Women as accountants
For most of the 20th century the number of women members of the New Zealand Society of Accountants (NZSA) remained low. Very few educated women were in paid employment before the Second World War and there was little encouragement for them to join the accountancy profession. For most of the 1920s Auckland sisters Alice and Caroline Basten were New Zealand’s only female chartered (registered as qualified) accountants.
Later in the 20th century many more women worked full time and the number of women accountants increased. Women made up less than 1% of the NZSA’s membership in its first 10 years (1908–1918), 10% in 1987 and 39% in 2009. The New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants (NZICA) elected its first woman president, Sue Sheldon, in 1999.
Accounting Standards Review Board
In 1973 the NZSA began formalising the rules or principles used for certain transactions into accounting standards, as part of an international trend. In 1993 the Accounting Standards Review Board was established to approve and give legal authority to these standards, which applied to both the private and the public sector. In 2005 New Zealand replaced its own accounting standards with International Financial Reporting Standards, modified where necessary for use in New Zealand.
In 1922 the Society of Accountants set up its own magazine, the Accountants’ Journal. Many found it a dull read. In 1924 a Dunedin newspaper called it ‘an intensely, almost depressingly, respectable paper. One imagines it taking the chairs at public meetings and wearing a tall glossy silk hat on Sunday. It discusses fine points of commercial law and the deeper problems of accountancy with gravity and a certain reserve.’1
Reforms to the New Zealand public sector in the mid-1980s saw an increase in the role and amount of accounting used by government departments. The Public Finance Act 1989 introduced accrual (or businesslike) accounting to government entities. New Zealand became a world leader in government accounting. From 1993 government accounting was no longer controlled by Treasury officials but by the independent Accounting Standards Review Board.
Accounting for the environment
From the early 2000s there has been an increase in reporting of non-financial factors as part of businesses’ accounting reports. For example triple-bottom-line reporting measures the social and environmental as well as financial aspects of a business operation.
Prominent New Zealand accountants
Accounting seems to come to public attention only when a business runs into financial difficulties. As a result, few accountants ever make a name for themselves outside their own profession. The few New Zealand accountants who have gained a high public profile are generally known for other activities. Accountant Robert Muldoon was New Zealand’s prime minister from 1975 to 1984. Whatarangi Winiata, inaugural president of the Māori Party, tumuaki (director) of Te Wānanga-o-Raukawa, and professor of accounting at Victoria University, also began his career as an accountant.