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Maintaining Relevance in a Transformative Time

Tommye_barie_headshot2It seems like only a short time ago that I was beginning a very exciting year as AICPA Chair of the Board of Directors. I’m amazed at how quickly time has passed, and at how much has occurred in the business world during the past 12 months.

My year began with an unforgettable visit to Rome for the World Congress of Accountants (WCOA) last November. The Imperial Sponsor of the event was the Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) designation, a joint effort of the AICPA and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA). WCOA gave me an opportunity to represent the profession, position the AICPA as a global thought leader, and discuss accounting issues with leaders from around the world. The pasta was pretty good, too.

As I spoke to my counterparts from other accounting organizations, I realized just how similar our challenges were – technological disruption, increased regulation, and pipeline shortages, just to name a few. The accounting profession, whether in the U.S., Rome, Sydney, London or anywhere else, faces some significant changes and everyone is trying to identify the magic bullet. We’re all trying to maintain relevance in a transformative time.

Unfortunately, there is no cure-all, but I believe the AICPA is taking the right approach to dealing with rapid change. You can’t solve complex, evolving problems with a single action because the problems evolve from one moment to the next - by the time you solve the initial problem, the problem has changed or a new problem has emerged. The solution is to adopt a mentality of ongoing adjustment – a series of minor tweaks that keep you aligned with the needs of any given day. In fact, the AICPA’s approach of monitoring the landscape and making regular adjustments reminds me of kiteboarding – my favorite sport. When I’m out on that kiteboard, maneuvering to catch the wind, I watch the waves and ask “where do I want to end up?” I know that if I am not vigilant, I’ll travel a long distance in a direction I don’t want to go. I want to control my direction. That’s where our profession is today – charting a course to our destination and making sure we leverage the winds to position us for success.

As I think about charting our course, and reflect on my experiences from the past year, I know for certain that our profession has leveraged the winds of change and sits today in a position of strength. We’re in that position because we’ve controlled our direction.

When I began this journey a year ago, I said the key to our profession’s future was to focus on relevance, rigor and reach. As the year draws to a close, let me share just a bit of what is going on in each of these three areas.

  • Relevance. We will continue to see an expansion of the accounting profession to encompass new areas of expertise and even different kinds of professionals. CPAs are part of a complex ecosystem that often requires collaboration with people from other disciplines offering additional knowledge and skills. Essentially, remaining relevant means embracing new approaches, pursuing innovations and building services to address the ever-changing marketplace. In the case of our profession, innovation and evolution can connect the past with the future, helping core services stay aligned with current marketplace needs. A good example would be the AICPA’s efforts to evolve assurance services.
  • Rigor. Earlier this year the AICPA and CIMA introduced the new Chartered Global Management Accountant exam. The exam is now a requirement for anyone seeking to earn the CGMA designation. Businesses want financial professionals to provide strategic advice and insights, risk management expertise and financial acumen. Such skills are tested with the new exam.
  • Reach. The AICPA is currently focusing on three new ways to enhance filling the CPA pipeline with quality talent. We’re going to be working with state CPA societies on joint programs that will allow us to pool resources, increase our presence on campuses and reach broader groups of students. We’re also looking to increase high school programs and build a community college initiative that will include scholarships and a new version of our popular student accounting competition. Strengthening relationships with academic organizations and academicians is a key initiative as well.

Despite endless complexity, our profession is in a very good place. I think back to that very first trip – to the World Congress of Accountants. I was amazed to see firsthand how many different organizations around the world admire the profession’s foothold in our country’s economic fabric. If we want to maintain our firmly established reputation and influence, we must look boldly to the future and maintain our relevance, rigor and reach. If we remain stagnant, we will wake up one day and find others providing the services and advice the market has traditionally sought from us.

I’ve learned so much over the last year from my meetings with our wonderful members. Hearing your stories and seeing your commitment has me convinced that our profession’s future success is in good hands. We are 412,000 strong and together we can accomplish great things. 

Tommye E. Barie, CPA, Chair of the Board of Directors, American Institute of CPAs.

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