By Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, CPA, CGMA
and Tim Christen, CPA, CGMA
At the top of Fast Company magazine’s list of the 50 most innovative companies in the world this year was not a startup but a company that many of us first met two decades ago: Amazon.
Amazon today looks very different than it did in 1995 when it primarily sold books. Its business model has expanded significantly to include music streaming, digital assistants, grocery delivery, TV shows, logistics, drones, Web services and much, much more. Amazon “has continued to be nimble even as it has achieved enviable scale,” Fast Company wrote. It demonstrates a “willingness to embrace uncertainty, experimentation and messy inconsistencies.”
To thrive in today’s environment – shaped by geopolitical shifts, rapid technological change and the unrelenting challenge of complexity — such dexterity is a must. In a KPMG survey, two-thirds of CEOs said that the next three years will be more critical for their industries than the last 50. And 4 in 10 said that they plan to transform their organizations into significantly different entities as a result.
“The question organizations need to ask themselves is this,” a recent Conference Board report concluded, “Are we driving change and disruption, or are they driving us?”
That’s a question our profession has long asked – and one we have answered time and again by choosing the path of innovation. There are numerous examples in our history: The embrace of specialization nearly 30 years ago, computerization of the Uniform CPA Exam more than a decade ago, adoption of cloud computing and our focus on the future of learning, to name just a few.
AICPA members again picked the path of transformation last summer. By approving an international association with The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) in June, they enabled a platform for enhanced resources and benefits for members, employers, and most importantly the public interest. This bold path will allow us to promote, protect and grow the profession and extend its relevancy far into the future while advancing the strength of the CPA.
Since the approval of our members, we have been very busy working to make that vision a reality through the new Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (the Association). It combines the strengths of the AICPA and CIMA to advance public and management accounting and power enhanced resources for members of both professional bodies. To date, we have integrated the management, strategy and operations of both organizations, and are pleased to note that we currently have one team working across 35 offices in support of CPAs and CGMAs around the world. We are already making progress.
In January, for instance, the Association took a stand against mandatory audit firm rotation in South Africa on behalf of the 650,000 members and students it represents. In March, we launched a new website (www.aicpaglobal.com) for the Association and an iconic new look for our family of brands to underscore the dynamic role of our profession in powering trust, opportunity and prosperity worldwide.
In Washington, we are working to represent the public interest and keep you informed on policy changes and the impact as our new president and Congress act on tax, trade and other key agenda items. We have also launched an online resource (aicpa.org/taxreform) where members can get the latest information and insight on proposed and passed tax law changes.
In coming weeks, members will see new tools to assess and advise on a rapidly growing risk — cybersecurity. Members in business and industry will gain access to a new daily newsletter to help them keep up with developments relevant to their work. We have new initiatives to provide awareness and understanding of emerging technologies that create both opportunities and challenges for our business models and the services we offer. One key area is audit. We are beginning research into the auditing function of the future - how it's performed, what tools are needed and what skillsets will be required.
At the heart of this work is a question that guides us: How do we drive a dynamic profession forward?
There is plenty of evidence that shows the strength of our profession today. The CPA is unmatched for trust – business decision makers and investors rank the CPA first among financial and business professionals. The Center for Audit Quality, in its annual Main Street Investor Survey, found confidence in public companies at an all-time high. And our unwavering commitment to the pipeline of future talent continues to pay dividends.
Additionally, the CGMA continues to grow in demand as employers seek talented leaders and team members who can transform data into actionable insight that drives better decisions. More than 150,000 professionals around the world now hold the CGMA, and our Global Management Accounting Principles and CGMA Competency Framework are setting the benchmark for management accounting practice and competency development.
Maintaining that strength for the profession of tomorrow will require new ways of thinking and increasingly faster responses to changing client and business needs. We have to work across many fronts to advance the profession in a world that will be more and more influenced by technology as well as international business forces. As a profession of public and management accountants, we must be agile and willing to embrace uncertainty and experimentation.
In that way, the Association – with its expanded reach and resources – is an accelerant for innovation. And, similar to Amazon’s metamorphosis, 20 years from now the profession will likely look quite different— however, just as strong and relevant. Through our initiatives and collective efforts today, we will ensure that we are well prepared for different services, different technologies and different skills.
Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, CPA, CGMA, is Chairman of the American Institute of CPAs and Public Accounting Board. Tim Christen, CPA, CGMA, is the Immediate Past Chairman of the American Institute of CPAs and current Vice Chairman of the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants.