So, why am I writing about transparency again? I am writing this Memo after returning to Nashville from the NASBA Eastern Regional Meeting in Florida, as I am preparing to attend the National Association of Black Accountants’ Annual Meeting, soon after to address the California Society of CPAs’ Annual Meeting, and finally to speak at NASBA’s Western Regional Meeting in California near the end of the month. A hot topic at all of these meetings was, and will be, the growing reliance on technology in the accounting profession and, more specifically, consideration of a new Technology Pathway to the CPA. It has become evident to me that we need to do a better job of communicating on that topic − which takes us back to transparency and, hopefully, clarity.
During the breakfast meeting with State Board Chairs and Presidents at the Eastern Regional Meeting, a long-term Board member raised some very important points. His comment to me, and I am paraphrasing as closely as I remember, was: “Ken, we know you are being transparent, but what we are hearing from you now is not what we heard in NASBA’s presentations.” After sharing his observation with others, I received similar feedback.
I can assure you that we have spent a considerable amount of time and energy reviewing how best to communicate the key elements under consideration for a potential new technology pathway. It is somewhat challenging as we are discussing a concept that is still fluid. We are trying to provide enough information to have a sensible conversation on which to gauge support for this concept while at the same time listening to ideas on how to build it. Frankly, I thought we had nailed our presentation, but I have reassessed that conclusion.
An example of the confusion is how we use (or do not use) the word “accountant.” In “NASBA jargon” we frequently use terms like “the accounting profession,” but because most State Boards regulate Certified Public Accountants and do not prohibit the standalone use of “accountant,” we often purposely do not use the term to avoid confusion and to clearly separate regulated CPAs from non-regulated accountants. In the discussion about the Technology Pathway we have articulated that the “pathway” would allow information technology (IT) and artificial intelligence (AI) experts (and/or students interested in a career in IT or AI) to become CPAs. We know what we meant, but numerous individuals have responded: “CPAs need to be accountants, so why would you make my IT guy a CPA?”
My bad! I absolutely agree. We should have been saying something like: “We need to attract folks interested in IT and AI careers to be ’accountants’ and for them to become licensed as CPAs. While their education, examination and experience might be different and have an additional focus on IT and AI and more generalized accounting and business, all should agree that their academic and testing requirements adequately provide and measure their competency to be accountants.” Failure to accomplish that threshold will make any attempt at integrating individuals with IT and AI acumen into the accounting profession unacceptable. It could also jeopardize our mutual recognition agreements.
Another frequently asked question is: “Why not change the existing pathway to require IT and AI college courses and to add IT and AI-related questions to the Uniform CPA Examination?”
I think most, including me, believe that this organic approach is, at least theoretically, the best approach. One of the positive outcomes of this robust discussion is that some change is already occurring, albeit slowly. One threat of waiting for organic change is that it will be too slow to counter the rapid change and the need for technology-focused accountants. The more serious concern of altering the Uniform CPA Examination is the disruption to the existing pipeline. We know from experience that even small modifications in the Uniform CPA Examination can result in significant changes in candidates’ behavior, including a temporary decline in candidate volume and, potentially, the loss of candidates.
Finally, the “elephant in the room,” a consistent theme we have heard in recent weeks, is described by State Board members as “distrust of the AICPA.” A few comments heard frequently in recent days compared the Technology Pathway to AICPA’s Cognitor, or it’s because AICPA wants more members and “it is all about money.” Most problematic were comments that, “This is an AICPA effort and they are using NASBA.” These ill-founded beliefs and comments are important in that they are impacting what NASBA is undertaking to accomplish in partnership with the AICPA.
I have previously shared my thoughts on the use of the word “distrust” vs. “disagreement.” NASBA, on behalf of Boards of Accountancy, has disagreed with AICPA on several issues, including recently; the appropriate use of the CGMA title, the need for State Board participation in determining peer review administration and oversight, and the impact of the AICPA’s merger with CIMA. In each of these matters our staff and volunteers have been working closely with AICPA, through our trusted relationships, to successfully mitigate many of the State Boards’ concerns. I can promise you that NASBA’s involvement in the consideration of how to deal with the profession’s rapidly increasing reliance on technology is not being driven by AICPA, but because our volunteers, folks just like you, have been educated on the issue and are focused on being prepared for the State Boards’ future role in public protection as their licensees’ services evolve.
On a personal note, I appreciate so much the candor, and willingness of our members to debate and discuss these important matters. NASBA’s power is our willingness and ability to do that. We will continue to be transparent and will work to have more clarity in our communications.
Semper ad meliora (Always toward better things).
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