An investigation into the expansion of western professional accounting bodies - using the case of CPA Australia

Hedy Jiaying, Huang
Hooper, Keith
Sinclair, Rowena
Devi, S. Susela
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

Extensive research has been done on the formal professionalisation processes of western professional accounting bodies. It would appear that as the growth of local markets reaches saturation, professional accounting bodies make the move to overseas markets, in particular to emerging Asian markets such as China’s. The Anglo-Saxon professional accounting bodies are responding to and reciprocating the expansionary strategies previously developed by institutional networks including accounting organisations such as the Big 4, multinational enterprises and the international organisations such as the World Bank, WTO and so forth. The globalisation promoted by the Anglo-Saxon institutions has often been more symbolic than substantive and that has engendered some criticism. Hence, the aim of this thesis is to investigate the phenomenon of the expansion of western professional accounting bodies into China with particular reference to CPA Australia, which has not yet been studied. The three research questions concern: (1) the global expansion of western professional accounting bodies and China’s control of its domestic accounting field, (2) the impact of CPA Australia and its programme of expansion into China, and (3) the impact of these changes on Chinese accounting graduates and accountants and their choice of a professional accounting body. The globalisation of financial reporting, auditing and the accounting profession is permeated with the symbolic passing as the substantive. This thesis draws on the theoretical framework of new institutional sociology (NIS) and legitimacy theory to disentangle the symbolic from the substantive in respect of what accounting institutionsand ‘actors’ say and the strategies they employ.

The main evidence for this research was collected using semi-structured in-depth interviews and qualitative document analysis. 45 interviews were conducted. The study findings reveal the impact of western institutional networks on China, and China’s limited coercive power to control these institutions. Chinese participation in the three areas investigated in this research would promote the further globalisation of accounting, while Chinese resistance to globalisation may come about because China feels its voice in international organisations, professions, and accounting education is being undervalued. The extent of China’s participation or resistance will be of great significance for the future of accounting globalisation.

Another significant finding of this research is the decoupling between CPA Australia’s Melbourne head office and its operational managers in mainland China. It is a characteristic of decoupling, as shown in the literature, that operational managers may adopt strategies different from those originally proposed by the chief executives – in this case those in the Melbourne head office. CPA Australia’s global strategies have become decoupled and are thus less effective in China. That is, the local operational managers are concerned with returning a financial surplus at the expense of offering a respected and quality professional service. The implication of the finding is that it is hard for CPA Australia to maintain its professional ideals and gain legitimacy when decoupling becomes too transparent in the eyes of the Chinese accounting profession, Chinese academics and other informed observers.

With regard to the third research question, how do Chinese accountants and accounting graduates view western professional membership and what are their actions (symbolic or substantive) in respect of membership, pragmatic motives appear to be the dominant drivers. Such motives imply that Chinese accountants and accounting graduates do not necessarily join a western professional accounting body as a result of the recognition of its brand or value. It seems that many of them are uncertain about the future benefits of membership and they do not have a good understanding of the differences between western professional accounting bodies. The phenomenon of accounting graduates blindly joining any western professional accounting body available to them could be attributed to the aggressive marketing campaigns of some of these professional accounting bodies.

It is against a background of China’s growing assertiveness that the research was undertaken and this study is, arguably, therefore able to make a contribution to the history of the Anglo-Saxon accounting profession and its move into overseas countries. The research makes a contribution to knowledge through the application of NIS theory to the field of the accounting profession. The study also makes a methodological contribution with its construction of analytical matrices which combine three forms of homogeneous isomorphism from NIS theory and elements of legitimacy theory. The research also contributes to accounting practice, in particular the critical review of the expansion of CPA Australia which has revealed that its global expansionary strategy is threatened by internal decoupling.

Professionalisation , Accounting profession , Globalization of accounting , IFRS , New institutional sociology , Legitimacy theory , Decoupling
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