Stuart Kessler, the new chairman of the board of the American Institute of CPAs, characterizes himself as the quintessential CPA—his firm, Goldstein Golub Kessler & Co. in New York City, of which he is the senior tax partner, is extremely diverse; he loves working with people; and he leads an active life outside of the office. Believing the vast majority of CPAs are just as well rounded as he, Kessler is committed to breaking the stereotype of the CPA as number cruncher.
Getting the word out about the multifaceted CPA is not new to Kessler. The former president of the New York State Society of CPAs has plenty of experience visiting the professions local chapters and talking to the grass-roots members about the opportunities that await those with a vision for the future. He is an outspoken advocate with a strong interest in distinguishing the CPA from the morass of business managers and financial consultants. According to Kessler, CPAs have an image—backed by the training, core values and public reputation for honesty and integrity—that is second to none. He plans to use that image as his platform to promote the value-added CPA and reposition the profession for the twenty-first century.
IMAGINE THE FUTURE
What are the new opportunities for CPAs in the next century? According to Kessler, it depends on the needs of the marketplace. In an interview with the Journal , Kessler said one of his main projects will be to appeal to the professions grass roots to focus today on the future in order to determine what the market will need tomorrow.
To do this, Kessler stands strongly behind the CPA Vision Project—a major initiative already under way—to create a comprehensive vision of the future. "We can prepare the CPA profession for change if we get members to imagine what they will be doing in 2012 and what kind of tools they will need to get there."
The Vision Project is a massive effort to gather as much information and as many thoughts, insights and ideas as possible from CPAs across the nation through market research, focus groups and future forums. Future forums are brainstorming sessions where approximately 25 CPAs representing all segments of the profession consider the world and the accounting profession as it will be in 15 years. According to Kessler, as many as 160 of these forums already are planned throughout the 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. Most important to Kessler is that the project is being lead by the entire profession, including the AICPA, state societies, associations of accounting firms and financial professionals in industry. There will be a final report, but he emphasized that it will not be some thick tome that is shelved and forgotten. "It will serve as a roadmap for the future and a platform on which the professions activities will be integrated and launched," said Kessler. "In the face of an information technology boom and intense competition from non-CPAs, it is imperative we stay ahead of the curve by creating our own future. The Vision Project will help us do just that."
NEW TOOLS FOR TODAY
To get a head start on preparing for the future, CPAs must take advantage of the new services available to them right now. "For example, the AICPA committee working on assurance services arrived at six new ways CPAs can expand the attest function and make assurance services more relevant," said Kessler.
The first of these services, CPA WebTrust, was formally launched in September. (See "WebTrust Is First Assurance Service," of this issue.) "It is the perfect niche for CPAs because it provides Internet users with a third-party seal of approval (like the Good Housekeeping one)," said Kessler. CPAs will examine a given Web site using a set of criteria developed jointly by the AICPA and the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants to provide assurance about the sites business practices, transaction integrity, privacy and security. The CPA will then place the CPA WebTrust seal on the pages of the clients Web site.
"This is just one of the ways CPAs can guide the public through the vast array of available information." Kessler said the other new assurance opportunities include ElderCare, Health Care Effectiveness, Systems Reliability, Performance Measures and Risk Assessment. "Some sole practitioners may think these services are only for the larger firms," said Kessler. "The truth is, sole practitioners and small firms are likely to benefit the most from service opportunities such as ElderCare and WebTrust."
Specialization. Kessler also believes that as the profession redefines itself, CPAs must be willing to pursue new accreditations for certain specialties, such as the personal financial specialist (PFS), which has existed for approximately 10 years, and the accredited in business valuation (ABV) designations. "If CPAs had the opportunity to earn the PFS accreditation 20 years ago, we wouldnt have to remind the public today that CPAs are the premier financial planners," said Kessler. A PFS himself, Kessler said he supports all efforts to find new specialties for accreditation.
MORE FOR INDUSTRY MEMBERS
Kessler sees diverse opportunities in store for CPAs in business and industry. "There exists an important, expanding role for CPAs in corporations who want to contribute directly to the bottom line," said Kessler. One new service opportunity—known as the New Finance—is giving the 140,000 industry members the chance to provide upper management with strategic financial analysis and decision support. The New Finance specifically challenges CPAs to
- Provide imaginative, dynamic planning.
- Gain an appreciation for the companys reason for being.
- Develop new tools for managing opportunity, risk and return.
- Streamline business processes and enhance human performance.
- Bring more rationality, discipline, control and validation to business decisions.
"The New Finance CPA is a great example of what I consider the true image of the CPA," said Kessler. "He or she is a well-rounded, versatile and effective manager who understands the whole operation and is able to create value, not just measure it."
Perhaps the most important image of the CPA is that of protector of the public interest. To strengthen that image Kessler will work with the Securities and Exchange Commission and the newly formed Independence Standards Board (ISB) to safeguard auditor independence. "As auditors enter into new service areas, independence issues must be revisited," said Kessler. "I expect the ISB to develop a new set of more flexible rules that both safeguard independence and allow auditors to engage in new services that can enhance the audit function."
Kessler also believes the profession must continue to be active in Washington on public policy issues, such as those on Social Security reform, tax simplification and the restructuring of the Internal Revenue Service. "The professions presence in Washington not only underscores the CPAs role in serving the public interest, but it also enhances the CPA image among national and world leaders," said Kessler.
On the state level. Kessler also will be working with the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) to promote a common standard for professional regulation. He lauded the efforts of the AICPA/NASBA joint committee on regulation of the profession to revise the Uniform Accountancy Act (UAA), which was formed to share concepts and ideas of each organization and to develop consensus on some significant new regulatory changes. Kessler said the revisions to the UAA should enhance interstate reciprocity and practice areas across state lines by CPAs, meet future needs of the profession, respond to the marketplace and, most important, protect the public the profession serves.
A newly formed AICPA/NASBA national steering committee—chaired by Kathy G. Eddy, who served on the joint committee and the AICPA special committee on regulation and structure of the profession and Will J. Pugh, chairman of the Tennessee State Board of Accountancy and regional director of NASBAs Southeast region—will take over the implementation of the revised act.
MORE DIVERSE TALENT
To stay competitive, the new chairman believes the profession must continue to attract the most talented students. While supporting the adoption of the 150-hour education requirement to sit for the Uniform CPA Examination by the Year 2000, he said it was important for younger students to understand just how diverse CPAs really are. "As president of the New York state society, I started a program in which CPAs visited New York State high schools at least once a year to explain what the profession was about," said Kessler. In fact, he still visits Ardsley high school in Westchester County, New York, where he lives and plans to examine ways to get more CPAs involved in teaching at the high school level.
Another of his priorities is the AICPA minority initiatives committees mission to persuade more minorities to become CPAs. Because minority accounting professionals and educators are severely underrepresented in the profession, he wants to ensure there are sufficient supports—such as special scholarships, leadership workshops and work with other minority accounting associations (for example, the National Association of Black Accountants and the American Association of Hispanic Certified Public Accountants)—to build a more diverse profession.
THE CPA OF TOMORROW
Kessler wants to dispel the old CPA stereotypes. "There are no more accountants with green eyeshades and rolled-up sleeves," he said. "This is a marvelous profession, which has the public interest in mind, and I am dedicated to ensuring that people understand this."
According to Kessler, one way of enhancing the CPA image is to change what the letters CPA stand for. He proposes calling CPAs certified professional advisers because he believes the term more closely reflects the competencies that set the profession apart. "I would like to change public to professional because over 50% of our members work outside of public practice and the term is confusing. Who does public refer to, the consumer, client or service provider? and I would replace accountant with adviser , because adviser conjures up a better image of what CPAs do for clients, and its what will set us apart now and in the 21st century," said Kessler.
Kessler is a leader by example. Besides holding top positions in the New York state society, he has served on the AICPA special committee on governance and structure and was chairman of the personal financial planning executive committee, the committee on committee operations and the responsibilities in tax practice committee.
No less important to Kessler, who is also an attorney, are his interests outside of the office. A long-distance runner, gardener, cook, music aficionado, and photographer, he collects coins, stamps and headlines and is a student of history. He and his wife Isabel of over 41 years have raised three sons—Jeffrey, a baker, Glenn, a forest ranger, and Brad, a writer.
It is no surprise, then, to learn that Kessler plans to use his experience as a CPA to help the profession invent a prosperous future. "I urge CPAs to identify their own core values and competencies as of today so they can best decide how to leverage them in tomorrows business world."
JOHN VON BRACHEL is a Journal news editor. Mr. von Brachel is an employee of the American Institute of CPAs and his views, as expressed in this article, do not necessarily reflect the views of the AICPA. Official positions are determined through certain specific committee procedures, due process and deliberation.