The Future — It Is Us

CPAs get a tool to help them make their vision a reality.
BY JOYCE THOMAS


For those of you who believe time travel is impossible, more than 3,400 CPAs are willing to prove you wrong. These voyagers fast-forwarded to the future in the initial phase of the CPA Vision Process, a massive grass-roots effort by the accounting profession to reposition itself for the challenges it will face in the 21st century and the first time any American profession has engaged in a visioning project of such magnitude.

Bound into this issue of the Journal is a special report, CPA Vision 2011 and Beyond: Focus on the Horizon , detailing why the process was launched and how the profession came together to identify an exciting and invigorating future for all CPAs. The report is not merely an after-the-fact account of what happened. It's a tool to help CPAs in all segments of the profession tackle a very different future and determine how they'll fit into it.

WHY VISIONING?
As the century concludes, its clear that the massive changes in the business world will only accelerate as technological innovations, unexpected commercial alliances, industry transformations and a host of powerful social forces continue to permeate the global community. In this environment, the CPA profession has focused with objectivity and analytical insight on its own challenges:

  • The number of new non-CPA competitors not bound by the professions code of ethics is increasing rapidly.

  • The perceived value of the cornerstones of the profession, audit and tax compliance, is declining.

  • The world is growing more borderless all the time and people all over are demanding new, more complex and real-time financial advice and services.

  • Fewer and fewer young people are selecting the CPA profession as their life's work.

  • Very few CPAs are aware of how diverse the members of the profession are in terms of skills, ideas and focus, and how much potential they represent.

For More Information on the CPA Vision Process

To find out more about the vision and how to implement it:

  • Contact Leigh Knopf at the AICPA at 212-596-6132 or your state society.
  • Visit the CPA Vision Web site, www.cpavision.org . It contains a wide range of vision-related information, including the latest updates on programs and initiatives.

  • Technological developments are rewriting the rules of business and threatening to leave behind all who do not stay current.

THE PROFESSION RESPONDS
Confronted with such issues, the profession could have chosen to wait and see what unfolded, carrying on business as usual. Instead, CPAs decided to embrace change and used the CPA Vision Process as the mechanism for creating a future in which they would be in a good position to turn the challenges of the new business world into opportunities.

A coalition of the AICPA and CPA societies of all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands spearheaded the process to come up with a realistic assessment of what the future is likely to hold for the profession and to define how CPAs can best maintain and expand their roles as leaders in commerce, business and finance. Phase 1 of the CPA Vision Process included

  • Research and development.
  • Future Forums.
  • The National Future Forum.
  • A transition to the strategic planning and implementation phase.

Each stage led toward the ultimate goal of a Core Purpose and Vision Statement created by and for CPAs.

REPLACING MYOPIA WITH FORESIGHT
Research and Development. In this stage, the CPA Vision Process pinpointed the forces most likely to have an impact on the profession in the early part of the next century and divided them into six areas: political, economic, social, technological, human resources and regulatory.

The first research was conducted to obtain a baseline snapshot of the profession today. Included were phone interviews and focus groups designed to elicit views about the CPA profession. A cross-section of CPAs, users of CPA services, leaders inside and outside the profession and students were contacted. Here is a sampling of the findings:

  • In focus groups held across the country and across all segments of the profession, CPAs affirm that trust, credibility, quality and flexibility are key elements of the CPA designation. They also indicate their awareness of the effects of change, specifically technological change, and the resulting pressures they feel to expand their skills.

  • Owners of small businesses and affluent Americans have an overwhelmingly high level of satisfaction with the integrity, thoroughness, knowledge and ability of CPAs. However, a large majority, more than 70%, do not perceive CPAs as a source of valued additional services.

  • Influential professionals and leaders in business, education and government believe in the talents and capabilities of the CPA professional but emphasize the necessity for CPAs to become more multi-skilled in a wide range of financial and nonfinancial areas in order to meet future challenges.

  • Students who are currently working toward business-related degrees in areas other than accounting perceive CPAs to be intelligent yet involved in minor, tedious and methodical tasks. Additionally, they believe CPAs are not involved in the decision-making aspects of business and do not understand global economic issues.

Again, after the vision for the profession had been crafted, these four groups were interviewed. Their response was overwhelmingly positive, with the majority indicating that the CPA vision, if realized, would describe a profession vital to global economic welfare, as well as a highly appealing career choice for the best and brightest students of tomorrow.

PLOTTING A SUCCESSFUL JOURNEY
Future Forums. The research and development stage paved the way for the Future Forums, the most critical aspect of phase 1. The research provided forum participants with a comprehensive picture of the future in which they and their successors would operate. More than 3,400 CPAs from all areas of the profession, from 53 states and jurisdictions, came together in small groups to reach consensus on how CPAs could retain professional relevance in a future that would only minimally mirror the past. At 177 forums, participants took part in a variety of visioning exercises including trend analysis, scenario planning and identification of future values, services, competencies and issues.

Their efforts identified those values, services, competencies and issues that would be of greatest importance to the profession during the early part of the next century. In essence, Future Forum participants wove a lifeline to the future and laid the foundation on which the vision would be built.

National Future Forum. The series of grass-roots forums culminated in January 1998 in the National Future Forum, attended by a core group of delegates each state society had selected. The delegates were charged with consolidating the research findings and grass-roots input into a unified Core Purpose and Vision Statement for the profession.

FROM VISION TO REALITY
Strategic Planning and Implementation. The Vision Statement, its top-five elements and the Core Purpose mark the beginning of a professional evolution, which is now entering its strategic implementation phase. To ensure the continuation of the grass-roots tenor of the Vision Process, a national CPA Vision Team, comprising delegates from the National Future Forum, executive directors from various state societies and AICPA staff, has been created.

The CPA Vision Team will facilitate the implementation of the vision by working with organizations and leaders to identify needs and encourage collaborative development of tools to support the profession through the transformation.

CPAs can look forward, in the months ahead, to a number of initiatives that are intended to help them better understand and meet the demands the next century will place on them. The May 1999 issue of the Journal will include the CPA Vision CD-ROM. It will allow CPAs to interactively explore, at their own pace, the Vision Process, access an electronic library of vision-related materials and begin determining how the vision will affect their professional lives.

IF YOU DONT MANAGE CHANGE, IT WILL MANAGE YOU
The CPA Vision, the result of thousands of hours of CPA involvement and participation, identifies pathways for the profession that are based on the CPAs time-honored traditions of integrity and competence. As more and more CPAs accept and act to meet the challenge of implementing the vision, the benefits to the profession and, more important, to the public will proliferate:

  • The public interest will be served with greater breadth and depth.

  • The CPA heritage of competence and objectivity will be broadened and greatly enhanced.

  • CPAs will maintain and extend their leadership as trustworthy advisers to their clients, customers and employers.

  • Opportunities will abound for the expansion of services and capabilities.

  • CPAs will harness technology, freeing themselves from the drudgery of rote, repetitive tasks so they can focus on stepping up the value they offer to clients, customers and employers in decision making and strategic analysis.

  • CPAs, combining old values with new competencies, will enjoy a virtually unbeatable competitive advantage.

But exactly how each individual CPA goes about transforming the vision into successful reality is as personal as a fingerprint. Each CPA must chart his or her own course of action. The attached report outlines tools and techniques for facilitating and managing the change and more aids the AICPA and state CPA societies will develop.

At this critical moment in the history of the profession, every CPA needs to ask, Am I ready to change? The Vision Process has shown that there is only one answer to that question, yes; and the reason is survival.

JOYCE THOMAS is a New York – based freelance writer and corporate communications consultant specializing in financial services and publishing.

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