By Sue Coffey, CPA, CGMA, Journal of Accountancy
This is the first in an occasional series featuring Sue Coffey, CEO–Public Accounting for AICPA & CIMA, discussing trends affecting the profession.
When I think about what makes the CPA profession special at a time of unprecedented challenges, I always come back to the fact that we are a profession of trust. It is what our credential signifies. It is what we are educated for, what we are trained for, what our profession and clients demand, and what our Code of Professional Conduct requires. As a member of the profession and a CPA, I'm proud that people come to us because of our well-earned trust.
The pandemic proved how dedicated the profession is and put on full display clients' trust in our expertise and ability to provide calming, timely advice and service. CPAs pivoted quickly and helped clients, organizations, policymakers, and communities during a time that was incredibly challenging both professionally and personally. We were all affected by the pandemic in some way, and CPAs stood tall and took care of their clients, staff, and peers, as well as their own CPA firms, many of which are small businesses.
While the profession as a community made a deep impact in a range of areas, I've been asked time and time again how auditors fared in a virtual environment. Just like everyone else, in the audit space, we quickly realized that the pandemic might make it difficult to perform our most fundamental service applying procedures we'd used for decades. For example, how could auditors meet their professional requirements when on-site and in-person visits were not feasible? Fortunately, the auditing standards are flexible, and practitioners figured out how to achieve audit objectives, considering many new and different risks the pandemic presented. Amid these challenges, auditors did a great job of stepping up to the plate and doing what was required to issue their audit opinions.
I'm proud to be part of a profession that had the ability to quickly pivot and think innovatively in the spirit of supporting business and promoting public trust. I believe the efforts of our profession have had a profound impact on our country's ability to rebound so quickly.
Focused on quality
Switching back to the audit, the profession's commitment to integrity and competence is reflected in our Enhancing Audit Quality (EAQ) initiative, launched in 2014 as part of our ongoing commitment to improvement.
EAQ drives high-performing audits and helps firms gain the competencies and access resources necessary to be successful. When combined with the efforts of the AICPA Auditing Standards Board, the peer review community, and our audit quality centers, financial statement users can be confident that auditing standards, guidance, and ongoing professional development promote excellence in auditing.
This multipronged and coordinated approach in addition to significant investment by the CPA firms in audit quality is paying off. Peer reviewers are more adept at detecting issues, and required targeted remediation is leading to substantial improvement in firms.
The investment in and adoption of technology are also having a positive impact on audit quality. More extensive use of data analytics, eventually enhanced with machine learning, enables auditors to identify and assess risk more thoroughly and deeply as well as design audit procedures that can evaluate entire populations of data. More relevant and valuable information about a business and its risks not only facilitates a high-quality audit, but also provides the business with rich information that helps it make improvements in its operations. Firms that thrive will do so because they view technology as a strategic investment, rather than as a cost of doing business. What I hear from business owners is that they expect their CPA firm to use the latest technologies and keep up with technological advancement. And we should consider this expectation an opportunity to advise and add value.
An example of not just keeping up but innovating is our development of the Dynamic Audit Solution. Working with CPA.com and CaseWare International, we are developing a technology-based tool that reimagines the audit in a web-based environment. When it is available to the entire profession next year, auditors will have an integrated, dynamic tool that is standard-compliant and will support quality auditing.
To make full use of emerging technologies and stay abreast of the changing business landscape, it's imperative that we update our skills and adopt a constant culture of learning and relearning. Fortunately, we are a profession that is dedicated to lifelong learning.
Deep technical and technological skills will continue to be important, but we're also seeing an increased need for greater business acumen — leadership, strategic thinking, judgment, relationship building, communication — those attributes that make businesses successful.
When it comes to new talent, CPA firm hiring has shifted because they're looking for different skills to serve the varying needs of their clients. Every firm I speak with wants their entry-level employees to have strong, foundational accounting expertise. They also want more skills in technology, data analysis, and business processes and controls. To address these needed skills, the AICPA, in partnership with the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, is working to evolve the CPA licensure model, including university education and the CPA Examination.
Effective Jan. 1, 2024, we will introduce a new CPA Exam that assesses a strong foundational core of auditing, accounting, tax, and technology while allowing a CPA candidate to demonstrate deeper knowledge in one of three disciplines: tax compliance and planning; business analysis and reporting; or information systems and controls. This examination model will drive changes in education that promote students' exploration in a variety of subjects needed to service the marketplace, which in turn will attract those with a broader skill set than would normally be attracted to our profession.
As I said earlier, I'm proud to be part of a dynamic profession that is constantly innovating, evolving, and transforming. Without this type of focus and culture, we'd be ill-equipped to keep pace with the business community. Layer on our commitment to quality and public protection, and creating an environment to attract the best and brightest, and we are well positioned to succeed. Lastly, we've generated and earned the trust of the business community and the public. "Earned" is the operative word — that comes with a commitment to our core values of integrity, objectivity, and competence. But trust is easily lost. That means we cannot ever let our guard down and must continue to strive to meet the highest standards our clients and the public expect of us.