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It's time to overturn the image of 'safe and boring' accountancy.

It's time to overturn the image of 'safe and boring' accountancy

'I spend my life accounting, with figures and such. To what is my life amounting? It figures, not much.'

Accountant Leo Bloom sings these words in the Mel Brooks hit musical The Producers. The song makes much of Bloom's unhappiness with his work and his desire to do something more exciting - to be a theatre producer. The dull, almost lifeless Leo pays so much attention to trifling detail that he can identify the brand and type of pencil he uses in his work. The song paints accounting as a soulless existence and the death of ambition and dreams, in contrast to the exciting life Leo Bloom later leads as a successful Broadway producer.

In Volume 24 Number 7 of Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, David Smith and Kerry Jacobs examine the characterization of accounting and accountants in popular music. The authors point out that US band Bowling for Soup's song, 1985, covers similar ground to I Want to be a Producer. The current life of 1985's protagonist, Debbie, is juxtaposed with the life she imagined for herself 20 years earlier. The information that 'Debbie just hit the wall, she never had it all, one Prozac a day, husband's a CPA' reflects the mundane nature of Debbie's existence.

Like Leo Bloom, Debbie dreams of a more fulfilling life. Rather than being married to an accountant and having the 'average life' that goes with this, Debbie reflects on her dreams of dating a member of the 1980s British pop band Duran Duran.

Once again, being an accountant, or being married to one, is a metaphor for a safe, boring and ultimately unfulfilled life.

Of course, the reality of accountancy can be very different. In the accounting magazine In the Black, Dugdale reports an interview with Zhang Ke, who is working to build an affiliated network of accounting firms across the world. The author describes how Zhang Ke's entrepreneurial zeal first led him to build China's biggest accounting firm, ShineWing, which is overshadowed only by the 'Big Four' international accounting firms of PricewaterhouseCooper; KPMG; Deloitte; and Ernst & Young.

After taking ShineWing to Hong Kong and Singapore, Zhang Ke is now strengthening his three-year foothold in Australia through a tie-up with Hall Chadwick, while his next goals include South Korea and Taiwan, followed by Europe and the USA.

In similar vein, Helen Coster (in the December 2011 edition of Forbes magazine) reveals the exciting life of Jacqueline Novogratz, who founded and heads Acumen Fund, a non-profit, philanthropic venture-capital fund that has invested $69 million in India, Pakistan, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda.

Instead of paying aid to causes or governments that give away life-sustaining goods and services, Acumen seeks to invest money in small-time entrepreneurs who strive to provide such life-enhancing products as mosquito netting or bottled water or even affordable housing.

Since donor-investors do not get their money back, the success of the fund's investments and loans is not measured by return on investment but against the good that could have been done by simply giving the money away. In an era when politicians of the right and left are seeking ways of giving the prevailing economic system a more human face, Jacqueline Novogratz is out to prove nothing less than that altruistic capitalism can save the world.