In his inaugural speech at the American Institute of CPAs Fall Council meeting here, incoming chairman Robert L. Bunting detailed his priorities for the coming year and called on his fellow CPAs to not only embrace change, but to initiate it.
Bunting, who recently stepped down as chairman and chief executive of Seattle-based Moss Adams LLP, took over the top volunteer spot at the institute on Tuesday, succeeding S. Scott Voynich.
"Great professions don't just accept change," Bunting said in remarks to Council members. "They don't just embrace change. Great professions initiate change -- for their own good, for the public good and for the sake of the future."
Bunting urged Council members to increase transparency in the institute's peer review process. The AICPA's Professional Ethics Executive Committee proposed granting greater access -- either by the public or by state boards -- to peer review information. Council members back in May voted to support the proposal and directed the AICPA to undertake a member education process as a prelude to a vote of the full membership, which would be required for such a change to take effect.
Bunting noted that peer review was designed "as an educational and remedial program" to strengthen quality control and correct deficiencies, and wasn't intended to be punitive. "Members expected confidentiality in the process -- and the AICPA delivered that," he said. "But what was accepted as confidentiality in the past is seen as secrecy today. And it is no longer tenable."
"Transparency is more important than ever, because a wider universe of people have come to rely on peer review, including regulators and clients in ever increasing numbers," he continued. "We have succeeded in earning respect for peer review. Now we must open it up to the people who have invested confidence in it."
Bunting noted that 46 of the 54 states and territories either require peer review as a condition of licensure, give the state board of accountancy authority to do so, or are considering moving in that direction.
"My goal as chairman is to at least bring our members into greater awareness of the opportunity to move further along the road to a great profession. And it is my hope that you and CPAs across the country will eventually carry this legacy forward through a successful member referendum."
Bunting also stressed the importance of building bridges with regulators and government bodies. "The AICPA must find the balance between serving the needs of clients, representing the interests of stakeholders and responding to the legitimate public-interest concerns of our real and would-be regulators," he said. "Our challenge is to ensure that we have a seat at every table when laws and regulations are made."
He noted that the CPA profession must continue in its responsibility to provide understandable, reliable and transparent information for decision-makers, and should serve the public interest by offering its expertise to help inform policy-makers and educate the public, via efforts such as the institute's 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy effort.
"As a great profession, we must also renew ourselves," said Bunting. "This means bringing in new blood -- young, bright and committed professionals who can carry our legacy forward."
Citing statistics showing that 2003 accounting program enrollments were up 17 percent from 2000 and graduation rates in accounting were up 11 percent from 2002 to 2003, Bunting added, "This surge couldn't come at a better time, since there will be a huge need for talent as the leading edge of the Boomer generation begins to retire and as the resource needs of the profession grow in the post-Sarbanes-Oxley environment."
Finally, Bunting cited the need to move forward with the Enhanced Business Reporting project to "fully test the appetite of the user community for a more comprehensive reporting model" and to resolve once and for all the question of differential accounting standards for public and private companies.
"It must be a priority for the AICPA to find the right way in this marketplace, with the active involvement of the various stakeholders of private company financial reporting," he said.
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