ICO pushes accountants to drive data protection for SMEs
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the UK regulatory body which is set up to uphold information rights, including those surrounding data privacy, has called for accountants to play a ‘crucial’ role in data protection for UK SMEs, defining the right practices from the moment a company is launched.
The call to action includes seven key questions around data protection compliance for accountants to push when advising SMEs. The aim is for businesses to understand the extent of knowledge about data protection, the types of data they collect and whether they are prepared for critical situations, such as a data breach.
ICO research conducted in 2021 revealed that only 20% of SMEs use their accountants as part of their data protection and GDPR compliance, highlighting a knowledge gap that can be filled by accountants.
Sridhar Iyengar, MD for Zoho Europe, comments: “During times of economic uncertainty, organisations need to ensure they are offering the highest standards of customer experience, which includes being more vigilant around data protection compliance. The impact a data breach can have on their business can be extremely detrimental in terms of financial and reputational loss. Accountants can play an important role in this, expanding beyond financial advice to help start-ups and SMEs become aware of how to implement best data practices. The ICO’s laws set standards that organisations should adhere to, and it is vital that businesses keep this front of mind to protect customer and company data.”
“Organisations should have their own data usage, storage, and protection policies in place to protect themselves and their customers. Data practices must be reflected on, revised, and kept up to date with on-going external pressures while ensuring customers are transparently given choices in how their data is handled.”
“A careless data policy can lead to devastating outcomes and organisations should prevent this by prioritising customer preferences to create a positive customer experience based on a foundation of trust. This can contribute to building long-term customer relationships which will help to create a reputable and positive brand image, allowing for sustainable business growth.”
The ICO’s advice for accountants comes as the regulator completes its Data Essentials pilot programme with up to 60 SMEs from across the UK, trialling a new self-assessment and development programme to empower businesses to better manage their data compliance.
Faye Spencer, head of business services at the ICO, comments: “SMEs have a lot to think about when running a business and it’s natural that they rely on their professional network for guidance as they look to grow their business.”
“We’re encouraging accountants across the UK to recognise the role they play and the value that they can add when it comes to offering peace of mind to clients running their own businesses.”
“The ICO has lots of free resources, and we are here to empower all parties to unlock the value of the personal information that they hold. When processed and used responsibly personal data can help a business to grow and good data protection practices project positively on a company’s reputation.”