Accountants have had to deal with a lot lately. To name a few: the impact of consolidators, staff shortages, the 150-hour rule, nonCPA minority ownership of accounting firms, full-fledged entry into financial planning both on a commission and fee-paid basis, growth in AICPA membership of industry CPAs, creation of the for-profit CPA2Biz, the Vision Project, AICPA and state societies shared services initiatives, a proposed professional global credential, the unveiling of new assurance services, the Big Five's increased emphasis on consulting, XBRL, the debate over independence rules, and audit failures culminating with the recent Enron bankruptcy.
Accountants in the trenches have reacted in large part to what has been happening on an individual basis, watching the leadership of the profession taking positions which some would describe as futuristic and trail blazing, while others might consider as ineffective and misguided. What seems to be missing is a consensus. It is almost as if the leadership, both paid and voluntary, feel the world is moving so fast nowadays that consensus building will paralyze its effectiveness to make the changes it deems necessary.
The problem is this race to the future caused the leadership to distant itself from many practicing accountants, especially those in public practice in the small to medium sized firms. The leadership is failing to focus sufficiently on its efforts, initiatives, and resources as to what are considered important to these accountants.
Most leaders get better with experience and really prove their mettle in crisis situations. Well, the time has come. Regulatory changes, both on the national and local level, will impact how accountants operate. In addition, accountants' actions will be closely scrutinized. You can also expect an increase in disciplinary procedures against accountants.
The leadership of the profession has to step forward in a coordinated fashion and make sure that all practitioners' interests are represented and protected as these changes are implemented. Most accountants do not earn their living from SEC-type work. In fact, the majority earn the bulk of their income not rather from full-fledged consulting, but from traditional accounting, tax, and related work.
It is hard to stop a speeding train and, Enron's aftermath is just that; accountants are standing on the track in front of that train. Now is the real test for the leadership. The profession is dealing with much higher stakes and unlike WebTrust or the proposed global credential, failed initiatives can jeopardize many an accountant's livelihood. Good luck!
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