For Anoop Natwar Mehta, CPA, CGMA, the path to becoming chair of the AICPA board of directors might not seem traditional. First, he hasn't worked for a public accounting firm. Second, he's been with one company for just about all of his professional life. Mehta joined profession leaders for a discussion at AICPA & CIMA ENGAGE 2022, and this episode is a rebroadcast of that conversation from the Town Hall Series.
What you'll learn from this episode:
- More about Mehta's work with "rocket scientists."
- An explanation of his career path in the Washington, D.C., area.
- Why Mehta says he has been told, "You're like no accountant that we've ever met."
- The ways that finance is changing, according to Mehta.
- Why people should be at the center of organizations' focus.
Play the episode below or read the edited transcript:
To comment on this episode or to suggest an idea for another episode, contact Neil Amato at Neil.Amato@aicpa-cima.com.
Neil Amato: Hello and welcome to the Journal of Accountancy podcast. In mid-May, Anoop Mehta was officially named AICPA chair. A few weeks back at AICPA & CIMA ENGAGE in Las Vegas, Mehta joined the live Town Hall series to talk more about his career and the themes that will be his focus during his stint as chair. This episode is a rebroadcast of that Town Hall conversation. In addition to Mehta, you'll hear the voices of Barry Melancon, the CEO of the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants; CPA.com CEO Erik Asgeirsson; and Association Vice President of Firm Services Lisa Simpson.
That's right after this word from our sponsor.
Barry Melancon: Let me introduce to all of you and all of our participants online to Anoop Mehta, who is just about three weeks ago, became the chair of the AICPA for a one-year term and Anoop joins us from the great state of Maryland. The thing is that Anoop spent most of his career literally working with rocket scientists — I like to tease him about that — because he has been the CEO, and now a COO of a company or companies, I should say, that really service NASA. Anoop, share a little bit about your background. I think it's a fascinating story how you became a CPA and as well, obviously, to the position that you're in now.
Anoop Mehta: Well, thank you, Barry. I have to say the last two years, I've been in the audience or watching the town halls, and now, I'm sitting here. I can tell you the view is very different. I want to keep the audience, let them know that this is my first time up here, and these guys are pros, so just keep that in mind.
But seriously, you guys in person look awesome, so that's great. Barry, so I've spent actually all my life in private sector. I started with a company as an intern while I was still in school, and after I graduated, the company had grown little bit so I was able to stay there full time and then grew to finance manager to a VP of finance to CFO, and then about six years ago in 2015, I became president and CEO. I've spent my entire career life with one organization.
I work with rocket scientists in the area of earth sciences, space sciences, so when we talk about the ESG, the E part is very, very close to me, very near and dear to me, protecting our planet. It's been a phenomenal journey, and I know when people talk to me and said, "You're like no other accountant that we've ever met. You've never spent life in public practice. You've always been in private industry." I said, "Exactly." But I get to work with some phenomenal people in this industry, so very, very fortunate to be here.
Melancon: We talk about and use the term "firms," but we have 140,000-plus members who work in corporate America, and obviously, with the CGMA on a global basis, hundreds of thousands more and working in corporations.
All of the changes that are happening from a public practice perspective are happening for our members in practice, there are clients' offices on the finance side as well. You start to see it as a buyer of those services and also as an employer of those services. What's your perspective of that whole change environment in the finance space?
Mehta: I think finance is changing. Let's take a look at ESG. I mean, the space that we're in a finance function, in a corporation. We're not just looking at short-term, we're looking at long-term sustainability. We're looking at how would we add value for the future. ESG space is huge. Take the technology in a finance function, infusing technology into everything that we do internally.
How do we close our books quicker? How do we automate things? We deal with so much data, we have so much data. How do we slice and dice that data so it's relevant? It's changing the way we look at things.
Melancon: The technology implications and even entrepreneurial small businesses. The ties into the CAS 2.0 of the technology, supporting the human capital perspective. I know you're seeing that as well with even a lot of small businesses turning to those CAS type solutions as a way for them to evolve and to really step up and afford even some of the things that are going on.
Mehta: In our own space, government contracting is the space that I work in. There are a lot of firms that are small organizations that can't afford to have full-time controllers or full-time CFOs. They're looking for their accounting firms to provide that kind of information. There's a huge opportunity for us.
Melancon: Just one thing, since you referenced ESG, those of you who are regulars, you've heard me talk about a new international standards board that is coming. We'll spend more time at ENGAGE tomorrow on that in our remarks tomorrow, but the U.S. SASB and Integrated Reporting are being merged into the IFRS Foundation really at the end of this month, that's all set and the new board is in place. It's going to be some announcements in the next couple of days on new members of the board.
It's going to have a presence. It's a global board, but it's going to have a presence in the U.S. We have a proposal from the SEC, 500-plus pages, it may or may not get adopted, it may change and then get adopted. But the reality is the market really around the world is driving this broader footprint of business information and the role of the profession. There's huge opportunity; you like to use the opportunity in that space. Ultimately, assurance will play there. But until then it's about the controls and the information flow that gives that information life.
It is something to watch, — and I always say this because I know people have their opinions about ESG and you're entitled to your opinions — but it is about watching this from a professional perspective and where the business information set is really evolving, and if we would have been alive a 100 years ago when accounting standards were evolving aftermarket crash in 1929, some of the same debates would have been happening. Is it right to have a single set of answers and things of that nature? Of course, it was right, and it's going to be right in this space. People who are going to follow a lot of us in this room are going to be a lot of activity in this space going forward.
Erik Asgeirsson: Barry, just a quick comment on that. We had the ESG Symposium in our New York office [in late May]. We brought leading firms, leading members from business and industry solution providers, the standard setters. There is a lot coming together. A lot of the firms of all sizes talking about how they're thinking about building out a practice here. We're going to be putting the capabilities in place like we've done on client accounting services. This is how you can go about supporting your clients, leveraging an ESG solution and really unpacking this. This is something that there'll be a journey, but we're going to go about it with the ecosystem.
Mehta: Well, going back to Barry, what you were saying, I can tell you, the information is being demanded by market, is being demanded by consumers. I tell the story where my kids and I know Sue [Coffey] has mentioned that. My kids will shop at certain places because they buy from local groceries, organic produce that they provide. It's important to them. This is all market-driven.
Melancon: It's more political in this country than in any place else in the world too, the other thing to bear in mind. Lisa, what do you want to add?
Lisa Simpson: Well, I wanted to just talk about people issues because we just talked about the CPA firm top issues, and obviously, people were front and center there, but the issues are very similar even in the nonpublic accounting, so in the management accounting space.
Mehta: Absolutely. People should be the center of our focus. That is so important to me, especially this year. Two weeks ago, as I gave my inaugural speech, I talked a lot about people, why they should be at the center of our focus.
Everything we do should be centered about their well-being, how we look at them, mental health. Certainly, last two years, look at all the things that have gone on. Absolutely, we should be looking at everything that is related to the people.
Simpson: In the Town Hall newsletter that comes out after this, we'll point you to some of the mental health resources that the AICPA and PCPS have been putting together because it is such an important topic, and it's been highlighted by the stress of the pandemic. But leadership development is something that you're really passionate about.
Mehta: Absolutely. If I revert back to the company, we started to truly look at leadership development about five years ago. As soon as I took over as president and CEO, I can tell you that had the largest impact on the growth of the organization. Absolutely, development training, it is very, very critical.
Simpson: Again, whether you're in public accounting or management accounting, people want to work in a place where they know they're being invested in and being given the opportunity to grow. A couple of other really important topics to touch is diversity, equity, and inclusion, and then we'll close out with a conversation about your views on remote work and hybrid.
Mehta: Well, I tell you, DEI is another important topic for me. As I've been going around various states, visiting people, I've been talking about the five keys to diversity, equity, and inclusion. First is the business case. There's a business case for it.
If you look at firms that embraced DEI and the goals, outperform their competitors. Studies have shown that. We need to be providing support and flexibility to women in our workforce. Certainly address biases and putting in trainings to address that.
I tell you, nothing is more important than being accountable. Whatever goals you set, we need to be accountable. I'd really encourage everybody to go talk to high school students and really support the diverse students and go to HBCUs, go to minority-serving institutes. This is what the DEI case is all about.
Simpson: Barry, I know you spoke a lot recently about all of the different resources that we're putting together and the key stakeholders around the pipeline. But high school students … increasing that awareness as early as we can is critical to that success.
Melancon: Well, elsewhere at this ENGAGE conference, I spoke to a group of high school teachers this morning that are part of our training process. We've trained over the last several years, working with stay societies, about 1,500 high school teachers to teach an honors course in accounting that we have to work, and the state societies are doing a great job of working through, the system in each individual state for acceptance by a school district and then ultimately the universities.
It's not the traditional approach to advanced placement, which is a more complicated and difficult process to get through. But this is an honors course that tries to paint that picture. It's important for that to be present in suburban as well as urban high schools that have different makeups and all of those types of things. On the remote work, by the way, those men and women in the Space Station, they're sort of the epitome of remote work.
Mehta: I would agree with it too.
Simpson: That's extreme. Can we not say that?
Mehta: You know what? I will tell you though. It's such an important topic. We got 150, 200 folks here. If you ask every one of them, I think you'll get a different answer. For me. I'll tell you personally, I'm a people person.
I liked interactions with customers, with employees. I like that face-to-face and I think that builds trust for me as well as the customers and employees. I could probably work maybe a day remotely responding to emails and whatnot, but I don't think I could do that five days a week. Now, there are firms and there are companies that are doing it, five days a week, which is great. But I think it has to be individual decision.
Asgeirsson: One size does not fit at all. You've got banks in New York, something like Goldman Sachs, 100% in the office, and then you've got technology companies like Twitter. It can be all remote.
Simpson: Then you've got public accounting firms who are fully remote.
Asgeirsson: We've got fully virtual firms with us here today, and we've got firms that are back in the office.
Melancon: We had fully virtual firms before COVID.
Asgeirsson: Yeah, so all of these things are evolving. One thing, Anoop, I know I've spoken to you about is just digital transformation. We talk to the firms a lot about it, but we're talking to business and industry. You already mentioned. We'll talk a little bit about it. But the impact of the cloud, automating the close, thinking about securit, maybe a couple of additional comments
Mehta: Well, I always looked at technology and finance, they are intertwined. It's the way it's been. Now, we're looking at technology. How do we do a month end closing faster? How do we do that fast? I've talked about data. There's so much data. How do we use AI to extract the right information, the relevant information?
Asgeirsson: Well, Barry, a question here, just on ENGAGE. Some of your biggest takeaways being back with a few thousand people.
Melancon: Well, I think the energy is fantastic. I think the profession is a people profession really and that plays out. I think what you hear is that people are renewing those types of relationships and these frames of references that are so important. I look at it in the remote work and in what you feel at this conference. Relationships are like a bank deposit. There's a balance there, and sometimes you take out from it and sometimes you put into it.
I think over the last two and a half years, most of us will pull it making withdrawals out of that relationship bank account. We were dealing with people we knew. We were dealing with relationships that we had. But if you take a longer run, a two- or three-year period of time, I think that you'll see that leaders and firms, people that are really in that trusted adviser role are going to be building those relationships back with face-to-face as much as possible so that they renew that sort of proverbial bank account in relationships.
Simpson: Well, it's been interesting as I've been talking to firms over the past few weeks. There are still clients that aren't ready for the auditors to come back out into the field. There's, again, a balance of in-person versus hybrid, and how much can you get done virtually not sitting in a closet in the client's janitor supply room, which is where I got stuck a few times.
Just trying to navigate this new experience, leveraging the technology for efficiency, but adding in that human side of the relationship as a relationship business.
Asgeirsson: Well, thanks, Anoop, for being with us. We definitely look forward to having you back at another Town Hall during your chairmanship.
Mehta: Thank you very much, Erik. Enjoyed it.
Amato: Again, that was the Town Hall series broadcast from ENGAGE in Las Vegas. In the show notes for this episode, we'll post a link to the full Town Hall segment. The Journal of Accountancy podcast is about to go on a summer hiatus, so frequency especially in July will be not what listeners have come to expect. Now's a great time to subscribe, share, rate, and review the Journal of Accountancy podcast, as you can get notified when we have new episodes. This is Neil Amato with the JofA; thanks for listening to the show.