With the start of 2006 here, we took a look at replies from industry leaders when asked in the fall of 2005 if they felt the profession had successfully burnished its reputation and moved beyond the scandals of a few years ago.
Throughout January, WebCPA will post new comment collections each week, featuring thoughts from many of the individuals who made Accounting Today's 2005 Top 100 Most Influential People list.
This week, among others, thoughts from Toby Bishop, president and chief executive of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners; Michael Weatherwax, chairman of the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, CCH Tax and Accounting president and chief executive Kevin Robert; Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Mark Everson and U.S. Comptroller General David Walker.
The accounting profession has improved its image significantly over the past three years. There remains a substantial gap between the reliability of assurance that investors think they are getting from auditors with respect to fraud and the reliability of assurance that auditors are actually providing. Auditors need to close this gap to serve investors effectively and to protect themselves and the profession from further costly cooking-the-books scandals."
-- Toby Bishop, President and CEO, Association of Certified Fraud Examiners
"Public perception of the profession has changed from being highly reputable to being reputationally challenged. Education, both internal and external, will provide the key to changing these perceptions, and ultimately will be what translates businesses' ethical codes into ethical working cultures. We believe we have advanced this cause significantly, but we have further to go."As part of this, we believe that acknowledgement of the need for ethics programs is universal, yet tangible evidence of program implementation and accountability lags behind. I attribute much of this lag to multiple obligations and the timetables imposed by Sarbanes-Oxley. When asked if compliance with a code of ethics is tracked, only 75 percent of companies that have a code said they do periodic checks on adherence, according to a survey Deloitte executed with Corporate Board Member Magazine last year.
"While Sarbanes-Oxley has been a catalyst to the many changes, it will be enhanced ethics programs, education and training that will continue the upswing of restored trust among professional services firms and corporate America.
"It will be the continuous demonstration in action that our profession is reputable and of the highest integrity and quality, while at the same time operating as a successfully managed business that is the career destination of the best and brightest professionals."
-- Barry Salzberg, Managing Partner, Deloitte & Touche USA
"The Canadian accounting profession is fortunate that it didn't suffer the collateral damage of an Enron or WorldCom that was inflicted on our American colleagues. We're fortunate, too, in that Canadians have always had and continue to have a positive image of accountants. I think this comes, in part, from the prominent role accountants play in business. Of the 1,000 top companies in Canada, more than half have chief financial officers who are chartered accountants. In Canada, accountants are respected and trusted leaders."Mind you, the profession doesn't rest on its laurels. For example, Enron wasn't a Canadian scandal, but Canadian accountants recognized that affair could also tar our profession if left unaddressed. That's why within six months of the collapse of the energy giant, before even Congress had passed Sarbanes-Oxley, the Canadian Public Accountability Board was established. This body inspects how accounting firms audit public companies, and can bar a firm from conducting audits if its procedures aren't up to snuff. It's the ultimate sanction, and I think the CPAB goes a long way to help maintain the profession's reputation for integrity.
"In the United States, the profession continues to work at improving its reputation, but it will take some time before accountants are seen in the same trust position as pre-Enron. It would seem that every time the profession takes a step forward, another accounting "scandal" hits the papers, and until those problems are all brought to the public eye, the profession will continue to struggle to restore its reputation."
-- Gordon Lee, President, Association for Accounting Marketing
"No, I believe that the recent tax shelter schemes marketed by the larger firms have perpetuated the reputation of the profession as lacking in ethics and integrity, and motivated more by personal advantage. However, I think that the public is no longer as interested in the image and reputation of the accounting profession, because they incorrectly believe that Sarbanes-Oxley, the PCAOB and new state regulations have solved the problems. This puts a greater burden on the regulators of the profession. They still have to protect the public, even though the public is not fully aware that they need that protection."
-- Michael Weatherwax, 2005-06 Chair, National Association of State Boards of Accountancy
"By no means has the profession moved beyond the scandals of a few years ago. The litigation fall-out is still a part of our daily news and a constant reminder of the profession's tattered past. The good news is we are moving forward persistently and with determination at putting mechanisms in place to reduce the likelihood of future scandals, and the penalties for the crimes prosecuted have, in my opinion, generally been harsh enough to serve as a healthy deterrent to those individuals in a position of influence who might be tempted to walk down the same greedy path as their predecessors."
-- Parnell Black, CEO, National Association of Certified Valuation Analysts
"The profession has made great strides in improving its reputation and, as the truth becomes evident, very few in the profession were responsible for acts that discredited the entire profession. With that said, it is important that the leadership of the profession provides for diversified service offerings based upon client dangers, opportunities and strengths. By doing so, the profession will continue to provide value and grow."
-- Gary Boomer, CEO, Boomer Consulting
"Clearly, the profession has made significant strides in regaining the public's trust in the accounting industry after the scandals of the recent past by placing even greater emphasis on integrity, independence, transparency and accountability. The profession must continue to demonstrate its commitment to these principles to more fully support the accountant's reputation and role as essential to business and as a most-trusted financial guardian."The challenges will, however, be ongoing, and professionals' integrity will tested time and again. As professionals will no doubt continue to face pressure from clients and competition to be aggressive and push the envelope, they must be vigilant in ensuring their guidance is informed and ethical. They must know where the line is, and be willing not to step over it.
"Professional organizations also have an important role to play in continuing to work on winning over the court of public opinion. The AICPA and other professional organizations must continue to be vocal in reinforcing positive progress in the accountant's role of improving corporate governance, as well as shunning bad practices. The profession must continue to distinguish what you could do from what you should do.
-- Kevin Robert, President and CEO, CCH Tax and Accounting
"Yes. The CPA profession has successfully moved pass the scandals of a few years ago."
-- Erik Asgeirsson, President and CEO, CPA2Biz
"There is still progress to be made. The burden that Sarbanes-Oxley has placed on many companies is yet another cost of doing business in the U.S. An accountability "tax" can be improved by enforced processes, but the best safeguards are ethical leaders."
-- Doug Burgum, Senior Vice President, Microsoft
"The self-inflicted wounds to the reputation of accountants were real and serious. Progress is being made, but more must be done and it will be some time before the credibility of the profession is fully restored."
-- Mark Everson, Commissioner, Internal Revenue Service
"Yes and no. Congress and the profession (led by the American Institute of CPAs) have enacted various controls and standards to strengthen investor confidence by enhancing audit quality. Sarbanes-Oxley, the new fraud standard SAS 99, additional training and initiatives are examples of strategies designed to increase financial statement integrity through CPAs' higher awareness and accountability. Through publicity of these reforms and the (hoped for) resulting improvement in financial statement accuracy, the public should have a renewed faith in the profession."However, the public was significantly harmed and shaken by the scandals of a few years ago. The magnitude of these events cannot be overcome by a quick fix; thus, full re-establishment of the profession's reputation will likely take many years."
-- Sheryl Rowling, Managing Partner, Rowling, Dold & Associates
"Most definitely the industry is on an upswing. The tenor of the accounting industry is more positive than in years past."
-- Mark Schlageter, Executive Vice President and COO, Thomson Tax & Accounting
"I think the majority of corporate America has faith in the profession and its members, but I'm not sure that the general public has seen that the damage was done by just a scintilla of the profession and that everyone else in the CPA community is working hard to earn the trust of their clients."
-- Dana "Rick" Richardson, CEO, Richardson Media & Technologies
"The profession has taken some big steps forward, but we still have a ways to go. Among other things, the profession is making significant progress in fraud detection (introducing, for example, forensic procedures into everyday audits), insisting upon independent and thorough investigations where potential evidence of fraud has surfaced, and demonstrated a steadfast determination to withhold audit reports under appropriate circumstances. At the same time, the profession is appropriately raising audit fees in response to societal demands for enhanced fraud detection. All of this has the profession heading in the right direction."I do think that the profession has benefited from the passing of time and the positive messaging and savvy public relations work intended to rebuild the image of the CPA. Most importantly, I think that the profession has benefited from what was always true - that the majority of the profession's members act with integrity and with their clients' or employer's well-being in mind. The public has been able to discern the difference between the widely-reported unscrupulous few and the under-appreciated, hard-working local practitioners and industry accountants that make up the majority of this trusted profession, and their confidence and continued reliance is evidence of this."
-- Jennifer Lee Wilson, Co-Founder and Owner, ConvergenceCoaching
"Yes, as a matter of fact, the reputation in the small and medium-sized business category was not significantly damaged. Partners in those firms have more direct contact with clients and reputation is more important at the person-to-person level, anyway. The National Federation of Independent Businesses surveyed their members in 2002 and found the CPA is the most-trusted business consultant."All professions -- law, medicine, clergy -- have had their scandals, and I think the accounting industry's scandals have been minor compared to others."
-- Troy Waugh, CEO, The Rainmaker Academy
"The profession has worked in earnest to address the issues that contributed to the scandals of the recent past, and these efforts have been successful. The profession responded aggressively and, appropriately, now works to ensure continuous improvements are made to better detect and solve the underlying business issues."By holding itself accountable for problems of the past and being proactive in ensuring those mistakes are not repeated, the profession has emerged from scandal even stronger. Today's CPA is playing a more important and prominent role as a strategic partner in corporate America, and by working more closely with the corporation and its audit committee, accountants are providing greater confidence to the investment community."
-- Mike Sabbatis, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, CCH Tax and Accounting
"I think we have made great strides in this area. Certainly the resolution of pending legal cases and promulgation of new regulations and enforceable ethical standards brings some closure to festering uncertainties. But I sense a greater level of awareness among practitioners and students alike that they are part of shared enterprise and public trust.The phrase 'moving beyond the scandals' implies that they are gone and in the past. The real value is that the lessons learned are now part of our operating processes. The danger that remains, though, is that the public and regulators continue to expect more than can be provided and that over-regulation creates disincentives for bright people to enter and stay in the profession."
-- Thomas J. Purcell, Associate Professor of Accounting and Professor of Law, Creighton University
"I believe that the profession has made progress, but more work remains to be done. CPAs hold a public trust and, as such, they should seek to continuously improve the profession and act in a manner consistent with the overall public interest."
-- David Walker, U.S. Comptroller General
"Yes and no. I think certainly given the scandals in the auditing industry a few years ago, the industry and the regulators have done a lot of work connected with ethics, corporate responsibility, quality control and independence standards. However, there is still much work to be done in this arena, especially as stakeholders' needs fluctuate and the market shifts. The profession also must be mindful of the costs that additional regulators place on the market, especially middle-market companies."
-- Steven Tait, President, RSM McGladrey Business Services
"It is difficult to say whether accounting scandals are behind us or have been reduced. They will never be entirely eliminated, but strides have been made in improving the credibility and reliability of accounting data. The passage of Sarbanes-Oxley has altered the playing field. Although many corporate directors chafe under its mandate, it has resulted in increased scrutiny of accounting data, tightened internal controls, greater transparency in financial data, more rigorous audits, and a profoundly increased diligence on the part of auditors, corporate executives and boards. Accordingly, those miscreants bent on deceiving the public will find it more difficult to perpetrate their nefarious schemes and massive fraud."
-- Diane Rubin, Partner, Novogradac & Co.
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