In each of the three years that I’ve been at the helm of Accounting Today, I’ve written my final column of the year on the premise that what transpired in the accounting profession over the past 365 days couldn’t possibly be topped the following year.

I’m three for three — at being incorrect, that is.

Unlike ESPN’s proprietary “fastest three minutes on TV,” in which the studio hosts are able to cram highlights of at least 10 games in less time than it takes to grab another snack from the kitchen, it would short-change the profession to summarize 2003 that quickly.

At times, events unfolded more quickly than a wide receiver skittering through a jammed secondary.

The year saw sizeable shifts in both the culture and landscape of the profession as a result of the first full year of Sarbanes-Oxley. Sections of that sweeping reform bill, such as 404, 302 and 409, became a stark reality for many firms, as opposed to numerical annotations on another piece of Capitol Hill legislation. The act also reshaped the strategies of said firms, as its independence guidelines forced many to pick or discard client services.

We saw the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board overcome its bumpy origins by naming former Federal Reserve chief William McDonough as its chairman and the well-respected Dr. Douglas Carmichael as its chief auditor.

As of this writing, the board had approved close to 700 firm registrations and has offices in Washington and New York, with a staff of over 100. Okay, I can’t resist: I predict the board will make an example of some firm early in 2004.

Its larger regulatory sibling, the Securities and Exchange Commission, while currently having its hands full with several large mutual fund companies, contracted with not one, but two, executive search firms to beef up its accounting, legal and economic staffs.

But despite the added regulatory presence of the PCAOB, we were painfully reminded that you cannot legislate ethics, as scandals continued to unfold at companies such as HealthSouth and Freddie Mac.

Despite an uneven economy, there were some large regional mergers, led first by New Jersey’s J.H. Cohn and the Videre Group, and, later, a union of Southeastern powerhouses Dixon Odom and Crisp Hughes Evans.

We’ve also seen some stirrings at 1211 Avenue of the Americas. First, there is its ongoing quest to become the standard-setter for non-public issuers, as the PCAOB sort of relieved them of that duty in the public arena. And toward that end, the institute voted to restructure the SEC Practice Section. Second, there was the surprising decision of its governing Council to retain the three specialty designations.

I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb in saying that 2004 will be a pretty fair barometer of the AICPA’s future role in the profession.

Also, you may have noticed that this issue spotlights 2004’s Top 100 technology products for the profession, which we feel may be our most complete roster yet.

I’ll also remind you that our annual Top 100 Firms listing will be out in March, which is not that far away. So if you want your firm to be included, please fill out our survey forms, which have already been sent out. For details on making sure your firm is nominated, check out our ad on page 58.

And, as always, the staff at Accounting Today would like to extend its best wishes for a happy and healthy holiday season.

We’ll visit again in 2004.

Bill Carlino

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