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Shaping Our Future: Driving a Relevant Profession

Christen_Tim_headshot_resizeI’m honored and excited to be taking on the role of chairman of the AICPA Board of Directors at such a pivotal time in our profession’s evolution. Although today we enjoy tremendous success and respect, we must acknowledge that transformative changes in the business environment pose many potential risks to our relevance. We work in an evolving marketplace, one that’s defined by new technologies, complexity, specialization, a changing workforce, globalization and other mega trends. We know that just because something worked in the past doesn’t mean it will continue to work in the future. Now it’s incumbent on us to forge solutions that will preserve our relevance going forward.

Fortunately, CPAs are starting from a position of strength. Let me share my own story with you.

Like many AICPA members, I’m a first generation professional. I grew up in the small farming town of Belmont, Wisconsin, about 65 miles from Madison. I’ve spent my entire career with Baker Tilly Virchow Krause, except for a two-year stint when I worked as a management accountant for one of our firm’s clients, an automobile dealership. The owner taught me something that’s critical to our profession: a sense of urgency. Emil’s dealerships measured productivity every day and frequently asked customers for candid feedback. I thought these were brilliant ideas and put them to work when I returned to Virchow Krause. We began questioning the established rules and implementing the lessons of urgency and action. We measured revenue in real time and solicited immediate feedback from our employees and clients. Our sense of urgency helped us grow from a small Wisconsin firm to the 13th largest firm in America. We didn’t wait for the marketplace to determine our future for us.

I think that’s a good approach for our profession, as well. To sustain our vital role, we must always be moving toward the next opportunity, the next change, the next marketplace need. We have to recognize that “business as usual” won’t cut it. During my time as chairman, I plan to focus on four steps we can take to shape the future and maintain our relevance.

Modernize our services. People didn’t know they needed a new kind of portable music player or a tablet until the iPod and iPad were introduced. Likewise, our profession can be one step ahead with services people may not even know they need. For example, CPAs assuring that a business is meeting non-financial performance objectives. The need for non-financial assurance is all around us. We have the opportunity to identify emerging opportunities, craft effective solutions and serve as informed experts leading the way.

Increase our speed to market. The pace of business demands that we keep up or be left behind. As a result, we need to be faster in the delivery of our services and quicker in adapting to change. That’s why the AICPA has devoted so much energy toward services and initiatives that many of us could never have imagined when we got started in this profession. Services like cybersecurity, data standardization and analytics, Integrated Reporting and sustainability. Also, initiatives like the CGMA designation and the Future of Learning. Each of these examples addresses a critical market need, and our profession is stronger today because we are proactively addressing them.

Increase collaboration with others. Today CPAs and clients or employers and other stakeholders work together in a complex and fluid business ecosystem. Firms have become conveners of relevant talent, assembling the most accomplished teams from a range of disciplines. Never has the profession’s body of knowledge been greater, and the need for collaboration and specialization more critical. We can excel in this environment by studying business trends, adjusting our perspectives and developing new guidance and training that are available to all who need them. The onus is on our profession to develop the mindset and capabilities to get ahead of challenges and collaborate in more timely and meaningful ways.

Create a great environment in which to work. One of our critical goals is to develop the professional environment of choice for the most trusted advisers of the 21st century. Team members today expect their work experience to deliver more than a paycheck – they want a developmental opportunity that is inspiring, inclusive and respectful of their need for work/life integration. In attracting and retaining talent, we can stand out by committing to the entire person – recognizing that they have interests and passions that go beyond what we see during the workday – and creating a magnetic environment that makes them feel they’ve found the place where they belong.

Albert Einstein once said, “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” Let’s work together to become the change agents who will take the necessary steps to keep our profession on the path of progress. Our profession has the talent – we must take the initiative to step up and lead.

It’s an exciting challenge, and one that I’m enthusiastic to take on with your help. I look forward to meeting many of you throughout the coming year, hearing your thoughts about our future and working with you to ensure that future generations of CPAs will enjoy a profession that’s just as strong as the one that we inherited.

Tim Christen, CPA, CGMA, Chairman of the Board of Directors, American Institute of CPAs


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