The Priesthood of Industry: The Rise of the Professional Accountant in British Management

The Priesthood of Industry: The Rise of the Professional Accountant in British Management

The Priesthood of Industry: The Rise of the Professional Accountant in British Management

The Priesthood of Industry: The Rise of the Professional Accountant in British Management


The leading professional accounting bodies in Britain today boast more than a quarter of a million qualified members and accountants are moving into top management positions in increasing numbers. Accountants have become the foremost professional grouping in British business management. The Priesthood of Industry documents the rise of the accountancy profession, from the handful of accountants listed in the trade directories of the major cities in the late-eighteenth century to the huge commercially-oriented firms of the late-twentieth century. The authors focus on the individual: the professional accountant, and adopt an economic determinist analysis to explain the rise of public practice and the transfer of staff to industry in increasing numbers. They also consider the routes through which this transfer of skills took place, and identify demand and supply side factors to explain the professional accountant's present hegemony in business management.


The industrial revolution, the development of the transportation network, and rapid technological innovation in a range of industries had produced a demand for business services, during the nineteenth century, amongst which were those provided by the accountant. Indeed, Chapter 2 has shown that, a long time before the professional accountancy bodies were formed in Britain, there were already a significant number of 'accountants' plying their trade.

The purpose of this chapter is to set the scene for the subsequent chronological analysis of the rise of the professional accountant in business management and to document five trends which were both a cause and a consequence of this process. First, we look at the rise of the accountancy firms in terms of their numbers and size. We also see how their scale of operations has expanded both nationally and internationally, the role of mergers among accountancy firms in this process, and the transition, in some cases, from relatively cosy professional practices where personal service was a key feature, into anonymous international corporations as epitomized by the use of corporate logos such as kpmg. We then review the emergence of the range of accountancy bodies which grant the accountant his (and today also her) professional status, and see the factors causing both the proliferation and, periodically, the partial merger of such organizations. the numbers of professional accountants are then identified for 1881, subsequent census years, and 1995, and some international comparisons are made. Next, we examine the progress of women within the accountancy profession. Finally, we consider how entry restrictions imposed by both the professional bodies and accounting practices have helped to define the type of person entitled to the accolade 'professional accountant'.

Accountancy firms

The most important institutions driving the development of the accountancy profession have been the firms within which individual members of the profession plied their trade. This organizational structure, comprising sole practitioners or partnerships, has remained dominant from early times right down to the present day. This, despite the option of incorporation provided by the Companies Act 1989, and KPMG's decision . . .

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