Linda de Beer
Linda is a Chartered Accountant South Africa (SA), a Chartered Director SA and holds a Master’s degree in taxation. She is also a professor in practice (honorary) at the University of Johannesburg. She is an independent non-executive director and has been serving on the boards of South African listed companies for more than a decade. Linda was appointed Chair of the Public Interest Oversight Board (PIOB), based in Spain, in April 2020. She has an extensive career in setting and oversight of standards, regulation and governance (IFRS, ISA, JSE Listings Requirements and various King Codes) and training and advising in those areas.
”International standards provide a 'language' that all can understand. In the absence of applying the same set of standards, we all speak different languages and it becomes very difficult for companies to communicate clearly, understandably and consistently. This is of particular importance for developing economies, who need to attract foreign direct investment on the back of the quality and integrity of their reporting. Investors and lenders are not interested if they don't understand the 'language'.
How has your career to date led you to the role(s) you have now?
My current role is mainly as an independent non-executive director on a number of listed company boards. In addition, I chair the Public Interest Oversight Board (PIOB) in Spain and I serve on the board of trustees of the IVSC.
My background and professional training is as a chartered accountant (South Africa) and I had a very ‘technical’ start to my career, after I left KPMG, where I did my training. I lectured IFRS for post-graduate students, was the technical director at the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA), and was involved in many international and local standard-setting and legislation/regulation processes. In 2007 I left SAICA and started focusing more on assisting companies, as a director or advisor, to enhance their corporate governance, reporting and related processes. Since 2010 I have served on listed company boards, in addition to being involved in the said local and international processes. There, I learned a lot ‘in the trenches’ of business, how tough it sometimes is to get the theory and the real world to align and the importance of practical governance to serve companies in executing their strategy.
All of this has served me well to understand both the academic and practical side of rules, governance and business. The IVSC is the perfect marriage of these two sides of a coin.
The PIOB is a non-profit foundation, established 17 years ago by the largest international regulators and related organisations, referred to as the Monitoring Group to oversee the standard-setting by the International Auditing and Assurance Standard Board (IAASB) and International Ethics Standards Board for Accountants (IESBA), to ensure that these standards are responsive to the public interest. The current members of the Monitoring Group are IOSCO, IAIS, BCBS (Basel), IFIAR, World Bank, Financial Stability Board and the European Commission.
What aspect of your work are you most passionate about and why?
My career objective is to enhance the governance and reporting of companies. Good governance helps to execute strategy. Clear, honest and reliable reporting builds trust in companies, which are important vehicles of sustainable value creation for stakeholders (employees, shareholders, lenders, communities and tax authorities). If companies can sustainably create well, we all benefit, right up to the community at large. Every set of results, every director that is better trained and informed, every good decision by a board contributes to sustainable value creation.
How relevant is the world of valuation to your professional background in accounting and how has this changed over the course of your career?
Extremely relevant and important. Fairly presenting the values of assets and liabilities lie at the heart of reliable reporting. Every single corporate failure and fraud links back to dishonest or misstated financial information.
Given your experience in standard setting and public interest oversight, how would you assess the importance of international standards in a professional discipline like valuation?
International standards provide a ‘language’ that all can understand. In the absence of applying the same set of standards, we all speak different languages and it becomes very difficult for companies to communicate clearly, understandably and consistently. This is of particular importance for developing economies, who need to attract foreign direct investment on the back of the quality and integrity of their reporting. Investors and lenders are not interested if they don’t understand the ‘language’.
What are the biggest challenges you have come across when it comes to setting and then establishing common standards? How are these challenges overcome?
Capacity (skills and financial) – it relies heavily on volunteers with the appropriate technical skills to offer their support and services. These are already busy people in responsible jobs, hence adding a workload, mostly unpaid for, unto them. Also, standard setters battle to get funding – everyone wants them to set high quality standards in a ‘language’ that we can all speak and understand, but few are willing to contribute to the cost thereof.
What are some of the most important characteristics for an authoritative standard setting body to adhere to?
At the PIOB we focus on two things, and to me those are the most important two characteristics. They are:
- Public interest responsiveness – standards that address the real issues and problems in a courageous way. That means that the issues must be understood, through consultation of all stakeholders, big and small.
- Due process – in other words discussions, debates, comment letters, consultations and decisions must be clear, transparent and open to everyone to access.
What are some of the public interest considerations that the PIOB has to consider?
The objectives and required outcomes (matters to be addressed) are very different and specific for every project, but ultimately the public interest is served if standards are responsive to the needs of stakeholders, are clear and understandable and scalable for different types and sizes of entities.
In what ways do you anticipate the COVID19 pandemic might impact the work of the PIOB? Are there areas of the public interest mandate that could become more acute, for example?
It has made our own meetings and our observation of the meetings of the IAASB and IESBA extremely difficult and has put a lot of strain on many people. Very important nuances are lost in virtual meetings. Decision making also became slower and trust harder to achieve. This slows down processes and in standard setting timing and relevance are so important.
”I have had the privilege of wonderful mentors - I refer to them as my cheerleaders and critics - throughout my career. I still have some. I suggest you find yourself at least one or two on both sides. Not just people that will cheer you on, open doors and encourage you, but also people that will give you tough feedback that you might not want to hear.
How does the PIOB interact with standard setters?
The PIOB is not a standard setter, but an oversight function. We engage very closely with the two standard setters whom we oversee, namely IESBA and the IAASB. However, we also talk to important stakeholders, which include National Standard Setters and regulators, some of whom are members of Monitoring Group member bodies. We can’t understand the public interest needs if we don’t engage with stakeholders.
What emerging trends do you think will have the biggest impact on the accounting profession, and on the PIOB, over the next decade?
ESG as a collective theme for reporting – which includes climate change and all the related aspects. The integrity of these reports are very important and both the IESBA and IAASB have important roles to play.
Furthermore, project on the auditor’s role in relation to Fraud and Going Concern and the accounting profession’s ethics duties around tax planning and tax services are some of the priority projects on the agendas of the two standard setting boards.
What advice would you give to your younger self, at the outset of your career?
I have had the privilege of wonderful mentors – I refer to them as my cheerleaders and critics – throughout my career. I still have some. I suggest you find yourself at least one or two on both sides. Not just people that will cheer you on, open doors and encourage you, but also people that will give you tough feedback that you might not want to hear.
Secondly I learned that we must surround ourselves with good and strong people, especially people who report to us. We must not be threatened by them. My very first career lesson was from my audit partner, when I was just an audit supervisor. She said to me ‘you don’t get pulled up from the top, you get pushed up from the bottom (by the strong people who work under you).
And lastly I would urge young people not to want to move up the ladder too quickly, or change ladders too often. The concept of doing something for 10,000 hours before you become very good/a specialist at it (about 10 years) is very true. And once you are seen to be a specialist, the sky is your limit. Be willing to put in the hard yards and long hours and stay focused.