The Governing Council of the American Institute of CPAs rolled through a stacked agenda during its Spring Meeting of Council here - a three-day event that was highlighted by approval to expand the institute's membership categories and the start of discussions to sharpen its strategic vision.

Barry Melancon, the AICPA's president and chief executive, touched on a dizzying number of issues affecting the profession during his "State of the Profession" report, starting off his keynote by addressing the "bad reputation" CPAs have had in regards to embracing change. "It's a huge falsehood," he told attendees.

He listed eight initiatives the institute has been strategically focusing on - people, competency, advocacy, brand activity, operational excellence, thought leadership, international, and competition and risk.

Melancon also explained where and why the profession is changing - International Financial Reporting Standards in more than 120 countries; the global economic crisis; regulatory reform; the rapid rise of social media; changing demographics; an aging population; the competitive environment; the green movement; private vs. public standards; and tax change. "It's unlikely to slow down, [and] it's all interrelated," he said.

The mantra that echoed throughout the meeting was "redefining the landscape," as Melancon spoke on how the institute will focus its future strategies.

During the meeting, members were broken out into discussion groups to answer pointed questions on where the AICPA should focus. Much emphasis was directed toward the business and industry section of the institute (those in private practice) - and plans to get more members from that field involved in AICPA initiatives and issues.

There was also scattered talk of a specialty credential for the B&I sector.

"We looked at the vision process as a good thing," said Paul Stahlin, regional president of Skylands Community Bank in Somerville, N.J., and incoming 2010-2011 AICPA chair. "Looking back, it shows how visionary we are, actually. The core values and core competencies remain the same."

Stahlin summarized some of the feedback Council members offered during the roundtable process, including the idea that younger CPAs should be part of discussing the institute's future, and social media should be used to amp up communication efforts.

Even high school students will now be able to be "student affiliate" members, alongside their college and university peers, as a result of Council voting to approve resolutions to expand the institute's membership.

In an effort to draw a wider population of qualified people into the accounting profession, Council members unanimously approved 14 revisions to expand its membership categories.

As a result, three separate membership categories emerged: Regular/Voting Members, with full membership privileges and voting rights; Affiliates, who are non-CPA relationships with non-voting status, including students, CPA Exam candidates and pre-college educators; and Associates, peer or professional relationships including international professionals and non-CPA associates.

"Not only in the front of the pipeline do we have some disconnects, but we also have some disconnects within the membership association categories," said Jeannie Patton, institute vice president of students, academics and membership, adding that this is the first time the institute has holistically looked at membership categories since the 1950s. "The recommendations, we believe, set the stage for the future of the profession."

In addition, Council authorized a member ballot on a bylaw change that would permit professionals to qualify for admission to the AICPA as voting members if they previously held a valid CPA certificate or otherwise meet the education, examination and experience requirements set forth by the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy.

"The AICPA is trying to do what most professional associations are doing, which is widen its reach and impact ... almost 51 percent [of our members] are not in public practice," said Michael Pierce, managing director at RSM McGladrey in Deerfield, Ill. "I'm not sure how the non-CPA associates will work out for us, but in general, we've tried to modernize how people can participate."

STANDARDS AND MORE

Council members also heard from Rick Anderson, chairman of Moss Adams, who chairs the Blue Ribbon Panel charged with addressing how GAAP accounting standards can best meet the needs of users of private company financial statements. The panel, assembled earlier this year, was selected by the AICPA, the Financial Accounting Foundation and NASBA with the goal of cross-representation of financial statement users.

At their first two meetings, panel members spent the majority of their time discussing the needs of users of private company financial statements and hearing testimonies. Committee members agreed that there was a "need to identify pros and cons for a dual set of standards, including the unintended consequences, and that there was a high level of support for change."

The committee's next steps include staff compiling a position paper that will address the problem the panel is trying to solve and identify other alternative models to U.S. GAAP, as well as addressing infrastructure questions, such as funding. These models will be discussed at the July 19 meeting, after which public input will be gathered.

"This has to be driven by the users," Anderson said to attendees. "The bigger users of financial statements are third-party users. Get your clients involved in monitoring the process and providing input. It's coming together well and I expect we will have a good recommendation at the end of the year."

Council members received an update from Washington given by Mark Peterson, the AICPA's vice president of congressional and political affairs, and Edward Karl, vice president of taxation, who addressed pending legislative issues.

International Accounting Standards Board Chairman Sir David Tweedie addressed Council on the final day, speaking about how the move to global accounting standards is key to the global financial reform agenda. "The world is moving to a single set of high-quality global standards and this is too important an area for the U.S. not to be involved," he said. "After almost a decade of work to improve IFRS and U.S. GAAP and to seek their convergence, it's time to finish the job."

To help this process along, the International Financial Reporting Standards Committee Foundation and the AICPA, along with the institute's marketing and technology portal, CPA2Biz, have agreed to collaborate on disseminating relevant information. As a result, more IFRS standard summaries and other IASB information will be added to the AICPA's IFRS site - IFRS.com - and there will be more joint initiatives such as webcasts and conferences planned for the future.

In other Council news, Birmingham-based Barfield, Murphy, Shank & Smith received the institute's 2009 Public Service Award for Firms, and G. Peter Wilson, a Boston College professor, earned the AICPA's Distinguished Achievement in Accounting Education Award for his innovative teaching style.

The AICPA also announced a partnership with the Society for Human Resource Management to create a national award recognizing employers who offer financial education programs for their staff.

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