History of the 114-year-old WCOA Accounting Conference

The World Congress of Accountants was first held more than 110 years ago, at the dawn of the 20th century.

The World Congress of Accountants was first held more than 110 years ago, at the dawn of the 20th century. In 1904, the world was changing: Henry Ford set a land speed record; the USA took control of the Panama Canal; UK and France signed the Entente Cordiale and Australia elected its first national government.

From that first event, subsequent conferences have been woven between major global events including the Great Depression and two World Wars. Today the World Congress of Accountants is a large-scale, international event which occurs, like The Olympic Games, every four years.

With the 20th Anniversary conference due to be held in Sydney in November 2018, we take a look back on the accounting event’s history.

Taken from 1972 Pictorial Supplement of the Congress for The Australian Accountant and The Chartered Accountant.

1904, St. Louis, USA

The very first World Congress of Accountants was actually named International Congress of Accountants. It occurred in St Louis, Mississippi, against the backdrop of the third Modern Olympic Games and the St Louis World’s Fair. The latter drew nearly 20 million visitors who took in 1,500 exhibition buildings and showcased the wireless telephone and an early fax machine.

According to the Journal of Accountancy, the rise of large corporations in the decades before the congress – and some spectacular panics and stock market crashes – underscored the importance of proper accounting procedures and financial reporting.

“At a time long before codified generally accepted accounting principles or auditing standards,” wrote Anita Dennis in Taking Account of History, “participants were developing and discussing some of the standards and procedures that would form the basis of professional practice.”

This would set the scene for Congress to come.

1926, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

It wasn’t until 1926 that another Congress was convened. Its purpose was to promote the exchange of information and comparison of accounting methods across the world. According to author Spencer E. Ante, writing in Creative Capital: Georges Doriot and the Birth of Venture Capital, attendees included “important financial figures such as G. H. M. Delprat, the Secretaire Generale of the Netherlands Bank.”

1929, New York, USA

The third Congress came right at the end of the Roaring 20s. It finished exactly one month before the stock market crash that heralded The Great Depression.

1933, London, UK

According to The History of Accounting (RLE Accounting): An International Encyclopedia the second European conference included subjects like the “Science of Accounting” and “Consolidated Accounting.”

1938, Berlin, Germany

The pre-war years were a trying period for accountants and not just in the host country of the 1938 World Congress of Accountants. In Germany, local regulation was taken over by the state. Just 315 representatives (from 33 countries) attended the Berlin Congress.

1952, London, UK

The post-war Congress saw seven accounting associations host 2,510 delegates from 36 countries. Topics included managerial and inflation accounting. It was suggested at the time that accounting might make an international contribution to “resolving economic problems that were at the root of the recent wars.”

1957, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

At the second event in Amsterdam, External and Internal auditing took centre stage.

1962, New York, USA

This Congress paid close attention to the effects of a world economy on auditing and financial reporting. There were calls for global harmonisation of accounting practices.

1967, Paris, France

The City of Lights saw a Congress extend its focus on the harmonisation of accounting practices along with discussion on accounting for consolidated and government entities.

1972, Sydney, Australia

The 10th Anniversary Congress was held in Sydney and focussed on many subjects including the common goals of international accounting. Members of the profession came from all corners of the globe, including Bermuda, Malta, Uganda, with the largest delegation coming from Japan. There was even a ceremonial postage stamp produced for the occasion.

Those present continued their calls for the establishment of a harmonising, global accounting body. In 1973 the International Accounting Standards Committee (IASC) was formed. According to Mary E. Harston, quoted in The History of Accounting (RLE Accounting): An International Encyclopedia, this was “perhaps the most significant contribution of these Congresses to date.”

1977, Munich, Germany

In 1977 the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) was established, designed to represent the accounting profession at an international level on all matters except setting accounting standards. It was a celebration of decades of conversation and collaboration and a focus of the Munich Congress.

Since 1977, The World Congress of Accountants has been held under the auspices of the International Federation of Accountants every five years, switching to every four years in 2002.

1982, Mexico City, Mexico

This Congress was the first held by IFAC, and the first in the developing world. It focused on the professional responsibilities of accountants in a changing world.

1987, Tokyo, Japan

The 13th gathering was the first held in Asia, and the first rebranded from International to World Congress of Accountants. It dealt primarily with international accounting and auditing standards.

1992, Washington D.C., USA

This Congress focused on the accountant’s role in the global economy. The focus reflected IFAC’s promotion, according to Mary E. Harston, of a “unified worldwide accounting profession that understands accelerated business globalisation, changing capital markets and a demanding public.”

1997, Paris, France

Dominated by the developed world and the drive toward globalisation, this Congress was held against a backdrop of the recently formed World Trade Organisation.

2002, Hong Kong, China

The first China-hosted Congress was addressed by Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji, who said the Chinese government had “attached great importance to the development of the accounting profession, and has made unremitting efforts in the building of the accounting system, the making of auditing rules and the training of professionals in this area… Accountants and investors from around the world are welcome to bring their talent into greater play in China and seek greater career expansion by taking advantage of China’s vigor and vitality.”

2006, Istanbul, Turkey

This Congress focused on generating economic growth and stability worldwide.

2010, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The topics of this Congress included “accounting ethics, governance, standards, convergence, and development of the accounting profession” plus “integrated reporting and sustainability” and “Islamic finance.” The diversity of thought was matched by the large attendance – more than 6,000 people – from 134 countries, and organisations including The World Bank, Transparency International, the Financial Stability Board, the European Commission, the International Forum of Independent Audit Regulators and the International Accounting Standards Board.

2014, Rome, Italy

More than 4,000 delegates descended on Rome with a large contingent from Africa (1,100 from Nigeria alone). Pope Francis made an address. Meanwhile, according to CPA Canada, “ethics and the public interest were overarching themes. And it was standing room only in the Fighting Corruption and Fraud session.”

2018, Sydney, Australia

This Congress will mark the 20th anniversary of WCOA, and is expected to see more than 6,000 delegates visit Sydney during November, 2018.