[IMGCAP(1)]All professions have their heroes and their golden ages. For accountants, it might very well be Fra Luca Pacioli enunciating the principles of double-entry bookkeeping, or Col. Arthur Carter of the New York State Society of CPAs proudly telling the Senate that no one needed to audit auditors: “Our conscience” would take care of that.

That last was in 1933, during what many would consider one of accounting’s most heroic moments, when, with the economy broken and public trust in the markets at a shocking low, the profession stepped up to help underpin our financial system by attesting to the veracity of the information presented in corporate financial statements — a function the profession continues to fill almost a century later. That jibes with a fairly common historical narrative, which holds that the roots of current accounting and auditing lie in the need of international investors in the 19th century for reliable information about large-scale industrial endeavors, particularly railroads. Accountants rose to the challenge, the narrative continues, and that led to their being asked in the 1930s to attest to the pinnacle of corporate information, the public company financial statement.

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