October 2002

Reviving the Profession

Responding to Bob Colson’s August call for ideas to revive the profession, I think the NYSSCPA must be the national leader to recreate the proper attitude of CPAs. The AICPA, from which our firm has resigned in protest of its actions, is no longer viewed as a professional organization, because it isn’t.
We should establish a New York program of mandatory peer review for all accountants rendering audits, reviews, and compilations. We should also have some form of peer review for CPAs who render only bookkeeping and tax services, to ensure that all accountants have current knowledge and remember what they learned in school.

We should encourage a professional attitude and make people realize to whom they have a responsibility. The U.S. Congress has addressed the issue of firms that audit public companies; it’s up to the profession to address all other accountants. The NYSSCPA represents the majority of accountants, and New York probably has more accountants than any other state. (Editor’s Note: With nearly 30,000 members, the NYSSCPA is the largest state CPA society in the country.) There is no other organization to lead the profession.

Joel M. Sieger, CPA
David Sieger & Company LLP
Great Neck, N.Y.

Before we can revive the CPA profession, we have to revive the professional CPA. Too often today, CPAs are so busy marketing the services they would like to provide that they have no time to provide the services for which they were trained. The terms “bean counter,” “green eyeshade,” and “number cruncher” have been accepted by CPAs as derogatory appellations to be avoided by eschewing any activity that could be so labeled. Consequently, the CPA has become a “financial planner,” the description previously adopted by purveyors of life insurance and other investment vehicles, or a “management systems consultant,” which is the polite term for the computer hardware or software salesman.

Of course, the usual form of compensation for these nonaccounting activities is the commission paid by the insurance company, the issuer of the investment vehicle, or manufacturer of the computer product, acceptance of which by the CPA sales representative has been approved by the AICPA as long as the customer is not simultaneously an accounting client. Putting it another way, the AICPA approves of our trading on the status we have attained as the “most trusted profession” to become the most trusted salesmen.

Is it any wonder that the public perception of the CPA profession has declined when our self-perception alternates between a cellophane-cuffed, green-eyeshade-wearing, pencil-pushing number cruncher, and the much more successful master of marketing legerdemain? How big a leap is it from being one who works to close the deal and collect the commission (even if the deal is in the customer’s best interest) to using one’s professional expertise to support, if not create, the self-serving misstatement by the client paying for this service?

I believe the first step in reviving the CPA profession is for CPAs to limit themselves to providing professional accounting services. Let us limit our involvement in nonaccounting activities to assisting our clients in evaluating the proposals of the professional marketers of whatever by crunching their numbers and counting their beans. It will always be necessary for us to comprehend the technology behind the marketers in order to evaluate their proposals, but we cannot become marketers ourselves without giving up our status as accountants.

David D. Freeman, CPA (Retired)

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