Accountants respond to the Expensify letter
When Expensify CEO David Barrett sent his now-controversial pro-Biden letter to the company’s 10 million-strong email list, it caused an uproar across the accounting profession — or as much of an uproar that can be caused in a profession known for cool heads and professional skepticism.
Most accountants reacted negatively to the letter, stating that Barrett had no right to force his political views on his customers and partners, and that it was inappropriate to do so. Some accountants, however, believe that it was brave of Barrett to state his position so boldly. Those who responded positively see the current effort to vote Trump out of office as more important than the "neutrality" of the profession or any other consideration.
Last week, commentator Blake Oliver made the point that Barrett did not consider the impact of his letter on the profession that his company partners with. Accountants don’t just pride themselves on neutrality — they depend on it, in order to provide service that is beyond reproach and entirely free of bias. This neutrality is important not just for keeping clients happy, but also so that any work the accountant does is beyond criticism.
However, some accountants take the view that even though it was a controversial move, Barrett was doing the right thing by clearly stating his moral position. Expensify is located in Portland, Oregon, the nexus of many current crises: the coronavirus pandemic, which surfaced virulently in the Pacific Northwest early in the year, and Black Lives Matter-related activity that turned violent in the city.
“We have a history of getting involved with complicated issues and trying to find a way to help,” Barrett told Accounting Today the day he sent the letter. “We try to stand by our values. We know we didn’t get here alone — we acknowledge systemic bias.”
Barrett is referring to two specific actions the company took this year. When schools closed across the country due to COVID-19, Expensify’s charitable foundation, Expensify.org, redirected its efforts from school lunches to reimbursing SNAP-program grocery purchases up to $50 per family through the Expensify app. And following the killing of George Floyd, Expensify changed its home page to declare its support for Black Lives Matter. After some inquiry from customers, Joanie Wang, director of marketing for the company, published this statement:
“We’re a team of individuals who are deeply dedicated to our values, and one of those values is that we believe in the equitable treatment of everyone regardless of race, gender, age, or sexual orientation," she said. "Our homepage is a reflection of us expressing those values and standing in solidarity with our BIPOC teammates and community members. It feels important that we not remain silent during this time.”
According to Barrett, Expensify had been engaging with BLM leaders in Portland, getting into the fray of what was happening in its city. He sees this work as adjacent to supporting his employees.
“We have a genuine desire to make the world a better place,” he said. “In a democracy, you have no choice but to participate. There’s no such thing as opting out. If companies aren’t taking an opinion, it's an endorsement of the status quo; or, they are too cowardly to do anything about it. Companies should stand up for the people that work there. I often think of that Edmund Burke quote: ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’”
Here are some reactions to Barrett’s letter from around the profession: