A lot of words spring to mind when I think of the accounting profession's 2012 -- all of them, fortunately, printable. It wasn't a bad year at all, so there's no call for words of the four-letter variety. But while it wasn't bad, it was hardly a banner year, either.
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What it mostly was, was complicated.
While other years have had a single theme for the profession (a sampling from previous years: Boom Times! Merger Mania! Scandals! Major Regulation! Struggling through Recession!), 2012 mined half a dozen at once, yielding lots of action, but no clear theme. Take the economy: While growth has returned to many firms, it's not strong enough to make caution and retrenchment a thing of the past.
Or take regulation: 2012 gave us a possible solution to the decades-old issue of Big GAAP/Little GAAP in the form of the new Private Company Council, but it gave us only a deepening mystery over the future of the adoption of International Financial Reporting Standards, with a Sphinxian silence emanating from the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the abrupt departure of its chief accountant. Meanwhile, the profession engaged in a spirited debate over the concept of mandatory auditor rotation that saw many ideas aired, but no final conclusions. We'll have to hope 2013 brings more certainty.
And while I know how much mischief a lame-duck Congress can get up to before Christmas, I'm willing to bet that we'll have to wait for next year to see any certainty in the tax arena, too, after enduring in 2012 the single greatest year for tax uncertainty ever. That helped drive in clients looking for advice and strategies, but it also left accountants and tax practitioners scrambling for something to tell them.
These days, merger mania is so common that it's hardly a theme, and 2012 had its share, from the January creation of CliftonLarsonAllen to the mammoth combination of J.H. Cohn and Reznick Group, and a couple of major grabs by BDO and Plante Moran. But it also saw two high-profile mergers fall apart (as did many smaller ones). The mania will continue, no doubt, but some are beginning to question whether indiscriminate M&A is really the right road to growth, or the best succession plan.
Succession planning offered one of the brighter spots of the year, with many firms and organizations offering high-profile examples of carefully-thought-out transitions. Ernst & Young, for instance, announced the successor to its current chief, Jim Turley, almost a year-and-a-half in advance, while BDO gave six months of lead time, announcing in March that Wayne Berson would succeed Jack Weisbaum in November. Not everyone was as far ahead as that, but it was good to see that the profession is taking the process more seriously.
Of course, succession also means departures, of which there were a few: Apart from a great many firm leaders, there were also those of long-time Ohio Society of CPAs chief Clarke Price, Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Doug Shulman, IRS Return Preparer Office chief and tax preparer registration czar David Williams, and SEC Chief Accountant Jim Kroeker. It was also announced that veteran Governmental Accounting Standards Board Chairman Robert Attmore will step down next year.
Some things remain, though: The American Institute of CPAs looked very spry as it celebrated its 125th anniversary -- and was still young enough to launch a new credential, the Certified Global Management Accountant -- while Sarbanes-Oxley marked its tenth year of not destroying the U.S. capital markets.
So that was 2012 in accounting, a year of many words -- a busy year, a complicated year, a year of farewells and new beginnings, of final resolutions and new debates, a year of mergers and divorces, of old confusions and new clarities. But of all the words that spring to mind when I think of 2012, my two favorites are these: almost over.
And with that, we here at Accounting Today wish you and yours the best of the holiday season, and a great 2013!