I'm embarrassed to admit it, but the closest I've ever gotten to Yale University is when I got a flat tire outside New Haven, Conn.
And once, just for fun, I actually mailed my high-school transcript to that august university. It was promptly returned with the words "try junior college" written in the margin.
But last week, I did get manage to get into Yale – albeit at the Yale Club in New York – when several editors attended a speech by AICPA president and chief executive Barry Melancon on "rejuvenating" the current accounting culture.
Now, 350,000 CPAs don’t need an image consultant or the president of their organization to tell them that their profession’s façade has taken a pounding over the past year and that repairing it requires more than a trip to Maaco for a quick session with a rubber mallet.
Funny how a few billion-dollar accounting scandals like Enron and WorldCom will do that.
Melancon told the audience that "re-establishing the perception of the audited financial statement as a clear picture window will not be achieved purely by legislation or regulation."
Enter the Institute’s six-point plan, a series of upcoming initiatives, which focus on such areas as improved financial controls for public companies, standard setting, and anti-fraud education.
The Institute also said they would sponsor an anti-fraud summit before the end of the year for financial executives, corporate directors, audit committees and analysts.
And while one intention was clearly to help the AICPA gain back some of the ground it lost upon the passage of Sarbanes-Oxley, some in the audience wondered exactly where the rubber was going to meet the road. I, however, will give the Institute the benefit of the doubt and revisit the initiatives six months to a year down the road.
My main criticism is that this burnishing strategy is a reactive rather than proactive measure — analogous to placing a "no hiking" sign at the summit of Mount St. Helens.
Had the Institute unveiled said plan as recently as August 2001, for example, they would have been hailed by members and lawmakers alike as vigilant gatekeepers of the profession. And it would have taken the heat off such other controversial issues as XYZ and CPA2Biz.
Even a year ago, there were more than a few warning signs that an auditing iceberg the size of Greenland lurked just below the surface.
An alarming number of earnings restatements, coupled with troubled audits at major companies such as Waste Management, Sunbeam, MicroSrategy and Cendant, and you didn’t need a Columbo-like investigation to discern something was wrong.
To be fair, there was plenty of blame to go around and Melancon admitted some of its members were no doubt responsible for the profession’s current malaise. I guess you can’t blame everything on outdated GAAP.
As far as the profession’s concerned, it’s better late than never, especially if your reputation is on the ropes. But remember that a fight is fought in rounds and the middle-to-late rounds often determine the outcome.
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