The High Calling of Certified Public Accountants (CPAs)
I want to first thank Dr. Zimmerman for the invitation and the opportunity to talk to you today. The views that I express here are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of other PCAOB Board members or staff.
One of the reasons that I always enjoy talking to students is that I get to share temporarily your anticipation of the promise of your future. Some of you might feel more anxious about your future, and that is understandable. I hope that I can help give you a glimpse of the exciting future you can have and a vision of the impact you can make to the accounting profession, the public, our country, and our world.
Thirty years ago, I graduated with my accounting degree. Two years later, I passed the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam and became a CPA. Little did I know how my career would evolve over the next 30 years. I got my first job as an auditor for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Internet wasn’t popular yet, and I prepared workpapers manually at that time. Over the next 30 years, I worked in both the private and public sectors. I have had jobs that were related to accounting/auditing, and jobs that had nothing to do with accounting/auditing. Today, I am a Board Member of PCAOB, which regulates and supervises the public accounting profession. In some ways, one could say that I ended where I started (although I don’t view this as the end yet). I hope that my contribution in my current role can make your future better.
Personally, I am immensely blessed to have been afforded the many opportunities along my career journey. There is no question in my mind that my accounting degree provided me the foundation needed to jumpstart my career and to build my problem-solving skills. The accounting profession has evolved since then. It has become more complex because our problems are bigger. Our world has become more connected, technological, and digital. We expect accountants and auditors to give us concrete black-and-white answers, yet we live in a world of relativity, a culture that increasingly seems to loathe truth.
So why should you be excited about that? You should be excited because accountants are trained to think analytically and critically. We are trained to seek and discern the truth in the data. I recently heard Dr. Michael Kimbrough, Accounting Department Chair at University of Maryland, College Park, state that accounting is about “optimizing information for the intended use.” That is the best characterization I have heard about the value of accounting. Only six words that reveal the what and the why. Imagine a world with no accountants – information will not be organized in a standardized and understandable fashion, users won’t be able to trust the information, and ultimately this leads to poor decision-making including ineffective use of resources, bad investments, disastrous policy setting.
Finally, I hope all of you are planning to be a CPA. According to an NPR podcast aired in August 2022, CPAs are accountants with superpower. The most important letter in this prestigious designation is “P.” CPAs are accountants expected to protect the public interest, which broadly speaking is to “Secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” which is the mission in the preamble to the United States Constitution. It is an honorable calling. Based on the news we read every day, there is no shortage of CPAs not living up to this expectation. Fortunately, that is the minority. I know many CPAs who are solving big problems, protecting the public interest, and making an impact to mankind. In closing, I hope you will walk away today with a renewed sense of mission, passion, and optimism to be the shining light of this profession as we help “Secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”