Welcome to The CPA Journal Archives

Visit cpajournal.com to read the very latest from The CPA Journal


How the Profession Has Evolved, and Where It Is Headed

Stuart Kessler, JD, LLM, CPA/PFS

When I joined the accounting profession in the late 1950s, only the “elite” could get a position on an NYSSCPA committee, which was a prerequisite to advance in any leadership position. For me, trying—and failing—to get published in The CPA Journal was part of that effort.

After six unsuccessful applications, I was appointed to the (now defunct) Natural Business Year Committee. At the chair's request, I volunteered to write an article. After several months of writing and research, the Journal's then-editor Max Block presented me with edits so dense that I couldn't read the copy. After a year of rewrites, my article still wasn't considered acceptable for The CPA Journal— though it was later published in a college academic magazine.

I'm certain it was because of my perseverance in trying to publish the article in the Journal that I was chosen to be the successor committee chairman. With time, I served on the NYSSCPA's board of directors and eventually became President—all because the legendary Max Block rejected my article. The two of us later became good friends.

How Practice Has Changed

The accounting profession has evolved in many ways since then. Accounting will always be a profession, not an industry. Still, we don't have to practice the way we did 100 years ago. When I tell people that I started out doing tax returns by hand, they look at me as if I came from the Dark Ages. (Incidentally, my firm was one of the first to utilize computer-prepared tax returns in 1964.)

I predict that in the foreseeable future, the government will utilize an automated system for tax preparation, and only those with higher incomes or unusual transactions will require the services of a CPA to prepare their returns. To prepare for that day, small to midsize firms should hire CPAs who also possess other expertise (e.g., in technology, healthcare, or sustainability).

Smaller firms can also find value in personal financial planning (PFP). Thirty years ago, it was a client at a Fortune 50 company who first requested that our firm provide what was then a unique service: personal financial planning to corporate executives. Assisting these men and women and their families to improve their financial lives was one of the most rewarding experiences in my career. Performed properly, PFP is about so much more than minimizing taxes—it's about helping people reach their goals. It is also a great and growing business opportunity, especially for small and midsize firms.

Improving Quality

The CPA profession must police itself, or there will be increasing pressure for the government to do so—and they will not do a good job. Peer review needs to be a thorough and exacting process. Better auditing quality will require self-correction, and continuing education is the path to get there. But the methods of continuing education need to be revisited. It needs to be more than sitting in front of a computer and doing something else while a webinar is on in the background.

Another concern of mine is age discrimination. Too many sages in our field are “put out to pasture” at age 60 or 65 when they could still contribute in unique ways. We are constantly told about a shortage of talent in our profession. Why overlook people who have been assets to their firms for decades? With proper planning for the advancement of younger professionals, this should be a win-win situation. I know we can work out a way to keep experienced people in non-partner, mentoring executive positions with lighter workloads that keep opportunities open for young talent.


Possibly the most important issue facing the CPA profession in the coming years is the need for greater diversity. The profession's efforts began in earnest with gender and followed with ethnic diversity. The AICPA and NYSSCPA worked to first reinforce how the profession was a great place for women. It is no longer a surprise to see a woman leading the AICPA or NYSSCPA. This coming year Deloitte will have its first female CEO, and the first woman will serve as president of the IFAC.

In the area of ethnic diversity, the journey has been long and frustrating to many of us. Although efforts have spanned more than a quarter of a century, results have been mixed. Minority-owned firms have been successful, but the overall makeup of the profession has been slow to change. The AICPA recently formed the National Commission on Diversity and Inclusion in an effort to leverage the best ideas for success. It is not only in the best interests of the profession for CPA firms to be diverse, but also in keeping with the changes in American Society as a whole. The demographic trends clearly indicate that the united States will soon have no majority group. Entrepreneurial ownership is rapidly becoming more diverse. Our profession would do well to keep pace with these companies, our potential clients.

Our profession has come a long way since the NYSSCPA was formed more than 100 years ago. Its future looks bright as those of us who love it pass the torch to our new leaders.

Stuart Kessler, JD, LLM, CPA/PFS. Senior Tax Director. New York office of CohnReznick. Kessler served as chairman of the AICPA board of directors, president of the AICPA Foundation, and president of the NYSSCPA and FAE. He is a member of The CPA Journal Editorial Board and NYSSCPA Hall of Fame.

Search for archived articles, authors, and topics below:


Login or create a new account