As the president and CEO of NASBA, I have always felt comfortable in my ability to monitor and measure what I describe as the temperature of our stakeholders. While the State Boards of Accountancy are our primary stakeholders, we are certainly interested in the opinions and ideas of Board of Accountancy staff members, State CPA Societies and their staff members, and other national associations, all of whom we consider to be important stakeholders. I have recently written and spoken about some current disagreements between our various stakeholder groups (mostly pipeline related), and more importantly, the tension that it has created. In our discussions about those disagreements, I occasionally heard either “they are not listening, or “you are not listening.” When “you” is NASBA, I take that criticism very seriously. 

This is a relatively new phenomenon. While I try to never be defensive, I have always considered NASBA’s efforts to communicate, including listening, to be effective. As I have stated many times, NASBA is you. Through our regional director led regional calls, state board relations staff, executive director monthly Zoom meetings, and open participation in conferences with breakout sessions, there are many opportunities for listening and dialogue. Similarly, through our State Society Relations Committee, inviting society staff to our conferences, and other visits, there should not be a dearth of communication. Despite these efforts, the “not listening” criticism is ever present. 

I have spoken of the “distortion” of behavior after the tremendous disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic. Folks are just behaving differently and that includes challenging institutionalized and historic ways of doing things. This is not necessarily a bad thing as change is often painful, but ultimately proves to be positive. 

In trying to interpret or understand what is behind the “not listening” commentary, I have begun to have some empathy. If we appear to be listening, but not willing to seriously consider viewpoints and express the need for change, then are we really listening?  

At the recent NASBA Western Regional meeting, I approached a longtime friend who is a senior staff member of a state society, which has proposed legislation that could disrupt substantial equivalency and mobility. I was surprised when he commented that he didn’t know if I was speaking to him because of the society’s legislative actions. While his remark may have been made somewhat facetiously, it sensitized me as to the importance of how we communicate and the tone of our conversations, particularly when we disagree. 

In my last President’s Memo titled The 150 Legacy, I wrote of the tremendous amount of work of generations of accounting leaders who for decades worked to get all states substantially equivalent, allowing a system of practice mobility that no other profession has been able to accomplish anywhere in the world. There is no doubt that I, and others, are passionate about protecting their work and the resultant privilege U.S. CPAs and their clients have enjoyed. I am starting to recognize that passion may be seen by others as a proverbial ‘stake in the ground’ and an unwillingness to consider changes to address the shrinking number of new CPAs…in other words, not listening. 

At the most recent NASBA Board of Directors meeting, there were serious discussions about legislative challenges and the resultant perceived distrust, with a focus on the best ways to move forward. We have already reached out to key stakeholders to establish communication channels and opportunities. While there are disparities in opinions as to how we should address the pipeline issue, there seems to be consensus that no party wants to disrupt substantial equivalency or mobility. That provides an avenue for negotiation and middle ground opportunities.  

This coming year (NASBA’s new fiscal year begins August 1), we are going to face unprecedented challenges, but also significant opportunities. After years of development and investment, we will soon be launching the new CPA Evolution examination with changes that will bring currency and flexibility into the entry examination for the accounting profession. We are already seeing signs of renewed interest in joining this great profession with increasing numbers of students enrolling in accounting programs at colleges and universities across the country. If we can muster the where-with-all to work together, I am confident that we can reach consensus as to changes in the process that should be considered.  

I am personally committed to being open to new and innovative ideas, and most importantly, to listening! 

Semper ad meliora (Always toward better things). 

— Ken L. Bishop 
President & CEO 

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