Challenging the institute membership to rally behind such profession-centric issues as International Financial Reporting Standards, sustainability and reform, Robert Harris, the 2009-2010 chair of the AICPA, told attendees at the organization’s fall meeting of council here that they “must set a course around, and sometimes through, uncharted waters,” amidst a current of economic and regulatory uncertainty.

During his luncheon keynote, Harris told conference-goers that his term as institute chair will focus on the “sea changes” going on in the profession such as IFRS, re-regulation of financial services, the importance of sustainability to both the profession and the economy, and the need to encourage young CPAs to become involved in the profession.

“Thinking globally is no longer a luxury,” Harris said during a luncheon keynote. “It is a necessity. International Financial Reporting Standards are coming to America. In today’s environment you can’t have a stock offering accounted for in Boston differently than it’s accounted for in Beijing or Belgium.”

Harris said that although the timeline for IFRS may be uncertain, and the phase-in may take years, the CPA profession must be ready in terms of education and preparedness.
Harris, managing director at the Vero Beach, Fla., firm of Harris, Cotherman, Jones, Price & Associates, became the 97th chairman of the AICPA.

With regard to the “triple bottom line” of sustainability, the new institute chair said that it adds two considerations to a company’s traditional bottom line of economic viability – “social responsibility and environmental stewardship.”

Harris explained that sustainability gives CPAs the opportunity to advise companies on strategies to reduce the size of their environmental footprint as well as “developing systems to capture information related to sustainability.”

Harris, who has referred to the economic downslide as our “Financial 9-11,” said that reform rules for financial institutions are needed, but also ones that balance entrepreneurial spirit with fiduciary responsibility.

He encouraged members, especially younger members, to volunteer for institute committees.

“I’ve checked the bylaws and there is no gray hair, white hair or even hair requirement for membership on an AICPA committee,” he quipped.

The institute also released its annual financials, which showed a net loss of $20.4 million, citing lower net operating revenue and a decline in conference and advertising revenues. For fiscal 2009, the AICPA had assets of $230 million and liabilities of $220 million. The institute said market volatility impacted the value of assets lodged in the AICPA’s defined pension plan, resulting in pension and post-retirement charges of $27.7 million. The institute will freeze the pension plan in 2017. Meanwhile, its marketing and services portal subsidiary, CPA2Biz, posted net income of $400,000.

Institute membership in fiscal 2009 rose to roughly 360,000, a 27,000-member increase year-over-year.

Also at the fall conference, the institute awarded its 2009 Gold Medal for Distinguished Service to William F. Ezell. Ezell, who served as AICPA chair from 2002-2003, is national managing partner of legislative and regulatory relations in the Washington office of Deloitte.

Former Financial Accounting Foundation chair Robert Denham was given the AICPA’s Medal of Honor. Denham, a public member of the institute’s Professional Ethics Executive Committee, is a partner in the Los Angeles-based law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson.

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