Count Us in to Business Say Number-Crunchers ; Accountants Want to Shrug off the Traditional Grey-Suit Image and Be Recognised as Part of the Vibrant Mainstream. Their New Leader Agrees. Roger Trapp Reports

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ACCOUNTANTS ARE not renowned for their willingness to stand out. Thanks to Monty Python and legions of jokes we see them as faceless number- crunchers. The new president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales says he is very different.

Michael Groom spent half his career as a sole practitioner and most of the rest as a non-executive director in engineering and construction companies with annual sales of up to pounds 50m.

His enterprise programme, launched at the body's annual conference in London yesterday, is "designed to be ongoing and to have a lasting impact" and it is close to his heart.

Throughout Mr Groom's career, he says he has tried to take a commercial approach, helping clients with business issues rather than restricting himself to audits and other compliance work. And he believes the role chartered accountants can play is under- appreciated. "We're the largest accountancy body in Europe," he says. "In the UK we're by far the largest conduit into businesses of every size and shape, from large plcs to corner shops."

Recent changes to the chartered accountancy curriculum demonstrate a desire to focus the qualification on business rather than just accounting. But he wants to do more, hence the 10-point action plan at the heart of the new enterprise programme.

Among steps to highlight the value of accountancy are concise and authoritative guides on key topics for small- and medium-sized enterprises and their advisers; establishing a taskforce to assess the strategic issues facing accountants in general practice; stressing the importance of non-executive directors for growing businesses, and strengthening relationships with the Small Business Service, the regional development agencies, the Bank of England and others in enterprise issues.

Some medium-sized firms have long promoted themselves as attuned to the needs of growing businesses, and international firms have targeted the growing business arena, mainly because today's fledgling business can quickly develop into a high-flying enterprise. The extraordinary growth of such companies as mobile phone retailer Carphone Warehouse and sandwich- bar operator Pret A Manger is proof enough.

For example, PricewaterhouseCoopers has recently launched an initiative under the name Driving Ambition as part of its effort to reinforce its position in this market. Its interactive website, backed by a dedicated call centre, gives ambitious businesses ready access to services geared to providing them with direct assistance. …