Late last year, I was saddened to read the obituary of Robert Ellyson, a former chairman of the Florida State Board of Accountancy and past chair of NASBA. I had gotten to know Bob (he insisted I call him ‘Bob’ and not “Mr. Ellyson”) as before he died, he began calling me, not for any apparent reason, but just to talk. I am so grateful for those conversations.
I learned later of the number of amazing achievements Bob had made during his life, not just as a PWC partner or accountant, but as a leader in his community and the profession. Just to name a few, Bob was one of the founders of Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, and he played an instrumental role in creating the School of Accountancy at his Alma Mater, the University of Florida. He was a recipient of the AICPA Gold Medal for Distinguished Service and in 1997, he was named as one of the CPAs with the greatest impact on the accounting profession in the 125-year AICPA history.
Over the years, I have had the privilege of meeting several great leaders of the accounting profession, many of whom have passed on. My reason for focusing on Bob Ellyson was something I noted in his obituary. With all the personal and business accomplishments he achieved, and with all of the accolades and recognitions he received, his obituary highlighted that Bob was instrumental in achieving the increase in the educational requirement to become a CPA from four to five years of college, the 150-hour requirement.
Reading that obituary made me think of the many great leaders from State Boards of Accountancy, State CPA Societies, AICPA and NASBA, who worked for decades to raise the bar of entry, to establish the U.S. CPA as a profession and not a trade.
I was just beginning my career in accounting regulation when the final push was being made across the United States to achieve 150 hours, substantial equivalency and ultimately mobility in every state and territory. Some of the early pioneers did not live long enough to see the profession move across the finish line with all 55 U.S. jurisdictions becoming substantially equivalent. Bob did, and from my conversations with him, I know it was a source of pride.
In writing this Memo, I couldn’t help thinking about the many men and women in state boards and NASBA, state societies and AICPA, and in the profession that shepherded substantial equivalency and mobility legislation across the country, particularly those who are not with us today. I was privileged to have the opportunity to work with several of those great leaders.
We all know that sometimes NASBA and AICPA, and state boards and states societies, start out with different positions on issues of change. Substantial equivalency ultimately brought us all to consensus. Old and dear friends like Ron Rotaru, the executive director of the Accountancy Board of Ohio, and Clarke Price, the CEO of the Ohio Society of CPAs, worked together to make their state one of the first to attain mobility privileges for Ohio CPAs and allow practice privileges in Ohio for CPAs from other states. In my role of helping support the mobility effort for NASBA, I was privileged to see that same level of cooperation across the country.
Since the enactment of the increased education requirements, substantial equivalency and mobility, the profession has flourished. The tremendous growth of firms, the reliance on certified public accounting services, the expanded definition of attest services, and the unprecedented respect given to the profession by consumers, all illustrate the success of these historical achievements.
Today, we find ourselves at a crossroads. With the undeniable pipeline shortage of candidates, due primarily to demographics and the perceived loss of monetary value in becoming a CPA, we are all looking for ways to mitigate the problem. If we don’t amplify the problem by diminishing the public’s perception of the profession, or losing candidates who want to join a learned profession, I am confident that we will reach a resolution. Post COVID, we are already seeing an uptick in college enrollments and CPA Examination candidates.
I don’t often use the adage of folks “rolling over in their grave,” but I can’t help picturing that the forethinking pioneers of the accounting profession must be doing so now. I hope we can slow down the tendency to want to jump to short term remedies and preserve their 120/150 Legacy!
Semper ad meliora (Always toward better things).
— Ken L. Bishop
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