Accounting in a challenging world

Collini Paolo, Coller Graziano

Accounting has always been a fundamental tool for managing the complexities of the business world. In mercantile Italy of the 1400s, when modern double-entry bookkeeping was developed, the need to manage business partnership arrangements led to the definition of methods and tools for recording business events and calculating profits. Double-entry bookkeeping had responded to the specific needs of a business world characterized by the spread of new payment systems, the role of external lenders, the internationalization of trades, and the specialization of roles within the value chain. Luca Pacioli gathered the knowledge in accounting that had gradually consolidated, defining its method and tools in his famous book.

The world has kept changing over the centuries, and accounting has sought to evolve and respond to the new needs emerging at different times. As a response to the increased complexity caused by the rise of the industrial system (Fleischman and Tyson, 2006), there is a gradual separation between accounting for internal management purposes and accounting for external use. Later, with the development of large American companies (Chandler, 1962), we see the emergence of the fundamental characteristics of management accounting, from standard costs to variance analysis, and the development of planning and programming tools (Sloan, 1964).

Similarly, management accounting responded to the changing competitive environment and the spread of new models of industrial production at the end of the last century (Johnson and Kaplan, 1987), with the performance movement (Eccles, 1991) and the shift in focus to the non-financial dimension incorporating a strategic perspective (Bergamin Barbato, 1991; Kaplan and Norton,1992). Along with that, globalization phenomena were pushing for an internationalization of accounting, whose rules were gradually becoming supranational (Nobes, 2014).