Sustainability reporting has been growing in importance around the world as stakeholders increasingly demand greater insight into companies’ management of their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) risks and opportunities, and organisations see the benefits of managing ESG issues. That trend has advanced how the accounting profession supports reporting and assurance services around ESG information. To help public accountants and finance professionals navigate ESG-related education and resources, the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, the unified voice of AICPA and CIMA, shared a 2021 road map.
The Association’s efforts reflect CPAs’ and Chartered Global Management Accountants’ decades of work in helping organisations report on and communicate their commitment to the priorities, values, and concerns of a diversified marketplace.
“This year we have seen the COVID-19 pandemic and tremendous environmental and social risks greatly impact our communities. These factors, coupled with stakeholder demand, are driving more organisations to report reliable and accurate ESG information that extends beyond financial information,” said Sue Coffey, CPA, CGMA, the Association’s executive vice-president–Public Practice. “For decades, the Association has been ahead of the curve, playing a critical role in supporting CPAs and CGMAs to anticipate, report on, and mitigate ESG risks, as well as in providing guidance for assurance services. We have a long-standing commitment to providing relevant nonfinancial information, and our work with framework- and standard-setters reflects this.”
Coffey added: “CPAs and CGMAs are uniquely qualified to help organisations increase stakeholder trust and confidence, improve decision-making, and lower cost of capital. The Association is committed to providing educational resources for professionals working on behalf of corporations and robust authoritative guidance for those who play an independent role providing auditing and assurance services.”
For example, in 2020 the Association:
- Collaborated with the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) on a virtual event discussing the effects of COVID-19 on investor demand for ESG reporting and the importance of reliable ESG disclosures.
- Partnered with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) to develop assurance FAQs that help organisations that report in accordance with GRI Standards and need more information about assurance engagements performed by CPAs in the US.
- Launched a series of educational briefs exploring sustainability, business, and the role of finance professionals.
These resources, coupled with existing AICPA attestation standards and guidance, as well as the Association’s support for the creation of a new sustainability standards board under the IFRS Foundation, provide a solid foundation for the Association’s 2021 ESG road map.
Looking ahead to 2021, the Association plans to offer several resources to CPAs and CGMA designation holders who provide sustainability reporting and assurance services. The Association’s plans include:
- Publishing practical research tools from the CGMA Sustainability and Business Research Programme. These will reflect the Association’s appreciation that the relationship between business and sustainability is being reset, which significantly impacts the mechanics and mindsets of accounting, finance, and business globally.
- Developing a road map for US audit practitioners, in partnership with the Center for Audit Quality, to help them understand the risk and legal considerations associated with performing attestation engagements on ESG information disclosed in US Securities and Exchange Commission filings.
- Offering educational events in partnership with SASB and other organisations.
- Developing educational briefs on the role of finance and management accounting and summary briefs on sustainability standards and frameworks and key climate change issues.
- Updating the AICPA Sustainability Attestation Guide to reflect anticipated changes to the AICPA Auditing Standards Board’s Attestation Standards. The Guide was issued in 2017 and updated in 2018.
“Organisations around the world are resetting the way they think about sustainability, and this has significant impact on stakeholders’ trust in their nonfinancial data, risk management procedures, and business recovery,” said Andrew Harding, FCMA, CGMA, the Association’s chief executive–Management Accounting. “As core members of almost every business, government, and nongovernmental organisation, CGMAs play a pivotal role in providing nonfinancial and financial management information to drive business performance, develop strategies, and influence decision-making. They bring a unique set of skills and knowledge to the table and can work with stakeholders to integrate responsible practices into their business and operating models.”
Harding added: “We believe that we will see profound changes in the next few years in the work of management accounting and public accounting to embed new practices and standards relating to sustainability. The Association will continue to provide education and guidance to all areas of the profession, ensuring that it is ahead of this transformation.”
For more information on the Association’s sustainability resources, visit:
— Ellen Goldstein (Ellen.Goldstein@aicpa-cima.com) is the Association’s director–Communications & Special Projects.