Lately, we’ve been writing a series of profiles in our newswire about newly-elected state society chairpeople, probing them about their states’ particular concerns as well as their individual goals for the year.
Invariably, they’ve touched on the accounting-related scandals, noting that they will keep a close eye on any legislation brewing in their states that might unfairly try to implement Sarbanes-Oxley type strictures at the state level or on private or nonprofit companies.
They’ve also made it a point to stress that their tenure will involve helping CPAs restore the profession to its once-vaunted stature.
It’s that focus that rubbed one reader the wrong way this week. CPA Archer M. Honea blanched when he read Washington CPA Society incoming president Rob Fleming’s mantra for the coming year – hammering home the point that CPAs must “do the right thing.”
“My clients knew that I was ‘doing the right thing’ when I started as a brand-new, wet-behind-the-ears graduate with an accounting major,” Honea writes. “They knew that I was ‘doing the right thing’ before former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt blew the independence whistle on SEC practice firms. Clients and associates also knew that I was ‘doing the right thing’ and would continue to do so when the BIG GUYS and the AICPA lobbied their congressmen and senators to force Chairman Levitt to back down or else risk de-funding the agency. They continue to know that I will ‘do the right thing’ today. Why should any public figure encourage us to ‘do the right thing?’ It’s as though we are being told in a back-handed way that we haven’t been ‘doing the right thing’ previously. The vast majority of CPAs know differently.”
He’s got a point, but he also misses one. Like it or not, the profession is suffering an extended black eye these days -- and a CPA is a CPA is a CPA. Even if you think you have absolutely nothing in common with a Big Four partner, the world at large – and yes, even your clients – may not see it so clearly. While your clients still trust and admire you, in the back of their minds a niggling doubt may remain about whether, given the right set of circumstances, you might fall prey to the temptation that apparently consumed some accounting professionals at Enron, Andersen and WorldCom.
Perception is reality in the marketplace, and in order to regain the complete and unquestioning trust of the public and their clients, CPAs everywhere should make a concerted effort to open up a dialogue. Talk with your clients about the scandals and about your own values and business ethics, talk to students at high schools and colleges about how as future CPAs they can work to make businesses run better, and don’t ever think you can rest on your laurels. Pride in the profession is a wonderful thing – just don’t let it go before the fall.
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