Unless your mail carrier is Edward Scissorhands, you’ve no doubt noticed that this issue contains our annual Top 100 Most Influential People in Accounting.

And with that invariably comes the rapid-fire page turning to find out just who made the 2003 list.

Since this is the third year I’ve been involved with the project, I’m prepared for the ensuing flood of phone calls and e-mails from past and potential candidates about just why they were excluded from this year’s roster.

My first experience was when an unhappy reader charged me with accepting money to ensure a place on the list. Trust me, as the owner of a three-year old Hyundai, and a closet devoid of Brioni or Gucci labels, I can assure you that no unmarked envelopes are ever sent to my office.

Yet, in my relatively brief tenure heading this project, I’ve always found the candidates’ responses to our survey questions by far the most interesting aspect of this feature.

This year, we polled the profession’s Most Influential and asked them point blank: What yardstick would you use to measure the success of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board? The answers, not surprisingly, were as diverse as the candidates themselves.

Some responded with brief, garden-variety answers such as, “Regaining confidence in financial statements and in the public markets.” Others, meanwhile, dashed off terse, cynical replies proclaiming that no oversight body, regardless of how much power it is given, can effectively stem the tide of corporate fraud -- sort of the “You can’t legislate morality” train of thought. One candidate even surmised that the government would dream up its own criteria to claim victory over fraud, while still others submitted near-dissertations with precise evaluations and quantitative tiers to accurately measure the board’s success.

But as with any new organization, it’s difficult to measure success without the benefit of historical comparison.

From a purely personal standpoint, I feel that for anyone to declare victory for the board’s mission statement, it would probably have to include elements from many of our Top 100 respondents’ answers.

First, I have little doubt that the board -- as it embarks on the arduous process of firm inspections - will bring about a marked improvement on the profession.

And with just about one month to go before the Oct. 22 deadline for firm registration, you can probably expect to see a logjam of last-minute applications. Either that, or we’ll see an unusually large exodus from public auditing.

However, the board would have to show results from their inspections, and, as I’ve predicted before, we can probably expect them to make an example of someone early on.

Will audit failures decrease? Probably. But I feel it would be just a little unfair to expect the PCAOB to eradicate in one year what has been allowed to flourish for decades in the era formerly known as self-regulation.

Confidence in the public markets? Yes, that would be nice, but it would probably take a collaborative effort between several regulators and Wall Street.

As most firms know, the board has sent out invoices for its services, and it’s always easier to cough up money when you know you’re getting something in return - by any measuring stick.

Bill Carlino

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