A study of the choice of owner-accountants to practice in regional and remote areas

A study of the choice of owner-accountants to practice in regional and remote areas Thesis

School of Commerce, Division of Business

  • Author(s): Carter, A.J.
  • Published: 2010
  • Publisher: University of South Australia
  • Volume: PhD

Abstract: Regional and remote Australia are those areas outside major cities and the metropolitan areas, encompassing important resources including agriculture, pastoralism, mineral exploration, mining, and tourism. Despite their significance to the Australian economy, these areas struggle to maintain population and services. Regional development efforts generally focus on stimulating local economies. Small business is the backbone of such economies providing access to goods and services for residents and livelihoods for owners and employees. However, small businesses globally have high failure rates attributed to deficiencies of the business owner‘s knowledge and skills. To overcome these deficiencies expertise is available from professionals, such as accountants, who provide accounting services. Delivering professional services via resident mode, where service providers establish a physical presence in the location of the consumers, provides consumers in regional and remote areas a greater opportunity to engage with providers of accounting services face-to-face. The presence of accountants improves the calibre of businesses in regional and remote areas and brings skills to the general community. However, resident accountants in regional and remote communities face important additional considerations which have an impact on their practice of accounting, including reduced access to goods and services, smaller markets and potentially harsh environments. Because of these considerations few accountants are prepared to take the higher risks associated with locating their own business(es) in regional and remote communities. Hence, the main research problem to be addressed is the need for continuation of, and in some areas establishment of, resident accounting firms in regional and remote areas. Consideration of the need for continuation and establishment of resident accounting firms in regional and remote areas to ensure the sustainability of these communities in the face of population decline, is the main aim of the research. The research focuses on three aspects of resident mode delivery of accounting services in regional and remote areas: (i) establishing the importance of delivering accounting services and firms in resident mode for regional and remote communities; (ii) exploring the reasons why some owner-accountants choose to operate their businesses in regional and remote areas and what can be learnt to encourage more accountants to follow suit; and (iii) identifying the additional considerations which influence the practice of accounting in such areas. Traditionally accounting research has tended to separate the individual from the technical aspects of accounting, looking at accountancy as an economic activity separately from social context. However, there is a growing acceptance that accounting is a social practice where people and context influence practice. Maslow‘s theory of needs, which incorporates individuals‘ social and economic considerations, was used to explore reasons for choice of practice location and the related considerations identified by the participants. The theory of needs bring various strands of human activity together, which combine and interact. Maslow‘s theory of needs, unlike most location-related theories, provides the capacity to consider the owner-accountant holistically; as the owner-accountant who chooses a regional or remote community in which to practice their profession and as a place of residence. This is an exploratory study using an interpretive qualitative study design. The design was developed as it provided an opportunity to explore commercial, professional and personal aspects of location in-depth through the lived experiences of the owner-accountants who reside in regional and remote communities and regional developers. Data was collected using semi-structured interviews focussing on accountants who own and operate their own businesses in regional and remote communities. In addition, regional development workers, staff of regional development boards and local government, were included to obtain perspectives about regional development. The context of this research is regional and remote South Australia, chosen as it contains all relevant classifications under the Accessibility/Remoteness Index of Australia, has diverse industries represented in regional and remote areas, and avoided possible jurisdictional issues which may arise from a cross-state sample. Thirty five interviews were conducted over a 12 month period during 2008 and 2009, although only 24 interviews were used in the preparation of this thesis. Interview recordings were transcribed and analysed using the constant comparison method. Results indicate that regional developers placed a high value on local business owners having access to accounting services. It was evident that access is limited by the perceptions of accountancy by business owners, their understanding of the profession and the range of assistance accountants are able to provide. Whilst resident mode is preferred by regional developers for its convenience, privacy concerns are sometimes seen to override convenience of in situ practice. Regional developers identified new roles for accounting services, firms and individuals which extends beyond the traditional scope of accounting into morale and mental health. The expanding scope of accountancy potentially leads to a reconsideration of the public interest role of professional accountants. Eight key reasons were identified as influencing the choice of practice location by owner-accountants. Family and friends (including spouse and children) dominate choice of practice location. Income-producing opportunities (business or employment) follow closely, then lifestyle factors, home, escape, education, reversibility of choice, and finally intellectual challenge. It was also found that the choice of practice location is not the result of a single decision but of a process which occurs over the adult life of the participants. Several important additional considerations were found to have an impact on accountancy in regional and remote communities. The behaviour of accountants is scrutinised by other community members and the owner-accountants generally felt they need to demonstrate trustworthy behaviours at all times. Regional and remote owner-accountants highlight a high degree of commitment to client well-being by becoming counsellors and confidants. Such commitment may involve active engagement in the mental health of clients and a high emotional content during communications. In addition, accountants as professionals and members of the community are requested and expected by community members to take on governance roles within communities, providing low-cost or pro bono auditing for local sport and leisure associations and being actively involved in community activities. Understanding the reasons for choice of practice location and choice processes involved, can be exploited by regional development boards and government to develop programs to attract and retain accountants to regional and remote communities. It is critical to understand the dynamic and complex choice processes for individuals as the reasons may act in a push and/or pull manner depending on the background of the individual and the locations involved. Identification of the role of accountants in regional and remote communities has implications for the professional accountancy associations and accounting educators to ensure the continuation of accounting services and firms in non-metropolitan areas and the education and professional development of accountants. This includes preparation and support for cultural differences between non-metropolitan and urban communities, methods for dealing with community expectations, ongoing training and resources for any mental health roles which may develop, including provision of counselling to mitigate the potential risks of psychological injury amongst accountants.

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Suggested Citation
Carter, A.J., 2010, A study of the choice of owner-accountants to practice in regional and remote areas, Volume:PhD, Thesis, viewed 10 August 2022, https://www.nintione.com.au/?p=3510.

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