Exclusive interview: Joanne Barry, executive director of NYSSCPA

The voice of CPAs in New York has just become stronger because of the broadened scope of practice established by the Accountancy Reform Act of 2009, according to Joanne Barry, the newly appointed executive director of the New York State Society of CPAs (NYSSCPA).

CPAs working in industry, government, and academia are now subject to the same standards and regulations as professionals practicing under the historic definition of public accountancy, and Barry wants to welcome them to the fold. Barry, who recently spoke with AccountingWEB, was named executive director of the NYSSCPA in May. She has held numerous management positions with the society, most recently serving as deputy executive director and acting executive director.
 
“I strongly believe in the value and power of professional associations, in the value of the collective voice that makes individual CPAs feel a part of something greater than themselves,” Barry said. “This has application on both the practical and philosophical levels. On the practical level, we can accomplish more with the collective voice of our 27,000 members. On a philosophical level, the individual CPA becomes stronger in his profession. Over two hundred years ago Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America, observed the unique role of associations in the new America, the ways people made connections, not just as members of the same community.
 
“We are hugely supportive of a strong role for CPAs in our national life, in circumstances where CPAs should come to mind first. We were not part of the health care debate, and it is unfortunate that none of the five candidates for Comptroller General of the United States are CPAs. We feel strongly that CPAs should be considered for this post.”
 
Translating the new health care law
 
“We have a health care law now, and it is up to CPAs to help their clients with the tax implications of this law. We have an after-the-fact role. Clients will be extremely dependent on their accountants to help them walk through the maze, to understand how it will apply to their individual tax situations.”
 
CPAs also will be called upon to educate the public about the law, Barry said in her publisher’s column in The CPA Journal.
 
“The press may have admittedly dropped the ball in reporting on what was in the health care bill, but now that the proposed changes to the tax code are actually law, journalists will be calling on their local CPAs to translate it. If members of the public don’t learn about these tax changes from a CPA directly, they’ll be reading about them in the press.
 
“CPAs may not have been at the table when politicians drafted the new health care reform law – hopefully, the solution to the health care crisis in this country,” she added, “but it is the CPA profession that Americans will rely on to inform them just what it is our lawmakers voted for.”
 
CPA mobility legislation
 
“Our legislative priority for the coming year will be the CPA mobility law, which the NYSSCPA strongly supports,” Barry said. “New York is very much oriented to consumer protection and the mobility bill that passed the State Senate and is awaiting action in the Assembly adds extra protection for the public. Support for CPA mobility has grown as the licensing and registration headaches of smaller CPA firms have grown; for example, when a client moves or opens a new business in another state. Larger firms have departments that can assist their professionals with the administrative burden, but most of our members are from small and medium-size firms. Only about 6 percent come from the Big Four.
 
“New York’s mobility law is based on the model legislation, the Uniform Accountancy Act (UAA), Section 23. Senator Toby Ann Staviski, chair of the Higher Education Committee, added one change to the law, now called S6307-B, which is a seven-year look back to see if an accountant has been subject to disciplinary action in his or her home state.”
 
Quality peer review
 
The New York Accountancy Reform Act, which was passed by the state legislature in 2008 and went into effect in July 2009, raised the bar for audit quality by requiring peer reviews of firms with two or more professionals,or of firms of any size that audit clients that receive government funds. The society will be supporting members as they prepare for these reviews.
 
“This was something the profession had to do,” Barry said. "Before passage of the new law, New York did not have mandatory peer review. Forty-four states had this requirement and the perception was that the bar was lower in New York than elsewhere. That law changed that. The regulations that will implement this process are not yet final, but the new law mandates that this provision go into effect January 1, 2012. The State Education Department is working on the peer – or quality review, as the law refers to it – regulations which will then go to the Board of Regents for review and final adoption.”
 
Because of the Reform Act, all CPAs in New York will be subject to the same disciplinary actions.
 
“For example,” Barry pointed out, “Scott Sullivan, a CPA, and the former chief financial officer at WorldCom, could not be disciplined by the state under the old law until he was convicted of a felony because, under the old law, he was not considered to be practicing public accountancy. Under the new law, the state recognizes CPAs in industry, government, and academia as CPAs practicing public accountancy, so the state, after due process, could revoke his license immediately.”
 
Adding value to membership, recruiting young CPAs
 
Increasing membership is another priority for Barry.
 
"The NYSSCPA has been in existence for 113 years, which is something we are very proud of, but the society needs to be redefined in terms of who we are and what we offer to younger members. We need to clearly define what we offer and identify and communicate ways we can add value to membership for our membership in general,” Barry told AccountingWEB.
 
“One area where the NYSSCPA has given value to young members is by providing the opportunity to develop leadership skills in an inclusive environment where participation in the society is encouraged. As our young accountants move from committees and chapters up the ladder of leadership, they gain experience in coordinating events and speaking before groups of their peers and others. It is a deliberative process which, over time, makes leaders and mentors out of members who were once Young CPAs themselves. The higher the level of participation, the faster the process works.
 
“We have Young CPAs on our Board of Directors and we are stepping up our Young CPA recruitment efforts. We are going out to the firms, talking to managing partners and to human resources departments to gain feedback on what additional services we can provide and how we can help these young professionals prosper in their careers.
 
“We want this participation to be viral. As you hone your leadership skills, you become a better professional, and you are a better professional because you are a part of your professional organization."
 
As deputy director of the NYSSCPAs, Barry oversaw all staff management and annual and strategic reporting. She served as associate publisher of The CPA Journal, the organization’s peer-reviewed technical journal; directed a network of 100 technical committees serving member interests and addressing professional issues; developed and launched the society’s Web site and The Trusted Professional newspaper.
 
Barry has received more than 25 awards recognizing excellence in communications from organizations such as the International Association of Business Communicators, the Public Relations Society of America, and the American Society of Association Executives.
 
She holds the Certified Association Executive (CAE) credential from the American Society of Association Executives, the highest professional credential in the association industry. Less than 5 percent of all association professionals have achieved this designation.
 
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