Melancon: Amid pandemic, a chance for CPAs to be 'a calming force'
The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the U.S. economy has made the role of accountants and other finance professionals more urgent, especially as non-essential businesses across the country are forced to close and make critical operational decisions. CPAs were particularly in the spotlight last week as the tax-filing deadline was extended to July 15 in response to the crisis.
It is important that CPAs keep abreast of these fast-moving updates, said American Institute of CPAs president and CEO Barry Melancon, recommending the AICPA’s coronavirus online resource center as a good starting point. He also explained that CPAs can currently offer more to clients than just meeting these new deadlines.
“If you think of the makeup of the profession, the knowledge, we are extraordinarily well-positioned,” Melancon told Accounting Today. “It’s way more than complying with the tax deadline, financial reporting. Those things are important, but way bigger is real solid decision-making. Our economy will fight to bounce back; I see an opportunity to do that, a path to do that. … People from every type of organization have the potential for a powerful impact on good decision-making and how to come out of this. It’s probably the greatest opportunity for our profession to affect the economy.”
Beyond financial expertise, accountants might find themselves especially in-demand for their practicality, Melancon predicted.
“I think that we have this incredible obligation and opportunity — not from an opportunistic [standpoint] — but the opportunity to impact a very serious situation in the economy,” Melancon continued. “It’s all about how we are trusted, knowledgeable, ethical people in this profession — those are true statements. Right now, we can be a calming force for clients; if you work for a company, you can be a calming force for good decisions. We can be realists [and] help people work through some difficult decisions.”
Amid this pandemic, both Melancon and CPA.com president and CEO Erik Asgeirsson (pictured) have been in communication with accounting firms and AICPA members, as well as the other organizations comprising a coalition they formed to ask the U.S. government to direct any coronavirus relief funds to small businesses through payroll processors. These conversations have inspired optimism, according to Asgeirsson, who added that firms that have adopted the technology solutions that thought leaders like those at CPA.com have been evangelizing for years are at an advantage.
“We’ve both been talking to a lot of firms, and like everyone, they’re focused on the safety of employees and doing an excellent job, making sure people work remote and take care of their situations,” Asgeirsson shared. “The second thing is a focus on helping clients navigate unprecedented times, to really be set up to operate in this environment. What happened with cloud-enabled solutions was they are able to support businesses and clients wherever they are and are actually operating today. Things have changed [but] we are operating and connected and will be in a position to support clients in these uncharted waters.”
The AICPA and CPA.com are prepared to continue helping CPAs in these unprecedented times, Asgeirsson said.
“Some firms need a little assistance in getting modern platforms up and running, and we continue to provide those services,” he explained. “We’re also aware these firms are knowledge workers and are invested in systems that can support clients, and can play a big role. It’s an otherwise fortunate position to be in, that we can still provide these services. We’ve also seen states declare [CPAs] as essential services.”
As the spread of the coronavirus, and the government and economic response to it, continues to accelerate, preserving connectivity will be critical, according to Melancon and Asgeirsson.
“It’s amazing how fast this is all going,” Asgeirsson observed. “Communication matters.”