The column you regularly publish by Profs. Miller and Bahnson has finally reached the point where it can no longer be ignored. While I cannot be labeled a regular reader, I do gaze at it just to see who or what they have decided to flagellate.
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It now seems evident that their urge to bash is the dominating factor, supplanting usual considerations in learned works such as accuracy, objectivity and fairness. I have identified articles that I know are inaccurate and have concluded that the professors don't let facts get in the way of the story they want to tell. A case in point involves a column they published a few years back where their chosen target was the American Institute of CPAs. The article contained inaccuracies, demonstrably incorrect statements and misleading assertions that to me, as a past chair of the AICPA Board of Directors and a member of its Governing Council, were simply inexcusable. Since one of the authors, Professor Miller, and I live in Colorado Springs and we know each other, I contacted him to offer my assistance in helping him fill the void in his knowledge about the AICPA. More important, I offered to consult with him if he ever felt moved in the future to write about the AICPA. He did not take me up on my offer; indeed, from that point forward he stopped communicating.
Now fast-forward to the present and the column authored by the professors that appeared in the December 2011 issue of Accounting Today ("Some evidence that the AICPA's management has lost its focus," page 20). This article is riddled with misstatements, inaccuracies and erroneous assertions. To use the current jargon of fact-checkers, some of their claims merit the designation, "Pants on fire." Since the professors have proven that they have no interest in educating themselves about a subject before they write about it, I believe I have no choice now but to do publicly what I previously offered to do privately; hence this letter.
1. The AICPA's mission. The authors assert that, "Without question, the AICPA's justifying mission is serving its members, first, foremost, always and only." Of course the AICPA serves its members, but that is certainly not its singular mission. If the professors had bothered to read the AICPA mission statement, they would have found first and foremost a "strong commitment to serving the public interest." Moreover, if the professors had done their homework, they would have found innumerable examples of the AICPA and its members serving the public interest in countless ways, including an award-winning financial literacy program and serving as non-partisan advisories to Congress on such things as Social Security and Medicare.
2. The obsession with the AICPA's management. Had the professors done their homework, they would have learned that the AICPA is truly a democratic organization in which members and their broad range of representatives have significant input. Indeed, most of their misdirected references to management actions regarded actions that had been approved by members and their representatives in a democratic process, and, in fact, many of them originated at the grassroots of our profession.
Proof of the AICPA's effectiveness can be found in the record-high membership number (nearly 380,000) and retention rate (approximately 95 percent).
3. Sharing the profession's perspective on Capitol Hill and beyond. Member surveys reflect a high level of interest in the AICPA's advocacy efforts. Over the past few years, the AICPA and state CPA societies have worked together to achieve CPA interstate practice privilege in 48 states and counting. This year, the AICPA helped to: repeal expanded 1099 reporting requirements that would have been onerous to small-business owners and rental property owners; prevent mandatory withholding of taxes (3 percent) from government contractor payments; and ban further patents on tax strategies. The institute worked with the IRS as the registered tax return preparer program took shape to prevent duplicative and unnecessary oversight over CPAs who prepare tax returns and to ensure that the term "registered tax preparer" does not endanger the CPA brand. Additionally, the AICPA was able to work with Congress on an agreement to recognize CPAs' "customary and usual" services under the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, in light of existing regulation of CPAs' advice and counsel.
4. Broadening opportunities to business and industry members. As the authors noted, the AICPA and the 100-year old Chartered Institute of Management Accountants have come together in a joint venture to create the Chartered Global Management Accountant. Council provided extensive input into, and unanimously approved, this effort. The institute's decision to work with CIMA was preceded by extensive investigation and assessment of how best to serve CPA members who provide management accounting services. The AICPA wanted to offer CPAs who work in corporate finance functions an additional credential and associated resources that would further support that expertise worldwide. Members in industry make up about 40 percent of the AICPA's membership.
5. Listening to the needs of private companies. The discussion about accounting standards that recognize the unique needs of private companies and their financial statement users dates back to the 1970s - decades before the current AICPA leadership.
AICPA Council has been instrumental in moving this discussion to action, urging the formation of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Standard-Setting for Private Companies, which was co-sponsored with the Financial Accounting Foundation and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy. After hearing from various stakeholders, a supermajority of the panel voted to recommend that there be exceptions and modifications in U.S. GAAP for private companies, where warranted, as well as a new standards board authorized to make those modifications (that is, without FASB influence or approval).
6. Helping members stay at the forefront of accounting trends. It is worth noting that IFRS is already an established reporting system in the U.S. Multinational companies with subsidiaries abroad are based here; foreign companies have subsidiaries here. Private companies can use IFRS or IFRS for Small and Medium-sized Entities if they believe it is a better option. Furthermore, IFRS is standard entry-level practice for CPAs today, and CPA Exam candidates have been performing well on IFRS questions.
The AICPA works tirelessly to serve the public interest, to represent its members, to support the accounting profession, and to provide relevant and essential services requested by its members and viewed as key to their ability to serve the public good.
In this CPA's opinion, the AICPA is doing exemplary work, and I am proud to be affiliated with the most prestigious and largest accounting body in the world.
A. Marvin Strait, CPA
Colorado Springs, Colo.
... right on!
Thank you for your recent article. I thought I was the only one who dared to criticize the AICPA and its leadership. Your analysis was spot on in pointing out the conflicts of interest between the organization, its leaders and the membership.
It's absolutely apparent that the organization is first dedicated to self-preservation and personal enrichment, rather than to providing effective and efficient services to the members. As always, follow the money. Please review the compensation and benefits that the employees of the organization enjoy. You will find that they are far in excess of those of the average member.
Just like all government workers, there needs be a rationalization of services provided, those who pay for the services and those who deliver them. These quasi-governmental/nonprofit organizations need to join in the economic reckoning that their members are going through. I would specifically point to the Michigan Association of CPAs for further evidence of this malfeasance. Clearly, term limits need to be established for these organizations. It would be nice to see these leaders have to go back to providing services to clients, instead of selling themselves and their great vision or concepts to the membership.
Thank you for the spotlight you have provided. I hope the membership reacts accordingly. I would like to be treated more as a member and less like a customer.
Michael C. Zack, CPA
... correct on AICPA elitism
I agree with Profs. Paul Miller and Paul Bahnson's assessment of the accounting profession and the elitist attitude of the AICPA.
I am a sole-practitioner CPA in Plano, Texas. I started my practice 30 years ago at age 26. I have been in the peer review program since 1991. I was a founding member of the Texas Association of CPAs, and the current president.
The article immediately struck a chord with me with "Exhibit A: Cognitors." The idea was presented to Texas CPAs in the Texas Society of CPAs' publication Viewpoint in October 2000. At that time I was a member of the society, and still have a copy of the newsletter. Of course, CPAs vigorously slammed the idea to the mat.
It is clear the Cognitor concept was never intended for the sole practitioner. It was meant only for those involved in strategic planning in large firms. Our AICPA leaders were planning to create a new brand, a new icon, to which only a select few would be granted access. And what would happen to CPAs holding the old label? I suggest that they would have been slowly regulated out of business.