Accountants’ top technology-related priority is preventing security threats, according to the 25th Anniversary North American Top Technology Initiatives Survey of accountants in the U.S. and Canada.

Conducted jointly by the American Institute of CPAs and Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (CPA Canada) by surveying more than 3,000 accounting professionals, the report also revealed accountants’ concerns about mobile device vulnerabilities and cyber threats.

While protecting IT has been a priority on the U.S. survey for eight of the past 10 years, last year “managing and retaining data” trumped it. This year, that was the second most-reported concern for both U.S. and Canadian respondents.

Nearly half of the U.S. participants think they are taking the right steps to secure the IT environment and 47 percent say they are somewhat to highly confident on that front. The percentage of both respondents is slightly down from last year.

“Information security and privacy protection are critical business issues for the smallest startup to the largest global organization,” stated Joel Lanz, chairman of the AICPA’s Information Management and Technology Assurance section. “This survey underscores that CPAs are keenly aware they have a unique role to play in assessing and managing tech-related security risks though a business lens for clients and employers.”

In this year’s survey, the second conducted jointly by the two organizations, Canadian responses differed a bit from the U.S., with 68 percent confident in their approach to IT security, marking a 12 percentage point increase from 2014.

“Individuals tasked with securing the IT system face a daunting challenge in today’s world full of rapid technological advances,” stated Frank Colantonio, a director with CPA Canada. “A security breach can trigger unpredictable costs so it is not surprising to see professional accountants wanting companies to dedicate resources aimed at protection.”

For U.S. respondents, behind securing IT and managing/retaining data, ensuring privacy was the next most important technology initiative at No. 3, up two spots from last year. “Managing IT risks and compliance” and “preventing and responding to computer fraud” rounded out the top five for the U.S. For accountants in Canada, managing IT risk and compliance was prioritized third, and while that placed it ahead of ensuring privacy, the privacy concern was up from a No. 6 ranking last year.

A majority of U.S. respondents, at 58 percent, said they have a good understanding of the regulatory and compliance requirements on confidentiality of personal information and 60 percent said they have appropriate privacy-related safeguards in place. Accountants in Canada are more confident, with three out of four reporting they have the right privacy safeguards and controls.

Of the 3,061 U.S. survey participants, 39 percent work in public accounting, 36 percent in business and industry and the rest in nonprofit, consulting, education and other sectors. Of the 256 Canada participants, 46 percent work in business and industry, 16 percent in public accounting, 14 percent in government, and the remainder in consulting, nonprofit, education and other sectors.

The full report and more information on the survey methodology are available at the AICPA and CPA Canada sites. 

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