Just as the CPA profession has evolved over the past hundred-plus years, so too have the organizations that represent the collective interests of those who have earned the CPA credential. The AICPA, the state societies and the various firm associations play a special role in helping CPAs enter new practice areas, expand competencies and more effectively serve the public interest. While the roots of these organizations are in serving CPAs and representing their interests, all have evolved into unique entities that act as advocate, regulator, network provider and conscience.
Occasionally characterized by some as being internally focused and looking out solely for their own or their members interests, the organizations serving the profession have grown from purely networking forums to fulfill a dual purpose of serving member interests while also holding members to high performance standards.
The professions organizations have driven changes that benefit the public interest, ranging from adopting the most rigorous continuing education requirements of any profession to implementing comprehensive peer review requirements. These actions represent the CPA professions commitment to police itself through its professional organizations.
The events that led to the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation challenged the CPA professions image in a way that was unlike anything we had faced in the recent past. The professions organizations responded on two frontsimplementing communications and public relations strategies to help restore trust and confidence in CPAs and the profession, and working to stop a flood of mostly overreaching state legislation.
While dismissed by some as ineffective, ethics enforcement is at the heart of the professions self-regulatory activities and has recently been the subject of much attention. Unfortunately, the ethics program is complaint-based and works only when a complaint is registered. CPAs themselves are often loath to report the substandard work or unethical behavior they encounter. Others assert that ethics enforcement is superficial since the ultimate sanction is only to throw the offenders out of the club. That kind of thinking and behavior doesnt do the profession or the public any good.
The organizations serving the profession are only as good and as effective as the members make them. They can become more effective only if the members expect more. We need to walk the fine line that allows us to serve member interests while helping the profession to remain at the pinnacle of quality.
J. Clarke Price, CAE, is president and CEO of the Ohio Society of CPAs, with which hes been affiliated for 33 years in a variety of roles.