Although there were individuals practising as accountants as early as 1850, the organised profession of accountancy in New Zealand dates from 1894 when the Incorporated Institute of Accountants of New Zealand was formed, largely on the initiative of the Wellington Chamber of Commerce. The 100 accountants from all parts of New Zealand, who comprised the foundation membership of the new body, elected as its first president James Ed. FitzGerald, then Auditor-General of the Colony. The institute soon established a high standard of examinations and professional conduct, resisting suggestions put forward from time to time that the number of foundation members admitted without examination was unduly limited. Dissatisfaction with the policy of the institute's council in this respect led to the formation in Auckland in 1898 of the New Zealand Accountants' and Auditors' Association, thus frustrating the aim of the institute to be recognised as the sole accountancy institute in the colony. Pressing on with its efforts to raise standards, the institute reached agreement at the turn of the century for its participation in a scheme of common examinations with the major accountancy institutes in Australia. Concurrent attempts to establish one common organisation of accountants throughout Australia and New Zealand failed for various reasons, but common examinations continued until 1906, when differences of view concerning the standard to be adopted led to the abandonment of the scheme.
With the collapse of the negotiations with the Australian bodies, the institute turned its attention to securing full recognition in New Zealand. Realising that any approaches to Government would have little chance of success unless supported by the Accountants' and Auditors' Association, the institute's council sought the support of the council of that body, which was readily given. Two unsuccessful attempts were made through private members' Bills to promote the formation of one body of accountants to control the whole profession, but success was delayed until 1908 when the Premier, Sir Joseph Ward, himself an accountant, introduced the New Zealand Society of Accountants Bill as a Government measure. The new Act became law on 15 September of that year with Peter Barr, one of the earliest advocates of unity of the profession in New Zealand, as the society's first president.
The Act constituting the new society required it “to control and regulate the practice of accountancy in New Zealand”, and to enable it to carry out these functions the society was authorised to conduct the necessary examinations for entry to the profession, to maintain disciplinary control of its members, and to carry out other incidental functions on behalf of the profession. Notwithstanding the admission to the society by the Government-appointed entrance board in 1909 of a considerable number of unexamined persons whose qualifications for membership were somewhat doubtful, the society soon became established and recognised as the governing body of the profession in New Zealand. By 1963 membership of the society exceeded 7,500. Of these nearly 2,000 were in public practice, the remainder being employed in a wide range of activities in commerce, industry, the Public Service, in local bodies, and in the armed forces. Those engaged in public practice are described as “public accountants”, a term restricted by the provisions of the New Zealand Society of Accountants Act 1958 to members of the society. Similar statutory protection is afforded the use of the term “registered accountants” for members not in public practice.
A high standard of examinations has been maintained by the society since its inception, and this objective has been greatly strengthened by a close link with the University of New Zealand and latterly with the six separate New Zealand universities. The administrative control of the examinations has been carried out since 1911 by the University of New Zealand, acting as agents of the society, and an arrangement for the continuance of this link has been made with the University Grants Committee following the dissolution of the New Zealand University. This link with the universities has facilitated a close relationship between the accountancy professional examinations for entrance to the society and the degree course in commerce at the six universities. Liaison committees between the society and university representatives in each centre keep the respective courses under constant review, and regular meetings are held on an informal basis at national level. Chairs of accountancy are now established.
The scope of service offered by public accountants in New Zealand covers a wide field. The responsibility for auditing the accounts of companies is restricted by the Companies Act 1955 to members of the society, as a result of which auditing forms a large part of the practice of many public accountants in the cities. Other services offered by public accountants include the preparation of taxation returns, company secretaryships and directorships, managerial advisory services, the preparation of farmers' accounts, and estate planning. By reason of the wide recognition of the accountancy professional examinations, registered accountants occupy a wide range of positions in all types of industry and commerce, while many senior positions in the Public Service may be held only by persons who have passed the society's examinations. Full-time secretarial duties are normally undertaken by accountants in New Zealand, in contrast to the position in many other countries where a separate secretarial profession exists. With the increasing importance of New Zealand's manufacturing industry, cost accountancy is rapidly increasing in importance, and through its affiliate organisation, the New Zealand Institute of Cost Accountants, the society offers a post-qualification course in this field. Another field increasing in importance is electronic data processing, and the society has participated in the formation of a New Zealand Computer Society.
The society publishes a monthly magazine, The Accountants' Journal, and maintains a comprehensive library service at its premises in Wellington. Accountant students' societies have been established throughout New Zealand to promote student activities.
by Alan Walter Graham, B.COM., Secretary, New Zealand Society of Accountants, Wellington.
- New Zealand Society of Accountants' Syllabus of Examinations–published annually
- The Story of the Incorporated Institute of Accountants, C. D. Morpeth (Incorporated Institute) (1919)
- The First Fifty Years 1909–1959, A. W. Graham (New Zealand Society of Accountants, 1960).