Accountants' incessant insecurity: focusing on the identities of CPAs hired in the South Korean public service

Ahn, P. D. and Jacobs, K. (2019) Accountants' incessant insecurity: focusing on the identities of CPAs hired in the South Korean public service. Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 32(8), pp. 2421-2450. (doi:10.1108/AAAJ-01-2017-2815)

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Abstract

Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to understand how and why accountants who moved from accounting firms to public service adapted their identities to reduce insecurity. The literature on accountant identity highlights insecurity caused by promotion criterion to partnership, which requires accountants to win new work for their employers and leads to overtime, as a serious problem which has permeated the accounting profession. However, there have been few studies that explore whether accountants who moved to the public service, where they have stronger job security and can enjoy work-life balance, have resolved the insecurity problem, although a neoliberalism turn accompanied by New Public Management-style reforms has increased the number of accountants in public service. Therefore, the authors of the current study aim to fill this gap in the literature by exploring the identity transitions of South Korean (hereafter Korean) accountants who joined the public service. Design/methodology/approach: The authors theorise the nature of the process of identity adaptation with conceptual tools from Pierre Bourdieu, such as habitus and capital, and examine whether the accountants took a “vision-of-division” or a “di-vision” strategy in the public service to secure their identity. For this purpose, the authors interviewed accountants and their non-accountant colleagues, and investigated other written sources, such as newspaper articles and business cards. Findings: The authors found that Korean accountants in Big-4 firms dealt with the same insecurity issues as accountants in western countries and perceived public service as an attractive alternative to remove this insecurity. However, accountants who joined the public service found themselves confronted with different types of problems, such as accounting/costing work being regarded as demeaning, which made their identity insecure. Therefore, some accountants took a di-vision strategy that makes the difference between themselves and typical public servants less visible by avoiding accounting/costing work, using bureaucratic designations and de-emphasising their accounting credentials. Accountants took this strategy because the symbolic value of their accountancy qualifications grew weaker over time, due to the increase in the number of qualified accountants, and because the public service field valued bureaucratic habitus and capital more highly than those of the accountants. Originality/value: From a methodological aspect, the authors collected participants’ business cards and analysed which designations/credentials they chose in order to create a certain perception. This analysis helped the authors understand how accountants work on their identity by de-emphasising accounting credentials to secure their identity in an organisational field. In a theoretical dimension, the current study argues that the symbolic capital of accounting credentials is dependent on the organisational and social context in line with Bourdieu, and, contrary to Bourdieu, on the supply and demand in the professional labour market.

Item Type:Articles
Status:Published
Refereed:Yes
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Ahn, Dr Paul
Authors: Ahn, P. D., and Jacobs, K.
College/School:College of Social Sciences > Adam Smith Business School > Accounting and Finance
Journal Name:Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal
Publisher:Emerald Group Publishing Limited
ISSN:0951-3574
ISSN (Online):1758-4205
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2019 Emerald Publishing Limited
First Published:First published in Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal 32(8): 2421-2450
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the publisher copyright policy

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