April 17th, 2012 by Mary Stucke
There was a recent discussion on LinkedIn in which Ron Baker, founder of VeraSage Institute, stated that he believes that the accounting profession is becoming irrelevant. As an accountant, this statement and his theory intrigued me. It appears that most of Mr. Baker’s opinion revolves around the fact that accountants only deal with historical data and are not forward thinking. He also has concerns about how we are regulated, our independence, and the monopoly within the large accounting firms. To these items I would like to offer the following comments:
First, yes, accountants are often dealing with historical data. It is the nature of the beast, but I do believe that Winston Churchill once said, “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. I would suggest that there are many lessons to be learned from historical data (good and bad) and that a professional accountant assists his clients in taking this historical data and using it to positively influence the financial results in the future.
Secondly, our profession (yes, Mr. Baker, I did call us a profession), is regulated by individuals within our profession and also by outside advisors that help to bring a more well-rounded view of the public’s expectation of ethics and work product. All firms must comply with independent detailed reviews on a rotational basis of the work they produce. The results of these reviews are on file for any current or prospective client to review. Further on this point, the accounting profession’s requirement for continuing education is extensive and taken very seriously: as is the idea of independence. Our profession has an extensive definition of independence. I understand the argument about independence “going out the window” if you are being paid by the people that you are auditing but this is something that happens in many other types of businesses. The exception is that many of the other types of businesses do not have the guidelines for independence and ethics with which accountants must comply.
To conclude, I believe that you apparently, Mr. Baker, have been dealing with the wrong kind of accountants. As an accountant, I pride myself, as do the others of my firm, in being an advisor and advocate for my clients. With the definition of advisor being, “one that advices and provides professional advice to clients”, and advocate being, “one who is a supporter of another” , I would like to state that I certainly hope that these are not things that are becoming irrelevant in the professional world of today.
* Thank you to Ada Perkins, Assurance Senior for her contributions to this post.