I recently had the pleasure of speaking at the Missouri Society of CPAs' annual MAP conference. Like most regional MAP confabs, many attendees hailed from smaller-sized firms and thus struggled with small firm issues.

Yet one of the most passionate complaints I heard during my two days in America's heartland was that the American Institute of CPAs, in particular, seemed insensitive to the problems that affected for example, a single practitioner. And as for the Big Four, well, they weren't even on the same radar screen when it came to critical issues.

Since I'm not a small practitioner, nor a member of the institute, I can't objectively comment, or, as a former U.S. President was fond of saying , "Feel your pain."

But the folks from the "Show Me" state may be on to something with this Big Four thing.

Last week, Deloitte & Touche chief executive James Copeland said in a speech delivered before a Dallas business group, that these are tough times for the profession and he's worried about the profession's ability to attract quality people.


Now Mr. Copeland's reputation precedes him as a top executive, but exactly when did he come to the realization that many firms by and large are short-staffed?

Is it the fact that an exponential number of firms are using para-professionals to do basic accounting work, or is it the severe industry-wide drought of professionals with four-to-eight years' experience -- the backbone of many practices.

Perhaps it's studies such as the ones conducted by noted professors Sack and Albrecht that show a dwindling number of students pursuing accounting over the last 10 years or so?

How about the institute's $25 million program to help spur accounting education?

Copeland said that the tandem of litigation and professional liability "would frighten away the people we need most to restore faith in the capital markets."

What was left unsaid and perhaps deliberately so was the fact that his firm and the rest of what was the Big Five before Andersen folded, played no small part in causing that loss of investor faith with failed audits.

He noted the demise of Andersen as a result of the Enron fiasco has scared people away from Deloitte's partnership. The bigger question would be what is going to happen to his partnership when the investigation into Adelphia -- D&T's former audit client -- finally plays out? Talk about your recruiting problems.

Perhaps top execs at the Big Four should be required to undergo a two-week refresher course at a small firm to re-familiarize themselves with accounting at the grass-roots level. Then maybe the problems of the smaller accounting firm won't seem like breaking news.

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