Speaking to tomorrow's accountants, the assembled attendees of the Beta Alpha Psi annual meeting last weekend, Bob Elliott, Chairman of the AICPA, presented a glimpse into the very near future. "A CPA is a license to do attestation of financial statements." According to Elliot, "Overall, approximately 90% of the CPAs are not doing licensed work."
As any practicing accountant will tell you, the role of the accountant today has expanded to include tax services, litigation support, and a full range of financial and strategic consulting services. The AICPA has been studying this role and attempting to address the new breed of accountant who must be capable of filling much different shoes than those of his predecessors. Elliott defined the role of CPAs as "Making sense of a changing and complex world," and compared that to a description that fit the profession 20 or more years ago: "Preparing financial statements and tax returns."
Elliott reminded the group that traditional accountants who focused their practices on assisting with recording data and attesting to the reasonableness of financial statements face a threat from new technologies. In order to avoid the technological threat and generate greater compensation, accountants must move in the direction of providing more sophisticated services.
The future includes a possible scenario of full-service management consulting "firms that can cover the entire professional service array: law, engineering, architecture, accounting, advertising, health care, and so on," said Elliott. This type of multi-disciplinary practice can more successfully meet the needs of clients by providing convenience, integrated services, and one-stop shopping. The firm fills the roll of General Contractor for management services.
Because of the current brand recognition of the CPA designation, and because CPAs are licensed by individual states, and not nationally or globally, it would be difficult to expand or change the role of the CPA to fit a more universal model. Instead, there is general agreement that a new designation will be required.
The definition of this new professional status, which is due to be launched in 2002, is "One who helps people or organizations achieve their objectives through the strategic use of knowledge or knowledge management systems." This new designation will require four sets of learning or experience:
1. General prerequisite learning, such as that achieved with a bachelor's degree, in basic areas such as humanities, social studies, natural sciences, quantitative skills, as well as training in interpersonal skills, problem solving, communications, research, and critical thinking.
2. Business or organizational learning, such as that achieved with an MBA, in competition and strategy, organizational behavior, finance, accounting, marketing, tax, business law, operations, and human resources.
3. Distinctive competencies, such as determining needs, information technology, financial and non-financial measurement, modeling, systems design, quantitative analysis, change management, and knowledge leveraging to create strategic advantage.
4. Professional attributes, such as competence and ethics, integrity, objectivity, judgement, teamwork, global purpose, life long learning, and custom focus.
Just as doctors form medical organizations that, as a whole, can provide complete medical services while individual doctors specialize in particular areas, the multi-disciplinary knowledge management firm can provide a complete package of services while professionals within the firm can specialize in particular areas.
The vision presented by Mr. Elliott is of a global designation for this new status, a designation that would be recognized worldwide. Already nine countries are preparing to embrace the new status (United States, Canada, Australia, England, Wales, South Africa, Ireland, New Zealand, and Scotland). Many non-English speaking countries are in the process of agreeing to recognize the new global status as well.
Although a name has not yet been chosen for this new status, plans are in place to create a global institute in 2001 that will oversee these new professionals via their national organizations such as the AICPA, and the branding and credentials are expected to be in place in 2002. It is assumed that currently-licensed professional accountants in all participating countries will automatically be grandfathered into the new status, and global requirements will be established for future members of the group.