Questioning Change

The February 1998 Journal of Accountancy contains an article based on a speech delivered by AICPA President Barry C. Melancon at the Microsoft Partners' Conference under the title "A Path for the Future" (page 82). The ideas expressed in it are thought-provoking and disturbing.

In my opinion, the views expressed in the speech may inadvertently destroy the prestige and stature the accounting profession has achieved during the past century. Mr. Melancon apparently believes that the "marketplace" should determine the accounting profession's future and refers to American Express's appetite to acquire local CPA firms as a "marketplace" response. Mr. Melancon does not criticize American Express's predatory onslaught. He may accept, by default, American Express's "one-stop shopping," but he should not proselytize that well-qualified accounting firms are now obsolete. Mr. Melancon states that "the marketplace says the worst thing we have going for us is the 'A' in 'CPA.' It says we can do taxes and accounting but, with a few exceptions, we are limited in scope." With all due respect, he is not only incorrect, he's out of touch! We know that over the years CPAs have been advisers and consultants to their clients, and Mr. Melancon's downgrading of the profession is a peculiar attitude for the leader of the Institute.

Mr. Melancon debases the CPA certificate by an obtuse reference when he writes, "Psychometricians tell us we need only a two-hour test to evaluate CPA candidates." The writer respectfully suggests that those psychometricians should seek psychotherapy themselves. The profession was built on accounting standards and principles, and the FASB (to which the AICPA contributes financial support) has issued 133 accounting standards, the Auditing Standards Board (which the AICPA finances completely) has issued 86 auditing standards and the AICPA ethics division has issued numerous opinions and interpretations. A two-hour CPA examination?

The CPA is and always has been a technical expert, but Mr. Melancon apparently believes that accountants should become marketeers and, therefore, compete with investment advisers, engineers, psychologists and anyone else to move revenues and income from the top line to the bottom line.

The current Institute leaders have repeatedly indicated that they are not pleased with the word "accountant" in "Certified Public Accountant," so let them be honest and change their letterheads to "Certified Public Anything."

Eli Mason, CPA
New York City

Editor's note: The thousands of AICPA members who participated in the Visioning process said that the issue for the profession is not whether to change but how to change. Mr. Melancon reported to council that CPAs who feel the Vision doesn't go far enough should lead the way for the profession; that for CPAs ready to seek the Vision's goals, the AICPA will provide support; and that for CPAs who feel the Vision is a mistake and who remain committed to traditional services it is the AICPA's duty to do everything it can to ensure their continued success.


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