In a city where fantasy and excess often usurp reality, it should have surprised few attendees at the American Institute of CPAs Fall Meeting of Council that critical profession-centric issues such as interstate mobility and peer review were upstaged by the appearance of a costumed pig.As an extension of its ongoing 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy effort, the institute and the nonprofit Ad Council have partnered on a multimedia campaign titled "Feed the Pig," designed to encourage savings among 25-to-34-year-olds - a demographic that encompasses roughly 40 million Americans.

The comprehensive media effort will include television, radio, print, banner ads and text messaging to help emphasize the importance of savings (the tagline refers to the old-fashioned piggy bank). The campaign, which debuted during the second day of the confab, was created by the Chicago office of Young & Rubicam and features Benjamin Bankes, a tuxedo-clad, cherubic pig, who initially will appear in a series of four television spots.

Carl George, chief executive of Illinois-based Clifton Gunderson and chairman of the institute's Financial Literacy Commission, told attendees that more than 2 million Americans filed for bankruptcy last year, while the country had the first negative savings rate since the Great Depression.

The campaign was released to 28,000 media outlets on Oct. 25, and George said that 48 of the state societies have availed themselves of an opportunity to co-brand with the campaign and place their signage on the ad collateral materials.

AICPA, NASBA reach accord

In more traditional news, the institute and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy have reached compromises that could affect both the peer review process and the issue of substantial equivalency and interstate mobility.

With regard to the 18-year-old peer review process, the institute - working with state boards and NASBA - unveiled a new model for transparency that contains an "opt out" provision for firms for voluntary state board disclosure of peer review results.

AICPA president and chief executive Barry Melancon told attendees that the review program would soon launch a pilot test with the new guidelines in a handful of states where peer review is a requirement.

Toward that end, the institute named Jim Brackens, a Virginia CPA and a member of the institute's peer review committee since 1990, to the post of vice president of peer review. Brackens will begin officially in December and report to Sue Coffey, the institute's senior vice president of member quality and state regulation.

To evolve interstate mobility, which would allow CPAs to gain reciprocity in other states, the AICPA and NASBA have agreed to remove the prohibition and notification requirement of Section 23 of the 1997 Uniform Accountancy Act. Firms that take advantage of mobility would still be subject to enforcement from the board of the state they operate in. Melancon described the efforts as "mobility without the sacrifice of regulatory authority."

At its October meeting, the NASBA board unanimously approved the proposed UAA revisions for an exposure draft with a comment period running through May 15, 2007.

Also included in the agreement was approval to delete Sections 7(i) and 7(j) of the UAA. Under 7(i), a CPA firm can offer services through substantially equivalent personnel licensed in other states without individually notifying the board of accountancy. Under Section 7(j), a CPA firm that does not have a permit in a jurisdiction may file a master notice with NASBA, and that firm's CPAs are exempt from an individual jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction notification requirement.

The AICPA and NASBA started collaborating on substantial equivalency back in the mid-1990s, issuing a revised joint model in the third edition of the UAA in 1998.

The fall meeting also saw the election of Jimmy Williamson, of MDA Professional Group in Alabama, as institute chair for the 2006-2007 year.

Williamson, who pledged to make such issues as financial literacy, diversity, interstate mobility and private-company financial reporting priorities during his tenure, succeeded Leslie Murphy as chair.

Randy Fletchall, vice chairman of Ernst & Young, was elected vice chairman.

Relocation and credentials

Nearly a year after it announced that it was relocating nearly 400 operations and publishing posts from New York and New Jersey to Durham, N.C., the institute reported that roughly half the posts had been filled, with the AICPA's headquarters facility in Durham officially opening in August.

At the conference, the institute announced that its membership total was 330,525, an increase of about 3,000 from last year, with roughly 40 percent of that number currently practicing in public accounting.

In an update on the institute's credentials, Bob Harris, chairman of the AICPA's National Accreditation Commission, said that the Personal Financial Specialist designation, which had a target number of 3,627 holders for July 31, 2006, surpassed that level in May, and now has 3,844 certified holders.

Meanwhile, the Accredited in Business Valuation credential, which has a target of 2,718 holders by July 31, 2008, now has 2,283. The Certified Information Technology Professional credential is aiming to reach 1,732 holders by the same deadline, and currently has 1,036. Harris said that projections indicate that both will reach their targets, and that the marketing focus for the CITP will likely veer from pure IT consulting to "more on the audit side."

Harris also revealed that the institute has resurrected discussions to develop a forensic credential, which initially had been proposed several years ago.

CPA2Biz and taxes

Erik Asgeirsson chief executive of CPA2Biz, the institute's sales and marketing portal, said that on the heels of posting a fiscal 2006 profit of $1.5 million, the site was recently named one of the top 500 online retail sites in the country. He added that 18,500 CPA firms are enrolled in the site's business solutions program, and the team is developing a workshop training tool titled, "Delivering on your most trusted advisor status."

The portal is also readying the spring launch of its next-generation Web site, and the portal has partnered with four companies in areas such as e-commerce, Web traffic, analytics and design.

In a report from Capitol Hill, Tom Ochsenschlager, the institute's vice president of taxation, said that the AICPA's Tax Section this year compiled some 32 position papers and testified before Congress on six occasions. The institute has also banded with the American Bar Association to divine a solution to the recent trend of patenting tax strategies, of which roughly 50 have already received patents, with an additional 80 to 85 patents pending.

Past AICPA chair Bill Ezell, who now serves as president of the AICPA Foundation, said that during the coming year the organization would make inroads in three strategic initiatives: diversity, financial education, and accounting education, with the last addressing the dearth of doctoral candidates.

Ezell told attendees that demand for accounting Ph.Ds was often 40 to 50 percent higher than the number of candidates in the pipeline. The foundation has assembled an advisory group to consider strategies to increase the number of candidates over the next four years.

Noted accounting academic William W. Holder, the Ernst & Young Professor at the University of Southern California and a member of the Governmental Accounting Standards Board, and Ronald S. Cohen, former chairman and chief executive at Indianapolis-based Crowe Chizek and former chair of the AICPA, were this year's recipients of the AICPA's Gold Medal for Distinguished Service.

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