Change may be the new norm for accountants. Confronted with issues of an unprecedented scale that affect clients and the day-to-day practice of accounting in firms and industry, they must engage and find solutions.
“This is no time for the complacent,” Peggy Wood, the newly elected president of the New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants (NYSSCPA), recently told AccountingWEB. “We need to ask ourselves where we are as a world. We need to be fully prepared to help our clients with regulatory change and to be continually raising the bar for quality in the accounting profession. And in New York we want to re-engage our members.”
Wood has actively sought diverse, challenging roles in both public accounting and industry throughout her career. Some of her greatest rewards have come from learning and creating with others – during her student days, her work in public accounting, and her service with NYSSCPA.
Making the transition from working as a flight attendant to becoming a full-time accountant at Touche Ross armed with a freshly minted MBA was the first of many enjoyable, collegial experiences that have helped to define Wood’s career. The daughter of an airline employee, her first career choice, made in kindergarten, was education. She received a degree in this field on the advice of her parents, although she had developed an interest in accounting while working with her father.
After spending six months as a substitute teacher, she became a flight attendant partly because she didn’t want to give up the travel privileges she had enjoyed as an airline family member, and also because it was a way to support herself while she earned a degree in business.
“It’s hard to believe, but in those days travelers in coach had a choice of three entrees. Even on a 45 minute flight to Pittsburgh we provided them with a light meal,” Wood recalled. When she was able to hold a consistent schedule of days off, Wood went back to school. She flew on long weekends and went to school on her days off.
“Many of the other flight attendants who flew weekends were also going to school, and when one of us had a test the next day, we’d say, ‘You study; we’ll cover the cabin.’ We definitely provided support for one another.”
After eight and one-half years of working and two and one-half years of studying, Wood completed her MBA degree at the Graduate School of Business Administration of Fordham University at the Lincoln Center Campus – another special memory.
“We had a great group of people in my class. Many were working as I was. Some were police and firemen who were retiring and changing careers. The learning atmosphere was wonderful, with small classes where we could talk and ask questions,” Wood said. “My last day of flying was on a Sunday and I went to work at Touche Ross on Monday.”
Now a Professional Standards Partner in New York’s Financial Services at Grant Thornton, Wood left Touche Ross to work in industry, spending three years in internal audit at Macy’s, and one year as retail controller at Movado. Both industry positions offered exceptional challenges and invaluable experience.
Macy’s sold its credit card division, filed for bankruptcy, and was in the process of being acquired by Federated Department Stores during Wood’s tenure. While controller at Movado, Wood learned what it takes to close the books – to be on the other side of the audit.
“I am very grateful for that experience,” she said. “I learned. I grew. I wouldn’t be the person I am without that experience. I learned that as controller I was a square peg in a round hole. I did not enjoy doing those parts of the controller’s job that were repetitive. I grew to appreciate what it takes to do the job and those who are able to do it”
Wood became an active member of the NYSSCPA when she joined the retail committee, which no longer exists. She became chair of the committee and, with other members, organized the first retail conference the committee had sponsored.
“I had this great experience right away. It was very enjoyable to do something for the first time. It was a true committee experience,” she said. Wood is currently completing her term as chair of the Quality Enhancement Policy Committee.
Welcoming new members to the NYSSCPA
The Accounting Reform Law, which passed in New York in 2009 after ten years of effort by the NYSSCPA, constitutes the first real reform of the profession in 60 years. Previously the law had not recognized the skills and competencies of industry CPAs and some with the designation were allowed to go inactive. Under the new law, CPAs who use the credential and who are working in industry and tax will now become regulated by the Board of Accountancy and subject to a code of ethics.
“We want to welcome them back, Wood said. “We need them. We want to know what they think. They will now have to satisfy continuing professional education requirements and we are hoping that employers will see the value of membership for education as well as the kind of networking opportunities we provide, and see us as a forum for discussion of important issues in chapter and committee meetings.
“We are also developing a new strategy to attract young members,” Wood said. “We want to communicate with them, and we need to evaluate our communications strategies.
“The NYSSCPA is setting up a strategy task force to reach out to all members for information. “For two or three months we will be asking, ‘What is your vision – what services do you want to see, what do you want to see us do?’ Some changes will be made to our mission statement next year.
“We want to encourage members to become involved in our chapters and serve on our committees so they can take advantage of the depth and breadth of membership. Last year alone, 45 comment letters were written by committees to organizations like the Internal Revenue Service, the SEC, and the Public Accounting Oversight board (PCAOB) on various issues. We also want our chapters to reach out more so that members can see what the committees do. We do not expect to reverse the current trend of declining membership in one year, but we will be working hard.
“We are also working with other accounting organizations like the AICPA and NASBA, among others, and our affiliate, the Foundation of Accounting Education. We need to redefine our vision and strategy to meet the needs of our constituents. We have to succeed in our mission as a membership organization. We serve our members and we need to meet the needs of our members as they see them.”
International Financial Reporting Standards
While the adoption of International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) by U.S. registered companies “may have been deferred a little, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) original roadmap was a good thing,” Wood said. “At the time the SEC published the roadmap; international accounting wasn’t even on the syllabus. Schools are now putting programs in place, and developing the facilities and capabilities to support the change. In the near future, IFRS will be on the CPA exam.
“Knowledge of international standards has been left to specialists. I have learned about them through subscriptions. Right now I am reading as much about IFRS as I do about U.S. standards. But the world is moving closer together, and people who buy mutual funds that may include foreign investments need to be able to do their own due diligence. They need to be able to look at financial statements and understand the information in those financial statements. Currently, in addition to issues relating to standards, there are jurisdiction issues – various different rules, for example, the British privacy rules.”
Raising the bar
“We can expect changes as we raise the bar higher and higher for quality in accounting. The changes that will result from regulatory reform may not be perfect at first. Like the changes in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX), they are coming about as a reaction to events. Overall, SOX raised the bar but we needed to work some things out first. And questions remain about whether or not we need three levels of oversight. But each brings something to the table. This is a process. We need to raise the bar and bring in some entities that are still not in the process,” Wood said.
“We need to be part of the change process. In New York, new quality regulations have been approved by the Board of Accountancy and submitted to the Board of Regents that will be incorporated into our peer review process,” Wood said. “We intend to offer CPE credit courses on the quality review standards just as we developed courses for CPE credit on the new law.”
Peer review has been expanded in New York. In the past, firms that were members of the AICPA or the NYSSCPA were required to participate as a condition of membership but nonmembers did not have to participate. This change does not go into effect until 2012. Firms with two or fewer professionals do not have to participate.
Wood has served the NYSSCPA as a vice president, as well as a member of its Board of Directors and Executive Committee. Wood also has been a member of several society technical committees, including Accounting and Auditing Oversight, Financial Accounting Standards, SEC Practice, Auditing Standards, Procedures and Retail, Advancement of Women in the Accounting Profession, and Nominating committees. She also has served on the society’s Governance and Selections subcommittees.