My first contact with tax practitioners, many of them CPAs, was many years ago when I answered their questions about how the new estate and gift tax unified credit worked. Their interest was in understanding the application of the credit to their clients. The desire was for a detailed technical explanation of the new tax provisions. 

Although an understanding of the technical application is still important, practitioners today are also focusing on something else: Their reaction to recent tax legislation and the PCAOB and FASB pronouncements clearly show that. It is a focus on practice development opportunities. For example, in the case of the tax legislation, it is additional work advising on qualification for the new deduction for manufacturers and compensation planning for the completely revamped deferred compensation. With regard to the PCAOB's proposed rules concerning auditor independence and tax services, practitioners are capitalizing on the opportunity to give tax advice to public companies. As to the FASB standard, they are providing support in determining the value of stock options.

Accountants are paying close attention to business implications, and on a very early basis. A good part of many firms' meetings are now being spent on analyzing business opportunities as well as examining how the particular firm can prevent the loss of business to other firms. For example, a firm that doesn't have a valuation expert, might want to establish a relationship with one if it is determined that many of the clients will need help in valuing stock options awarded to their employees.

Moreover, CPAs have discovered the importance and need to increase their business acumen. They still, as professionals, focus on the technical meaning of new laws, rules, and standards. But, it is being done in a different context than it was when I started in the 1970s. Now CPAs are more apt to initially concentrate on the all-important potential impact on their business.

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