The emergence of blockchain technology has led to a concern in the CPA profession that is perfectly understandable.
Technological advances can threaten people’s livelihoods in any number of professions. The development of the internet had a devastating effect on newspaper journalists, and some experts say self-driving vehicles may cause huge job losses among truck drivers.
Blockchain, meanwhile, has implications for the accounting profession. Blockchain is a digital ledger on which transactions are recorded chronologically and can be viewed by all who have access. The technology is expected to affect auditing, cybersecurity, and financial planning and analysis.
Erik Asgeirsson, president and CEO of CPA.com, the technology arm of the AICPA, said that some CPAs have anxiety that blockchain might put audit professionals out of business. But while blockchain is likely to change the way CPAs work, he said, he is telling accounting firm leaders that the accounting profession can continue to thrive through the use of blockchain technology.
“It’s going to be a fantastic, secure database that will have uses,” he said during a panel presentation Tuesday at the Wall Street Blockchain Alliance’s Blockchain for Wall Street education day in New York City. “But it’s not going to put them out of work.”
Large and medium-size CPA firms already are seeing the implications of blockchain for their clients, Amy Pawlicki, CPA, vice president–Assurance & Advisory Innovation for the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, said during the panel session. Companies are implementing blockchain into their enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, particularly for tasks such as procurement and supplier management.
Blockchain’s ledger-based technology can simplify the procurement process because it enables secure recording of transactions in a way that can lead to unprecedented transparency and increased operational efficiency.
“Our auditors are already auditing transactions in the blockchain,” Pawlicki said.
Blockchain’s transparency gives visibility to all transactions for approved users, and this may decrease auditors’ work with sampling and validating transactions. But this allows auditors more time to focus on controls and investigating anomalies. Meanwhile, opportunities are emerging for CPAs to use blockchain technology as they expand their assurance services to areas such as cybersecurity and sustainability.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do … it’s a great opportunity in an area where CPAs can add a lot of value,” Pawlicki said.
An important next step for the profession in the use of blockchain is accommodations for the technology from standard setters and regulators. SEC Chief Accountant Wesley Bricker, CPA, J.D, said Tuesday that the commission’s Office of the Chief Accountant is investing time in understanding blockchain technologies, and suggested that accounting professionals do the same.
“It is important that those in the accounting profession invest the time to understand new trends and developments in technology and commerce to identify their potential effects on financial reporting to investors,” Bricker said during a speech at a Financial Executives International conference in New York City.
Past developments such as the emergence of computers, ERP systems, and cloud computing have merely changed CPAs’ work instead of making them irrelevant. The same can be true with blockchain, Asgeirsson said.
“Through every phase,” Asgeirsson said, “what’s really happened is that the accountant’s and the auditor’s role has just evolved.”
—Ken Tysiac (Kenneth.Tysiac@aicpa-cima.com) is a JofA editorial director.