A path for the future: the marketplace will determine the profession's future.

Author:Melancon, Barry C.
Position:Certified public accountants

Our profession is built on the public interest. When we talk to regulators about change in the profession and about standards, the public interest is always the underlying concern. What is more in the public interest than being the advisers to 8.2 million small businesses, in helping them be more successful and more profitable, in creating more employment in a fluid economy? What is more in the public interest than understanding the marketplace, what is occurring and how we, as CPAs, can meet those demands?


There is no escaping change. As Yogi Berra said, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." Well, we are at a fork. The old CPA profession would have come to that fork in the road, sat there, looked at it, thought about it, determined which one was a little smoother and then made it as perfect as it could be and thought some more--and then maybe retreated because it was too hard a decision to make. But that is not the profession today. We are working very hard to reposition the profession so we do not hesitate to choose the fork in the road that will lead the profession in a different direction.

We've conducted a lot of research to learn how the marketplace sees us. Here are some positive things people say about CPAs: very reliable, highly intelligent, competent, ethical, honest. I can name you a whole host of professions that would love to have those words attributed to them. But the marketplace also says CPAs are conservative, too slow to act, not technologically advanced, unaware of the big picture and behind the times. Before I'm finished, you probably are going to hear things that will make you uncomfortable, so consider this the surgeon general's warning; I understand that in the future cigarettes may come with a label saying they'll kill you. Well, what I am about to tell you is not going to kill you, but it will tell you what the marketplace thinks.

The marketplace says the worst thing we have going for us is the "A" in "CPA." It says we can do taxes and accounting but, with a few exceptions, we are limited in scope. Yet, when we look at the 8.2 million small businesses, their most common denominator is a relationship with CPAs. So while we have marketplace acceptance because of the trust level we have with those small businesses, we also have a marketplace image that limits us.

Accountants in Canada did research that clearly showed businesses thought about small and large firms differently. Large businesses tended to turn to large CPA firms for a wide array of services, and small businesses tended to turn someplace other than a CPA firm for those services. The big companies looked to large CPA firms as professional service firms; the smaller ones looked to smaller firms only as accounting firms. We have a responsibility as a profession to change that mind-set; the AICPA's ongoing image campaign is one way of changing perceptions.


Some organizations--American Express is an example--already are looking at the...

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