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Let Tradition Guide, Not Lead

Joanne S. Barry, CAE

Arecent New York Times article reported that the Columbia Daily Spectator, the 137-year-old daily newspaper of New York City's Ivy League university, would be shifting to a once-a-week print frequency, with the majority of its work published only online—a direction that many publications have taken in the past couple of years. Although the Spectator is certainly not the first to embrace the digital-only route, what struck me is the reaction that one of the newspaper's trustees, John R. MacArthur, had to this announcement. The New York Times reported that MacArthur, also the publisher of Harper's Magazine, characterized the move to “blithely … dispense with more than a hundred years of tradition” as “illogical” and an “outrage.”

As the executive director of a 117-year-old organization, I respect tradition, and our organization's history informs all that we do at the NYSS CPA; however, MacArthur's comments struck me as anachronistic. So let me ask those of you who are decision makers in your businesses or organizations: are you approaching your operations as a traditionalist, like MacArthur? Or are you embracing change and the opportunities that come with it?

A Transforming Profession

Whenever I speak publicly—either with our members, with regulators, or with other state society executives—I often highlight the new programs and technology infrastructure upgrades we have been working on at the NYSSCPA. I remind them that our organization is no longer their grandfather's state society. But certified public accountancy is no longer their grandfather's profession, either.

Last month, our Trust and Estate Administration Committee hosted a continuing education session on estate-related issues arising from the use of assisted reproductive technology. The session leader had previously published an article, “What If You Die and Then Have Children?,” which explores the inheritance rights of posthumously conceived children, or “test-tube babies.” This is an interesting topic and definitely not one encountered more than two generations ago.

Just this past March, an entire issue of The CPA Journal was dedicated to sustainability reporting on the nonfinancial data that measure a company's social responsibility performance. Companies are starting to provide these types of reports, but there is no consistency among them—no generally accepted framework or standard for preparing a sustainability report, nor a single set of standards for providing an independent review of management's processes and disclosures.

Another topic CPAs need to contend with that can be filed under Ready or Not, This Is Happening is virtual currency. We're seeing some very understandable growing pains when it comes to this area, such as when hundreds of thousands of bitcoins went missing from one of the world's largest digital exchanges. But regulators are starting to play catch-up—and so must CPAs.

To that end, the NYSSCPA has established a Virtual Currency Task Force, composed of members from the Technology Assurance, International Taxation, and Anti–Money Laundering and Counter Terrorist Financing committees; bankers; and investment management and investment company specialists, that will recommend to the NYSSCPA board which considerations state and federal governments should make as they begin to regulate this new form of currency. How should these transactions be taxed, audited, and accounted for? CPAs are in the best position to answer these questions.

A Tradition of Trust

Although this might no longer be your grandfather's profession, what remains the same is the perception of CPAs as trusted, ethical professionals. That reputation, established more than 100 years ago, continues to be recognized today because each succeeding generation of CPAs has honored it and acted in ways to protect and maintain it. At its core, the value that CPAs bring to the public and to their clients is predicated on trust, ethics, and competence. And that will never change.

Joanne S. Barry, CAE. Publisher, The CPA Journal Executive Director & CEO. NYSSCPA, jbarry@nysscpa.org.

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