Why I’m Optimistic about the Profession’s Future

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IMGCAP(1)]The American Institute of CPAs recently put forth a proposal with the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants to create a new accounting association while preserving the AICPA and CIMA membership bodies. Some might say, “What’s the need?” The profession continues to score well with key business leaders: 87 percent say that CPAs are valuable to their organization, according to one survey. The number of accounting graduates in the United States is surging. And the institute itself continues to grow in membership, thanks to its focus on services, benefits and advocacy.

Overall, the CPA profession seems to be doing well. and it’s not just perception — we’re thriving.

The issue, though, isn’t about our strength right now. It’s about next year, and the year after that, and decades down the line. I live in a rabid hockey state, Minnesota, and I’m sure many of you are familiar with the Wayne Gretzky quote: “I skate to where the puck is going, not to where it has been.” Is there any question — with the speed of change we’re seeing in business and our profession — that the puck is moving and we have to figure out where it will end up?

Let me give you my take on the AICPA-CIMA proposal. I represent small-firm interests for the AICPA, but my ties to the profession go well beyond the title on my office door. I ran a small tax, audit and consulting firm for many years. My wife is a practicing CPA at a Top 500 firm, and one of my daughters is a CPA at a small firm. I have other family members who are CPAs in business, industry and government. So when it comes to trends and topics in accounting, I’ve got it covered.

To my mind, the AICPA has done an excellent job serving the U.S. accounting profession. And it will continue to do so, no matter the outcome of this proposal. But AICPA members in public accounting practices will be in a better position if the proposal moves forward. Here’s why:

More international influence. To me, this is a critical point. In my small firm, several clients had direct ties to markets in Europe and Japan. Their international activity had a direct impact on our firm addressing their financial and tax reporting needs. The ability for small and midsized CPA firms to compete at home and abroad continues to grow, thanks to technology and specialization. So having a say in international accounting matters is critical.

But even firms who don’t do work outside the U.S. should care about having their interests represented on the international stage. Our accounting standards may be the envy of the world, but we don’t exist in a vacuum. We’ve seen in the debate over reconciling GAAP with IFRS that there are issues such as revenue recognition and lease accounting that don’t have easy resolutions. It’s critical, though, that we’re in the conversation — sitting on the sidelines means burdensome standards could become more commonplace abroad, and impact the regulations we have here at home.

The new association would represent more than 600,000 accounting professionals in 91 percent of the world’s nations. That’s a big voice, and it’s one we need to protect our vision of financial reporting and business leadership in an increasingly connected world.

Evolving firm services. Focusing on core CPA values and embracing management accounting competencies are not antithetical — they’re complementary, and they reflect what’s occurring in the marketplace. Small CPA firms, for example, that specialize in outsourced CFO services, business process outsourcing or other consulting work have told me they often require some management accounting expertise on their staffs to support those practices. The new accounting association reflects a pooling of those strengths.

Enhanced resources. Because of technology, demographics and other forces, the business environment is changing at lightning speed. Together, the AICPA and CIMA can be more efficient and market-driven to keep members ahead of these changes. They will have more agility to anticipate and respond to trends across all areas of practice, providing the resources, insight and education that will help members better serve clients and firms.

Continued focus on the relevance of the CPA credential. It’s important to remember that the new association would preserve the membership bodies of both organizations. AICPA members will still have their interests vigorously represented by the institute in the U.S., with initiatives such as enhancing audit quality, practice analysis, the future of learning, and improvements to the CPA Exam continuing unabated. The AICPA would continue to be led by CPAs and remain steadfast in its commitment to protecting, promoting and growing the CPA brand and the CPA pipeline. AICPA members would simply have additional membership in the organization with CIMA, for no additional annual dues.

The joint venture is just the latest step in what the AICPA has been doing from the very beginning: expanding resources, improving quality in services, advocating for necessary change. There are terrific initiatives underway to secure a healthy pipeline of CPAs and support quality and professional excellence. I’m convinced AICPA members who take the time to weigh the options will come to the same conclusion and vote “Yes” on the new international association. You can learn more by visiting www.aicpa.org/horizons.

Carl Peterson, CPA, CGMA, is vice president, small firms, at the American Institute of CPAs.

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