of standard setting are crafted; and

(b) on how oversight is practiced.

In summary, we have to reflect on achieving public interest contributions not of independent parts, as if they were unrelated, but of autonomous parts that are consciously coordinated.

Thank you.

Dr. Stavros Thomadakis

IESBA Chairman