he poet T.S. Eliot said, “You can not at the same time be an innovator and a perfector.” Certainly, we as members of a profession—spurred on by the Institute and our state societies—have been remarkable innovators during the last few years. Our efforts, most notably the Vision Project, have been considerable, and it is clear we do not need innovations in addition to those under way.
So, to help me decide which existing innovations most need to be perfected, I devised what I call the “Eddy acid test”: “What specific criteria would an initiative or project have to live up to in order to receive my aggressive support?”
First, projects and initiatives must be for all our members—or at least harm none. They must enhance or advance our profession and the publics we serve.
Second, the projects or initiatives must be aligned with the Vision—our blueprint for survival and service in the early part of this century. We are taking that Vision and drilling down to where CPAs live and breathe.
Third, as stewards of this organization and this profession, we must ensure that the Institute remains fiscally sound.
One of my predecessors, Ronald S. Cohen (AICPA chairman, 1995-96), emphasized the Institute’s mandate to be first and foremost a home for its members— all its members. “The AICPA intends to be, wants to be and will be, the organization for and about you ,” he said. The best way to accomplish service to individual members is through a strategy of “coordination, cooperation and communication.”
Like Ron, I see those three Cs—coordination, cooperation and communication—as the glue that binds us to our members. They will make me both in sistent and per sistent about reaching out to state societies. If you have any doubts about my belief in the rightful power of state societies, please remember that I am a past president of the West Virginia CPA Society, which is heavily represented here today.
State societies are the Institute’s lifeline to individual members. And the Institute is the societies’ lifeline to the profession as a whole.
As you go back to your state societies, I ask that you take this message with you: During my tenure, the AICPA will continue to be the professional home of every CPA. As far as I’m concerned, the letters “A” and “I” at the beginning of our name have a second—and perhaps even more important—meaning. They stand for “all-inclusive.” That means CPAs of every ilk: young and old; men and women; in government, industry; in small, medium or large firms; in education.
Some people may try to convince you and our publics otherwise—SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt, for one. At NASBA’s recent annual meeting, Mr. Levitt added to his litany of wrong-minded notions. I took personal offense when he alleged that the AICPA is not the home of smaller firms. I disagree.
I am the first chairman of the AICPA in the new millennium, and my firm has 14 members. I am proud of my small-firm background and have been actively involved with the Institute for more than 15 years. The AICPA has been good for me and our firm.
Now more than ever, tomorrow more than yesterday, the Institute’s arms and resources are open to all CPAs. For my part, I will continue the Institute’s commitment to self-regulation, honoring our profession’s covenant to protect the public interest with integrity and objectivity. I also will continue to hammer home the enduring value of the CPA credential and remain an ardent supporter of our image enhancement program. And I will step up our efforts to develop new assurance services that allow CPAs to perform the services for which they are most qualified. Further, I will continue to actively address the need for reform in accounting education.
And—with an eye to developing accreditations that will lead to new services—I will see to it that the work of the national accreditation commission—which got off to such a terrific start under Dominic A. Tarantino’s leadership—moves forward.
We know that the Institute and state societies can accomplish much when we join forces. Now more than ever, we need each other. We need to continue to prove to our members that the AICPA is their national home and the state society their local one.
We need each other as conduits of information—as fellow implementers of vital initiatives. That’s why I am pleased to announce that Barry Melancon (AICPA president and CEO) and I have decided to hold conference calls with the staff and volunteer leadership of state societies at least quarterly. We see it as a key tool for informing each other—listening to each other—and keeping the lines of communication open. We look forward to broad-based participation.
IN HARMONY WITH THE VISION
The second criterion for the Eddy acid test requires that the initiative be aligned with the Vision. With that in mind, here is a synopsis of certain initiatives stemming from the Vision.
Most of you have heard of the Group of 100. At its first meeting, the group’s investigation of a variety of issues led it to form five task forces—each different from the other, but charged with looking at the profession with eyes wide open in the bright light of 21st century realities.
The professional ethics task force’s charter is to define and develop an ethical framework for the repositioned profession while clinging fast to the core values underscored in the Vision process.
Another task force focuses on the horrific decline in the number of students choosing to become CPAs. One way to stem the tide of diminishing candidates is to help students see firsthand what this repositioned profession is about and to help them understand its value. With that as a goal, this task force is defining an AICPA-sponsored student internship program that will reach out to college and university students in a variety of majors.
A third task force is assessing ways to enhance, improve and enliven the Institute’s services to our largest membership base—members in industry. Recognizing that this is a heterogeneous group, the task force is taking a fresh look at services distinctly beneficial to members in industry. It seeks answers to questions like these: What is the current array of job functions? What industries do these members work in? How different are the demands from industry to industry? And how can the AICPA tailor its services to each niche?
A fourth task force focuses on making technology work for the profession in every way possible. Primarily, it looks at world-class practices across all constituencies of the profession. Part of this task force’s work will be defining the bridge between how technology is used now and how it will need to be used in the future. Its findings will help the Institute devise strategic initiatives to help our members discover new uses for technology in years to come.
Finally, the Group of 100 brought up the timely issue of the relevance of our current financial reporting model. So we developed a task force with a different focus, but not to develop another model. That we have done, most recently, with the Jenkins committee report. Rather, this task force is looking at the politics and policies needed to achieve buy in for the adoption of a new reporting model.
As Robert Elliott (immediate past chairman) often has pointed out, it is undeniable that the financial reporting model must change to meet the realities of the New Economy. So, this task force soon will issue its report on how to move a new financial reporting model forward. Once its recommendations have been approved, we need to proceed with all due haste. This is a public protection issue. It goes right to the heart of what the profession is all about.
In terms of another Vision-aligned initiative, I want to congratulate you for supporting the global credential earlier today. By saying, “Yes, let us move forward,” you have acted as creative and decisive professional leaders, taking a crucial step toward planting our colors in a lucrative and unclaimed marketplace.
In addition, you have strengthened the AICPA’s ability to be the home for all CPAs. By separating this credential from the hallmark CPA designation, we keep the doors wide open. CPAs not interested in the global credential don’t need to be. It is a “want to,” not a “have to.” For those who choose to add the credential to their CPA competencies, the opportunity awaits.
But our efforts are not over. I look forward to working alongside you as we move this initiative forward and educate our grassroots membership in anticipation of the spring council meeting.
One more Vision-aligned innovation I would like to see perfected during this coming year is the cpa2biz portal. As a partner in a small firm, I can tell you that the portal will be of enormous assistance to smaller firms. Firms like ours and the clients we serve often lack the clout, resources and buying power to enjoy the best service, products and information. This portal will even the odds by making those advantages available to CPAs in small firms and companies.
REACHING OUR GOALS
Having talked about some of the specifics, let me focus on how I hope to help perfect innovation and turn aspirations into action.
First, let us acknowledge the human tendency to resist change. I recently read an article by business writer Harvey Mackay. He said that even when change is elective , it still is disorienting . The trick is to brace yourself for, and get through, the inevitable feelings of discomfort.
It is only natural for us to confront our uncertainties—and we will. However, I will not allow the process to become the goal. During my year as chairman, I want us to steady ourselves and move forward. We must accomplish our real goals, despite our uncertainties.
Second, I am totally devoted to this profession and everything it stands for. So I will fiercely oppose what I believe to be dangerous to us or to our publics.
To that end, I will be your representative and your voice against actions or inactions that are wrong minded and wrong directed, that propel us back rather than thrust us forward. I will continue to actively resist any government intervention affecting our ability to be a self-regulated profession. Ours is one of the most trusted professions in the world, largely due to our diligent self-regulation.
I will continue to push for the breakdown of barriers that prevent CPAs from practicing across state lines. We cannot allow inaction to win the day on this one. We must have adoption of substantial equivalency as defined by the Uniform Accountancy Act in all jurisdictions.
Now that I’ve told you a bit about my goals and responsibilities for this year, let’s talk about yours.
I challenge all council members to accept their responsibility as leaders of this profession. Admittedly, it is not easy to take on that role now. Our situation is very similar to what John Kennedy talked about in defining the New Frontier. “It is not a set of promises—it is a set of challenges.” Accept the challenges, because you are the best people for the job.
I urge you to advocate change. Develop a comfort level with the new realities we face. Do not allow yourselves or those who trust you to be left behind. Be stewards of change—even if you personally will not receive its benefits. Pave the way for your professional heirs.
I remind you that ours is a noble profession. We are good and we do good. People benefit because this profession exists and because you and I are members of it. Hold your head high. Confirm the confidence of your fellow professionals.
I invite you to support Oscar Wilde’s definition of professionalism. “I have the simplest of taste,” he said. “I am easily satisfied with the best.” That’s how I see our job as coleaders of this profession—ensuring the best is readily available to the profession and to the publics we serve.
As council members, you also must continue to tell me—and the Institute’s leadership—what you think, why you think it and what you want us to do. We may not always agree with you, but we always will listen. Reasonable people may disagree, but our motives are the same—protecting the profession and those who depend on it.
In a time of change and challenge for the profession we love, I have no simple solutions. But I do have a well-placed confidence in both the profession and the Institute. And I have an unshakeable resolve to keep the accent on those first two letters: “AI”—“all-inclusive.”
And so I look forward to a year in which, together, we will make major inroads in perfecting innovation for all CPAs—a year as chairman of the AI CPA, the natural home for this profession and its hallmark—for today’s CPA and for the CPA of tomorrow.