In the ever-competitive Philippine accounting scene, Isla Lipana & Co. enjoys a level of prestige that is hard to rival. Its inspiring longevity has a lot to do with it.

Founded in 1922, it is the oldest operating professional services firm in the country. Its near-century of existence speaks volumes about its ability to keep up with the rapidly changing times and even with cutthroat competition.

The firm, formerly known as Joaquin Cunanan & Co., also owes its high repute to an unwavering commitment to quality, not only in the field of accounting, but also in audit and assurance, deals and corporate finance, consulting and tax planning.

And as a member of 250,000-people-strong transnational network of the professional services juggernaut PwC, the firm holds itself to high local and international standards.

As it approaches its 97th year, Isla Lipana & Co. aims to “disrupt” and “constantly transform” itself — terms that are so frequently heard from tech companies. “Agility and developing new expertise quickly are critical to being responsive to client needs in this age of automation and speed,” said Atty. Alexander Cabrera, chairman and senior partner of Isla Lipana & Co./PwC Philippines.

Atty. Alexander Cabrera, chairman and senior partner of Isla Lipana & Co./PwC Philippines

“Agility and developing new expertise quickly are critical to being responsive to client needs in this age of automation and speed.”

He sees growth opportunities particularly in auditing and the need to recruit the talent to perform it. “For example, auditing a bank, a technology company, or an organization that is leveraging blockchain requires a huge amount of expertise. And if you don’t have that expertise because all you have are people who only understand the numbers, we miss the bigger risks, including: ‘Are they actually doing the right things?’ ’How is this company able to perform at the level they do, and report the way they do?’ ‘And do these things coincide?’,” he said.

Data will be critical to Isla Lipana & Co.’s endeavor. Atty. Cabrera said that lack of clean, relevant and stable data is holding back organizations from moving aggressively on artificial intelligence, which he believes will have significant impact on businesses in the next five years.

“The availability of key skills to achieve that kind of data does affect growth prospects,” Atty. Cabrera said.

The firm also strives to further enhance its work culture. “We know there is always more we can do to improve the experience of working at PwC. Making sure our people have a good work-life balance remains a priority,” he said.

He continued, “Here, we need to work harder as our global survey says that only 65% of PwC people feel that the people they work for are considerate of their life outside work, which is not as high as we would like. That’s why we invest in programs to help our people work flexibly and manage their energy and personal well-being so they can be their best selves at home and at work.”

Even as the firm addresses that critical internal concern, Isla Lipana & Co. manages external issues, including increasing competition, especially from those that employ the tactic of undercutting prices, and pressure brought about by regulations.

“These drive us to keep our focus on quality by continuously conducting stringent monitoring of engagement quality and delivery capability, involving the more senior members (i.e., partners) of the engagement team, and embedding PwC professional behavior in everyone’s DNA while being supported by technology,” Atty. Cabrera said.

The same determination is shown by the firm in its efforts to create positive social change. Among its notable corporate social responsibility programs is the “Seat of Hope” project, in which the firm donates chairs and desks to select schools in different parts of the country, hoping to make even a small dent in the chronic shortage of basic school equipment affecting public schools.

Another education-related initiative of the firm is its scholarship program. Under it, financial assistance is extended to undergraduates studying accountancy and those reviewing for the certified public accountant licensure exam.

In addition to these, the firm conducts tree-planting and tree-potting activities, provides financial help to victims of calamities, backs shelter reconstruction programs in different communities, and trains farmers and owners of small and medium-sized enterprises in the basics of business and accounting.

Isla Lipana & Co., which in 2017 was the second most sought-after auditing firm by corporates in the country, according to the 2018 edition of the Top 1000 Corporations in the Philippines of BusinessWorld, is all set to reach greater heights this year.

“We see more opportunities to grow our practice by increasing our market share, both in audit, risk assurance, tax and advisory services, while guided by our purpose to build trust in society and solve important problems,” Atty. Cabrera said.