As part of a series of interviews with prominent members of the profession, AccountingWEB sits down with Gary Bolinger, President and CEO of the Indiana CPA Society, to get his perspective on what's happening in the profession.
AccountingWEB (AW) This past year has been a truly historic one for the accounting profession. What are you hearing from your members? What are their main concerns?
Gary Bolinger (GB) Our members are expressing views that focus on ethics and integrity of individual CPAs throughout the country. We have asked our members in Professional Issues Updates, on-line polls and at Leadership meetings and individual ethics and integrity are the common recurring themes. They also have concerns about unintended consequences and the cascade effect unnecessarily restricting services of smaller firms serving privately owned clients. Overall, there is an increased awareness of the regulatory and legislative environments and potential impacts on the CPA profession.
AW How have the events of the past year impacted on the strategic role of the state societies? What programs, projects are you planning for next year as a result of activities this year?
GB I do think that the role of state societies has been impacted. We are dealing with issues at the state society level we have never had to deal with and we are also seeing, in some states, that relationships must be developed with state agencies that we have never worked with in the past. This is a direct result of an increased interest by a wide variety of state agencies in financial reporting and the CPA role in that process.
We are also dealing with increased interest from the media. As opposed to the "image enhancement" campaign of the recent past (placing paid advertisements), there is an increased need to interface with reporters in telling our story.
I think we may also be faced with changes in the peer review programs we administer, CPE programs (possibly resulting from changes in CPE legislation or regulation) and our career development activities may also require new and innovative approaches.
It is very important, now so more than ever, that we can effectively represent the entire profession. Members of state societies throughout the country must, in some way, become engaged in their profession and stand together in addressing the future of the profession. This is not the time for personal agendas. Engagement with a state society is the most effective way to accomplish this goal.
Most importantly, every CPA and leaders of state societies must recognize that it is not a time for "business as usual". We can take nothing for granted in terms of programs, services and activities. We must look at everything we do from a different perspective.
AW Organizations of all kinds - AccountingWEB included - are striving to continually be more relevant to their constituents. What is the Indiana CPA Society doing to ensure its relevancy for the future?
GB We are working very hard to engage our members on their terms. We have a responsibility to provide relevant information so our members can better understand the current environment. We also must do everything so that CPAs do not look at events and developments in an isolated sort of way - we have an even higher responsibility to provide "context" so members can appreciate the dynamics of the environment and how one event can impact the broader environment.
That isn't enough though, we also need to make sure that we have implemented member feedback systems and methods to accurately assess the feedback. That is the only way that members will believe that we can effectively serve in the advocacy role critical to our members.
AW What message would you send to CPAs that are not members of or active in the state society? What might they not know about your activities that you wish to share?
GB I guess I would refer you to question 2 above. Members must be engaged in the future of their profession - the state society is the best way to do that. In today's environment, most state societies have adopted all kinds of ways to engage members - both in person and electronically. See what your state society has to offer in this regard and take advantage of it. CPAs should keep in mind that it is the future of their profession we are talking about.
The best way to emphasize this is to refer to an old saying about the political and legislative process. "Their are two kinds of people in the process - players and victims. If you aren't a player, you most certainly will be a victim." That is kind of where we're at in the profession. If you elect to not be a player - you most likely will have to live by the decisions of others.
AW There was a lot of talk the last couple of years about the state societies working more closely together through the relationship with CPA2Biz. With the CPA2Biz relationship souring, what is the future of cooperative efforts between the states?
GB Quite frankly, I am not very optimistic about any future cooperative efforts between CPA2Biz and the states unless something fairly dramatic happens at CPA2Biz.
AW In your opinion, which states are "doing it right" in terms of role, vision, execution, understanding and meeting member needs, etc.? What are they doing better than others to be included in your list?
GB Well, I think the Indiana Society (obviously) are "doing things right", but I also think we still have a way to go. For any state society (leadership and staff) the biggest challenge is going to be to not get too comfortable. By that I mean, don't think you have changed some things around and now everything is okay. I firmly believe that we as professional societies are going to be in a state of "perpetual motion" for the foreseeable future. We can't predict what will happen from a wide variety of perspectives, so we must be prepared to react as quickly and appropriately as possible (giving careful consideration to resource allocation) to developments that will affect our members. So, leadership and staff will need to be alert and nimble in navigating the environment in the future. This isn't always comfortable, but I believe very, very necessary.
AW Given unlimited time, talent and resources, what one initiative/project/program would you focus on for the Indiana CPA Society that would make the biggest impact on the organization and its members?
GB We all need to spend as much "one on one" time as possible with our members. We need to do this in a variety of ways. Individual meetings, firms and company accounting department visits, general membership presentations and town halls, college campuses, etc. Two goals here - help our members understand the broader context and implications and get feedback. Our grassroots members are a tremendous resource and we need to leverage that resource to set direction for the future.
AW What has been your message to students who are trying to figure out if accounting is the right career choice for them?
GB While we are going about academic and career development activities in new ways, our message has not fundamentally changed. A career as a CPA provides a wide variety of opportunities for professional success in business.
Our change has been the development of a "School Key Contact" program that was unveiled nationally at the annual Interchange meeting last July. We employed four college and one teacher intern last summer to develop this program in cooperation with our staff, current volunteers and others. They did a tremendous job in creating a solid framework and the challenge now is successful implementation. The objective is to deliver the right messages, in a consistent manner, through the right CPAs to attract the right people to a career as a CPA.
AW What has been the biggest leadership lesson you have gleaned during your tenure as President and CEO?
GB Be flexible. Keep an open mind. Focus on the future. Embrace change. Take nothing for granted. Recruit talented volunteers and staff and let them do their jobs. Talk with and listen to your members.
Gary Bolinger is the President and CEO of the Indiana CPA Society, representing over 7,500 CPAs across the state. He may be reached via e-mail at [email protected].