In a wide-ranging keynote address at the Spring Meeting of the Governing Council of the American Institute of CPAs, president and CEO Barry Melancon described an accounting profession in the midst of a variety of transformations.
One of the first areas he touched on was diversity, and the need for the profession to embrace minorities. “Not because it is right -- though it is right,” Melancon said, but because the profession needs to be able to reflect the country’s future entrepreneurs, who will be its future clients.
“It really is the time for us to make a difference in inclusion and diversity,” he said. “It will happen, probably not as quickly as we would like, but it will happen.”
He tied diversity to the broader issues of staffing and making sure the profession can continue to attract and retain staff. “There are challenges in human capital everywhere -- and our ability to be attractive is very important,” Melancon said. “We are losing too many people, often because when they get into the profession, they don’t find the profession they were looking for.”
A second area that Melancon highlighted as slated for serious transformation involves auditing. In a short Q&A, Melancon and Bill Titera, director of assurance services at Big Four firm Ernst & Young, talked about the ways that technology and automation will change the ways firms perform audits, highlighting the potential impact of Audit Data Standards, a set of AICPA protocols for standardizing financial data to make audits faster, more efficient and more effective.
In another Q&A, Melancon and accounting professor and Amerian Association of Accountants president Karen Pincus talked about the ways in which accounting education is changing. To start, many of the 1,700 accounting-degree-granting are suffering from lower funding at the state level, while levels of student debt have outstripped levels of consumer credit card debt, leading to a search for less expensive education. One form of that will likely be Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, which allow Web-based access to courses to thousands. When Melancon wondered what would happen to the country’s physical campuses, Pincus suggested, not entirely tongue-in-cheek, that they might make excellent assisted-living facilities.
A fourth area that Melancon highlighted was the rise of the “virtual” firm. In a Q&A, he and Jennifer Katrulya, the founder and owner of a firm in Connecticut with no office, all of whose 24 employees work remotely to serve clients all over the world, talked about the ways in which technology allows CPA firms to both operate in a leaner fashion, and to offer new and more valuable services to a wider variety of clients. Katrulya did note, though, that it’s important for virtual firms to make some allowance for face time -- and that accountants in general should work harder on their strategic plans before launching new services or practices.
Melancon also touched a number of other issues in his overview of the profession, including the likelihood of future tax reform, the political outlook for issues affecting accounting, and much more. Overall, he urged CPAs to be prepared for, and ready to adapt to, change.
“Economic reality is changing the face of our profession,” he said.
For more from the Spring Meeting of Council, see: