The Enron debacle and general debate over auditor independence has shown one thing. The American Institute of CPAs, with its 330,000 members, is a body that has little public recognition. Its lack of an image is largely the result of its own policies-it has a president who seems loathe to deal with the press except on his own terms. In many cases, the AICPA either declines comment on major stories, or it simply seems invisible-the national press does not turn to this organization because the AICPA has chosen not to participate in public debate or to establish its own authority.
For the AICPA to be an effective membership organization, it needs to develop an image of importance to the business community and the public at large. To take its rightful place as the body representing CPAs, it needs to embark on a program that brings more power to its membership by presenting an image of authority about accounting and business issues.
The president of the AICPA should be a visible figure in public policy, a spokesman for the organization's members, and for the broader profession, the tax, accounting, and finance professionals who are outside of its membership.
It has always seemed to me that the AICPA has great assets that it has failed to utilize because its focus has been on erecting grandiose visions, rather than laying a groundwork of accomplishable goals from which these visions might be implemented.
For example, while the AICPA has trumpeted the importance of CPAs as technologists, it has done little to build that image. One of the real wastes has been the annual selection of Top Ten Technologies. The results of this selection should have been established as an annual event awaited eagerly by the business press. Instead, the Top Ten process has gotten lost in the emphasis on the global credential, CPA2Biz, and bailing out auditors.
But it's not enough to have a president who is visible. The AICPA should establish executives and staff members at different levels as visible authorities, spokespeople who can articulate policy and programs to the press and serve as ambassadors to the public.
I have always believed that one key to Great Plains' success was allowing staff members at many levels to speak publicly. It made Great Plains accessible. It gave the company a personal face and by having many voices, it gave the company a more efficient way of spreading its message, than if it had concentrated its public pronouncements in one or two top people.
It's not clear that the AICPA understands how little it is recognized beyond its membership. Nor does it seem to me that members understand the need for a broader image. But that need is there. And the organization's ability to serve its members can be furthered greatly if that need is met.
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