Call me a cockeyed optimist, but I see at least one silver lining in all the brouhaha over the Andersen/Enron scandal - suddenly, accountants are hot. As in powerful, sexy, crafty, and just a little bit dangerous.
This is not your father's CPA.
Gone are the jokes about meek, eyeglass- and green eyeshade-wearing number crunchers. The folks that helped bring down one of the country's largest corporations may turn out to be just as cutthroat as Michael Douglas' character in the film "Wall Street" who preached, you may remember, that "greed is good." And that may not be a bad thing for the profession after all.
Not too long ago, a Reuters story blithely referred to accountants as "glorified bean counters" until someone lodged a complaint. Of the hundreds of Reuters stories written about accounting firms since the Enron scandal broke, the patronizing tone has been replaced with adrenaline-pumped stories racing to track down all the exciting accounting rogues and their nefarious schemes.
This kind of image is probably not what the American Institute of CPAs had in mind when it completed its Vision Project in 1998, in part to shuck off the bean-counter mantle. The vision statement took as a given that "CPAs are the trusted professionals who enable people and organizations to shape their future."
That project defined its purpose as "managing sense of a changing and complex world" and focused mainly on traditional CPA strengths such as translating complex information into something companies could use to make money, and looking over a company's complete picture and translating that back to the company clearly and objectively. It also sought to create new opportunities (for CPAs to make money) and something they called "designing pathways that transform vision into reality" - which I guess meant finding a way to get companies to pay for all their critical thinking skills.
As Big Five firms race to get rid of their consulting businesses, the institute may need to go back to the drawing board on some of those goals. But hey, why not capitalize on current events? They could even spend a few million on a new ad campaign focusing on the thrilling, side of accounting. If nothing else, the new image may help a few lonely CPAs get a date.
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