|S. Scott Voynich, CPA, became
chairman of the AICPA board of directors
in October 2003. This article is adapted
from his acceptance speech, delivered at
the Institute’s annual meeting. A JofA
interview with him appeared in the
November issue (see “
The Profession’s Roots ,” page 57).
have worked in the same community
and in the same CPA firm, Robinson, Grimes &
Co., for 28 years and have been fortunate to have
been influenced by others who taught me about
volunteering in my church, in education, in my
profession and in the community. Working so many
years in one place teaches you a very important
truth—that the world we create tomorrow comes from
the values, the hard work and the commitment we
bring to today’s efforts. That truth brings
consistency to our purpose and clarity to our
I will be thinking about our
members throughout this next year. I will be
thinking that CPAs have the opportunity to offer
this country profiles in objectivity, competence
and, above all else, integrity. That we as
individual CPAs and as a collective force bring to
American business and individual finance an
extraordinary commitment to ethics. That CPAs are
willing to make the right, and nearly always
tough, decisions for their clients and employers.
That we have the awesome power to touch lives.
I will also be thinking about change.
Throughout the years, our advice to our children
struggling with challenges has always been, “Take
things one day at a time. If that one day becomes
too much, take things one hour at a time. Just
hold on—tomorrow, everything will be different.”
That’s how the past year has been for CPAs—a
tremendous amount of change challenging our
ability to break it down to one day and one hour
at a time.
Starting from the moment the
first financial collapse hit newspaper headlines,
our profession has been in the center of a
whirlwind. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act has shifted the
regulatory environment in dramatic and subtle
ways, and its full impact is yet to be known.
We have supported change and worked
cooperatively and quietly with the regulators, the
PCAOB, the SEC and Congress. The AICPA has been a
trustworthy and informed adviser providing
regulators and members with quality, professional,
front-line feedback. As CPAs we often have the
right answers about what is working and what is
How else has change affected us? It
has made us better—not just as individual CPAs but
as members of the profession and members of the
Institute. We learned that we could not afford to
become complacent about our role in American
business. CPAs have to do the right thing, no
matter how much it hurts.
Change has made
us better because it led us to take the time to
reflect about what all this means. As leader of
the profession, the AICPA has had to rethink how
to best serve the members and drive positive,
reasoned change. Over the past year, with no
fanfare but with a lot of passion and
soul-searching the senior leadership, both staff
and volunteer, have been wrestling with core
WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE AICPA?
How can we make
decisions that are right for a membership of
immense diversity and for a public that relies on
the work and integrity of CPAs? How do we balance
our role as advocate for an honored profession
with our role as advocate for the public interest?
After much debate, and analysis, we have
come to a surprisingly simple yet challenging
conclusion: We must balance these roles, because
that balance, that tension, is integral to the
process. And this very balance brings us to one
simple principle to guide our path into the
With each endeavor, we as leaders
of the profession must ask one fundamental
question: Does this activity or relationship
enhance the value of the CPA and the CPA hallmark?
The value of the CPA credential cannot be
separated from what is good for the public
interest, the capital markets and small business.
The CPA profession is woven into the fabric of
And, when this simple question is
asked, a remarkable thing occurs. Everything we do
lines up behind it. Here are some of the efforts
under way that are a result of asking that
We are refocusing and
reconstituting the auditing standards board (ASB)
to address the needs of private companies and to
develop auditing standards for those companies.
The AICPA is taking this step only after extensive
study and after considering private company and
member needs for appropriate standards and
The question of whether there
should be different audit standards for issuers
and nonissuers has been the subject of debate in
the profession for many years. The Sarbanes-Oxley
Act ended that debate. We recognize that the users
of the financial statements in the public and
nonpublic arenas are different—as are the uses of
the financial statements themselves. This new
standard-setting environment will require
coordination and cooperative efforts with the
PCAOB to ensure we meet the audit needs of our
respective constituencies efficiently and in a
timely manner. We intend to share talents and
resources to achieve our mutual objectives of
improving the quality of financial statements and
increasing confidence in American business and the
integrity of its CPA financial advisers.
We are also restructuring the SEC practice
section to serve as a communication and resource
center for auditors of SEC registrants. We have
approved a new framework for a voluntary firm
membership center that can serve as a forum for
member firms to express their views and ideas
related to public company audit practice. Further,
this body will promote those firms’ and the
auditing profession’s position before the SEC and
W e are also establishing new
specialized audit quality centers—one for employee
benefit plan audits and one for government audits.
Each will have its own executive committee with
authority to establish membership requirements and
speak on behalf of its members. Membership will be
voluntary and could be terminated by a firm’s
failure to live up to the requirements, which
could include training, quality controls and
supplemental peer review requirements.
These are just some of the changes under way.
Others include the ethics bylaw amendments, just
passed by a 7 to 1 margin, that will help improve
our disciplinary procedures and transparency;
efforts to design Web-based resource centers and
educational tools; a strengthened commitment to
small firms; a highly successful student
recruitment effort; fiscal year and workload
compression relief; and a grassroots image
campaign that pivots around our state society
This has been an extraordinarily
active year and it has resulted in changes that
have made us better. Our anchor for dealing with
change comes from our core values. And of those
values, integrity is the driving force.
When I speak about our core values, I always
put competence in the middle—integrity, competence
and objectivity. I believe integrity and
objectivity are the strengths that hold up and
give life to our competence. In other words, our
value is not given to us because of our technical
abilities; our value is attributed to us by the
way we practice our profession and live by a code
of ethics in all aspects of our daily lives.
Integrity—by definition, a rigid adherence to a
code of behavior—is key to our profession. We are
expected to live by a code of ethics, which serves
as the North Star for all of our activities.
There are two additional elements in the
definition of integrity: completeness and unity.
This means quite clearly that integrity is not
something you carry with you only when you meet
clients or walk through your office door. It’s a
way of living, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Integrity is what allows you to sleep at night and
what gets you going in the morning. It means you
finish what you started—completeness—and you start
and finish it the right way.
also means working collaboratively with any
affected parties to create something that leaves
the world better off. And it means you come
together to resolve differences and forge a united
front. There are those who speak about the
diversity of our membership (industry, government,
education, public accounting) as if it were a
weakness. In fact, that diversity is a strength.
Those who don’t understand have never been to a
family reunion. Have you ever been to a family
function where you warned each other about getting
prepared for Uncle Albert or Aunt Ann? You know,
the relative who challenges the sanity of the
family gathering if you aren’t prepared for him or
her. But, somehow it works and works well because
you have a common bond—you are family. Our common
bond, our unity comes from our common set of core
values. Our diversity becomes our strength when
leveraged with those common core values.
Ethics. Completeness. Unity. These aspects of
integrity must be behind every endeavor as we work
to refocus and reposition the AICPA. And they are
the very reasons change makes us better.
This is the extraordinary heart of our
profession, the passion each of us shares wherever
we work, and why, no matter what divides us, we
can all come together on one corner of solid
ground—our commitment to integrity, our conviction
that integrity must drive our actions. And our
pride that those three letters—CPA—convey this
knowledge in a shorthand we all understand.
HOW DO WE DRIVE CHANGE?
First, we must
correct misconceptions. We, as leaders of this
profession, must never miss an opportunity to end
misconceptions. We must get the facts out to the
public. As my daughter, a second-grade school
teacher, says to new parents at the beginning of
each school year, “If you agree not to believe
everything you hear about what is going on at
school, I’ll agree not to believe everything I
hear about what is going on at home.”
Recently I was on an airline reading
professional materials for an upcoming meeting
when the lady in the seat next to me asked, “Are
you a CPA?” I answered that I was and she sighed
in relief and said, “Good, maybe you can answer my
question. I heard a national figure whom I respect
state that accounting matters have a lot of
difficult, gray areas requiring many decisions. I
was so disappointed because I was sure that must
be wrong. Accounting is black and white, isn’t
it?” I looked at my watch and smiled. I said,
“This is a three-hour flight, you have the window
seat and I have the aisle. I should have just
enough time and control of the environment to
answer your question.” In fact, it only took about
I found out that she ran an
ad agency so I related the judgments she makes
every day on whether or not her client’s products
and services will live up to the ad campaigns she
designs and the decisions she has to make about
what she can and cannot claim. Decisions that
require thoughtful, professional judgments based
on a set of core values. Judgments like the ones
we have to make every day in the financial arena.
When I related it to her world, she got it.
Since that flight I have wondered how many
people she told and how many people they told.
While we all recognize our behavior is important
wherever we are, we sometimes forget our silence
also has an impact. When we miss an opportunity to
speak up on behalf of our values and our
profession, we have a negative impact. Whoever we
touch will touch another—and so on down the line
for good or bad. It’s time to stop missing
opportunities to spread the word about who we are.
Integrity in action—it comes at price that we all
S econd, we must create a
unified profession. Before I joined the AICPA
board of directors five years ago, I was probably
not unlike some of the conspiracy theorists who
believe the Institute is controlled by the large
firms or that I would have little impact on the
agenda. When I joined, I found that thinking to be
absolutely incorrect. I have been honored to
engage in debates with some of the best and
brightest minds our profession has to offer and to
occasionally win some of those debates, not
because of my technical ability but because of my
perspective. You see, in every instance, I have
encountered members passionate about getting the
right answer for the profession, not about winning
some personal benefit. The diversity of our board
is key to our strength and unity. In addition to
our president and three extraordinarily talented
public members, we currently have seven members
from small firms, three from medium firms, three
from large firms, four from business and industry,
one from government and one from education. The
truth is that all of us on the AICPA board have an
equal voice and an equal share of responsibility
for making our profession better.
the final driver of change, we must finish well.
Anyone raising a family understands this point.
What we invest today in building values and
shaping behavior must be a constant daily effort.
We can’t let up no matter how close we think we
are to the finish line.
|Over the past 18
months as we adjusted to our new
environment, it has been painful to be
criticized publicly—while behind the
scenes, without credit, we have been
working quietly with regulators and
legislators who continue to seek our help.
As I’ve traveled the country, I have heard
members say: “That’s not right. Don’t put
up with that.” But my first question has
always been: What’s best for our
profession? Which is better—to get a
moment’s satisfaction but lose the
possibility of bringing about the right
kind of change? Or make sure the right
thing is done and get no credit for it? I
choose the second option. Why? Because
it’s the right thing to do and it gives us
the best opportunity to finish well.
Real World Business
Ethics: How Will You
React? (# 731680JA).
For more information, call
888-777-7077 or go to
I have always told new employees at our firm
that if we do our job right, we will know our
clients better than their doctors, lawyers,
priests, ministers, rabbis and sometimes even
their spouses. When we guide a client, a small
business, an employer or employee, we touch upon
the most intimate information they have to share.
Our clients and employers trust us to shape their
futures and when necessary to lay down the hard
truths because CPAs are known for integrity.
I call on you to look not only at your own
lives, but also to your fellow CPAs, your state
societies, your AICPA to ask—how can we work
together to enhance the value of the CPA and the
CPA hallmark? How can we take our core
value—integrity—and translate it into the kind of
action that drives positive change? How can we
come together to correct the misconceptions? How
can we ensure that, working together, we finish
Now more than ever, CPAs must live
by the spirit as well as the meaning of integrity.
We must embrace the fact that “CPA” stands as much
for a way of living as for a professional endeavor
and we cannot separate the two. There is
only one answer—and it is what I will be thinking
about all year long—integrity.