A Senate hearing in Canberra today, intended to focus on the modernisation of the Corporations Act, saw directors of CPA Australia grilled on decisions to allocate marketing spend to non-accounting sporting events and public figures.
Senator Sam Dastyari relentlessly pushed the board on several specific spend decisions involving astronaut Neil Armstrong, Henry Winkler of Happy Days fame and Dutch violinist Andre Rieu.
Director Graeme Wade explained that the board felt these high-profile figures translated to accounting audiences because of their aspirational leadership experiences.
Senator Nick Xenophon also pushed the board on a core part of CPA Australia’s marketing strategy - the focus on the leadership of former chief executive Alex Malley.
President Jim Dickson defended Mr Malley, saying under his leadership and with this marketing approach, CPA Australia was able to broaden its audience and influence, particularly overseas.
At its annual general meeting (AGM) in June, the board indicated membership gains in key focus markets, including 20 per cent growth in Asia in the last three years.
The board also said expenditure on marketing, promotion and publications as a proportion of revenue remained consistent over the last 10 years.
However, Mr Xenophon told the board to produce further proof that the spike in member numbers correlated with the board-approved marketing strategy.
Moving forward, CPA Australia intends to better explain its marketing strategy to members and consult more comprehensively with national divisions. Mr Dickson acknowledged this has been lacking in recent years.
This fed into a broader disconnect between members and the board, which Mr Dickson also acknowledged.
“It is the board that sets strategy and monitors performance,” he said. “We have acted in accordance with the CPA Australia constitution and the law. But we recognise that there was a dichotomy between what was required and what was expected of us.”
You can read more about today's hearing here.