I am sure that most of you have heard the year 2020 described as a “dumpster fire.” I get it. My heart goes out to the families who have lost loved ones, businesses that have closed for good and individuals who have struggled financially. As CPAs and firms enter the yearly busy season, dealing with added financial problems of individuals and businesses, managing stimulus program payments and advising clients on the maze of requirements for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans will add new stressors on a profession already burdened with conducting business through non-traditional methods. The challenges of meeting with clients virtually, exchanging documents curbside, and applying other safety measures necessitated by COVID-19 will impact most CPAs, including State Board members.

As a “glass-half-full” type of guy, it is hard for me to use the dumpster fire description because I look back at the past year’s tremendous blessings. We ended 2020 with no NASBA volunteers or staff having been infected with the coronavirus as a result of NASBA-related activity, and I am not aware of any serious hospitalizations or deaths of any member of the NASBA family. NASBA and State Boards quickly took steps to provide services and public protection while exercising caution. The profession speedily pivoted to deliver high quality services to their clients and developed strategies and methods for practicing in the current environment.

My guess is that in early 2020 most folks had never heard of Zoom or worked remotely from home. If asked, I, and others, would have deemed it impossible to have an effective remote workforce, and most of us would have challenged whether meaningful and impactful meetings could be held virtually. How different our responses would be if we were to be asked about those same things today.

If 2020 was a “dumpster fire,” then 2021 is starting off inauspiciously with the coronavirus still ravaging the world, delays in implementation of mass vaccine distribution, and an attack on our U.S. Capitol. We certainly still have significant challenges to manage through and ultimately overcome this year. I know we will. I have been amazed how both NASBA volunteers and staff remained focused on not only maintaining our core business functions but also on keeping up the momentum of projects that prepare us for the future. Having the capacity to shake off fatigue and frustrations to continue progressing on critical projects, like CPA Evolution, is indicative of the perseverance of our association.

Although I am not sure when we will turn the corner, as the U.S. achieves herd immunity and we can return to our workplaces with closer to normal routines, I am confident it will happen this year. It is critical that we learn from this experience. While our preparedness and capability to work remotely helped us immensely, had Prometric not been able to get testing centers reopened for essential business examinations so quickly, we would have faced much bigger challenges. In addition to negative financial implications, not supporting the candidate pipeline, one of our core responsibilities, would have been detrimental to the profession. In our standard disaster preparedness, we had never considered a worldwide pandemic that could essentially shut us down for a long period of time.

We realized in late February 2020 that we had to consider an alternative emergency delivery method for the Uniform CPA Examination. History has shown us that candidates must be provided an opportunity to test when they are best prepared. Failure to do so results in lower pass rates and dropouts from the pipeline. NASBA, AICPA and Prometric began exploring a remote testing alternative for the Uniform CPA Examination, and progress on potential implementation has been made.

A critical step in the development of a viable and safe remote testing capability is pilot testing. To be successful, candidates who test remotely must be qualified, prepared and motivated to the same degree as they would be for testing in a Prometric testing center. To achieve that, remote testing candidates must know that their Examination scores will be accepted by State Boards — all State Boards.

Several State Boards have raised concerns about the risks associated with remote testing and have asked valid questions that must be addressed. Many of those concerns can be mitigated with compensating controls and procedures, but others are more challenging. The pilot testing program is the critical vehicle for addressing those issues. We will provide subject matter experts to any State Board that has concerns or questions about remote testing. We would appreciate being invited to participate in a Board meeting to address specific questions you may have. We are committed to developing a safe, reliable and valid remote CPA Examination delivery model. If we do not accomplish that goal, it will indeed be a “dumpster fire” impacting us all!

Please be safe my friends!

Semper ad meliora (Always toward better things).

— Ken L. Bishop
President & CEO

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