Recently I was in a meeting with some senior staff considering the next steps in the “CPA Evolution” discussion. We had received the CPA Evolution Task Force’s report and were pondering how to best communicate its conclusions and implementation strategies. While the Task Force agreed two unique pathways to become a CPA were unacceptable, they also maintained that action needs to occur to prepare the profession, and those entering the profession, for the technology-driven changes that continue to advance. NASBA’s leadership understands that change is critical − but that change is often resisted.
In the staff’s discussion, we were considering what was the best word to describe the degree of change necessary to accomplish the goal of transitioning the profession and the entry requirements to become a CPA, knowing that the consensus of leadership at the February AICPA/NASBA Summit was that “radical” change was needed. In trying to find the right word, some thought the word “radical” had negative connotations and suggested “substantial” as an alternative. After all, traditionally accountants are known for well thought-out, cautious, considered action, not radical measures. However, as I described in a recent President’s Memo: Take a Big Swing at It, sometimes a big swing is necessary. I wasn’t sure that “substantial” was strong enough to represent a “big swing,” but concurred that “radical” might be construed as negative, so I began searching for the appropriate word.
There is a great line in the movie “Forrest Gump” where Forrest remarks, “Sometimes there just aren’t enough rocks.” After a thorough investigation of synonyms of “radical” in various thesauruses and dictionaries, I began to feel a bit like Forrest: Sometimes there just aren’t enough words. In my job, I know words are important, particularly words that can be interpreted negatively. A case in point is the word “disruptive.” The CPA Evolution discussion is premised on the occurrence of disruptive technology. The first reaction of many to the word “disruptive” is that anything disruptive is bad. Yet, the definition of “disruptive” as applied to technology includes “innovative, inventive and ingenious,” certainly not negative words.
To give you some idea of the importance and prioritization of the CPA Evolution discussion, the incoming Chairs of NASBA, Laurie Tish, and of AICPA, Bill Reeb, have been asked to lead the effort to get to implementable strategies, building on the work of the joint CPA Evolution Task Force. Their first step will be the development of new principles. Having the Vice Chairs in this role will insure that there is continuity of leadership of the process.
The pace of change toward the use of technology continues to accelerate, as do the ramifications. Dave Sanford, the Executive Director of the Guam Board of Accountancy, recently sent me an article about blockchain security holes. The theme of the article is that blockchains, once thought to be unhackable, are now getting hacked. The potential financial threat of these type of breaches will be huge. Almost every day there are news reports and articles about the rapid advancements in technology in accounting and auditing. Some even imply that audits may not be needed in the future because technology will automatically only produce reports that are completely reliable. I heard the same thing about blockchain. Mr. Sanford’s forwarded article pretty much debunks that argument.
So why all this discussion about words? NASBA is preparing for future presentations to you of ideas and principles to move forward with an acceptable and implementable plan for change. I have to confess that even thinking, speaking or writing about words in this context makes me somewhat uncomfortable. I am a strong believer in clear messaging, accuracy and transparency, or as my old grandpa would say, “straight talk.” Some might think that focusing on what words to use or not use conflicts with that goal. My intent is to make certain that never happens. I am not sure what words we will end up using, but they will be clear and succinct.
I have no idea of what the outcomes of this work will be, but I am certain that dealing with “disruptive technologies” and other related advances will require “radical” change. While this may seem negative to some, I am hopeful that State Boards, State Societies and all stakeholders can get their heads around the fact that this effort is going to indeed take a big swing. I don’t know what word(s) we will be using, “substantial” vs. “radical”– or something else. I do know that we will build on the strong requirements that have made the CPA highly respected and make recommendations that the times demand to maintain that status.
Semper ad meliora (Always toward better things).
— Ken L. Bishop
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