Exploring our legacy, looking toward the future

April 1, 2017

JRichardsonBy Jay Richardson, JD, CPA, CMA, CFM, CGMA
2017-18 OSCPA Chair

A privilege of being the OSCPA Chair is being able to share my thoughts about the profession and its future in The Accountant.

One of my favorite vernacular philosophers is Yogi Berra. Many of you will recognize some of his famous turns-of-phrase such as, “It ain’t over till it’s over,” and “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.” Many people make-up Yogi Berra-isms, so much so that he once was reported to have uttered: “I really didn’t say half the things I said.” One saying that Mr. Berra apparently did utter is “The future ain’t what it used to be.”

Recognizing that you cannot plan for the future (even if it “ain’t what it used to be”) without understanding the past, I embarked on a study of accounting’s roots. It seems that one name that figures prominently in early accounting history is Luca Pacioli. Around 1494, he first described the double-entry bookkeeping system used by Venetian merchants. Luca did not invent double-entry accounting; businesses used the system to record business transactions before the Venetians. But it was Pacioli who first described the system of debits and credits, kept in journals and ledgers, that is still the basis of today's accounting systems. A 524 year history. Not bad.

Of course the Italians were using accounting concepts even earlier than those described by Mr. Pacioli. The Roman, over 2,000 years ago, had access to detailed financial information as evidenced by the Res Gestae Divi Augusti (The Deeds of the Divine Augustus). This work listed and quantified the Emperor Augustus’ public expenditures to citizens, army veterans, religious institutions, and even gladiators. The scope of the accounting information at the Emperor's disposal suggests that its purpose encompassed planning and decision-making. Accountants were involved in decision-making more than 2,000 years ago. Again, not bad.

After the Agricultural Revolution, scholars assert that humans required a way to keep track of a very key type of information: numbers. The first people to learn a system of storage of numbers were the Sumerians who lived in southern Mesopotamia. One tablet that has been partially translated comes from the city of “Uruk” and was written around 5,000 years ago. One symbol translates as “Kushim,” which some think may be an official title or even a name. If it truly is a name, then it is the earliest known name of a person! Other symbols translate to the number “29,086,” “barley,” and “37 months.” Think about it: The first written evidence of a human name was not associated with a poet, warrior, political leader, or spiritual oracle. It is entirely likely, and quite a testament to the profession, that one of the earliest known forms of writing may have been authored by an accountant: “Kushim, the Accountant!” Now that is a great legacy.

I have no doubt that accountants and the Society will remain viable for years to come. Although the future ain’t what it used to be, the future will be bright if we continue to strengthen the Society and leverage its impressive resources and its heritage.

I hope you will join me and the rest of the board as we chart a course through the changes that are certainly here. It is an honor to be the 2017-18 chair of the OSCPA Board of Directors, and I look forward to working with each of you through what will, no doubt, be an exciting 12 months.

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