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A worldwide call for technology training.

Both the American Institute of CPAs and the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) have called on accountants to meet minimum standards in understanding information technology (IT). Such standards apply to accountants in all areas: public practice, industry, education and government.

The AICPA executive committees on academic and career development and on information technology formed a joint task force, which has published Information Technology Competencies in the Accounting Profession: AICPA Implementation Strategies for IFAC International Education Guideline no. 11. The document includes the IFAC guideline, Information Technology in the Accounting Curriculum, and the AICPA's own guidance, which echoes the IFAC statement. "The task force agreed with the IFAC document, and we added our own twists and emphases," said task force member L. Gary, Boomer. Task force chairwoman Mary Beth Armstrong said the Institute document also addressed the implications of the IFAC statement and implementation issues.

The two statements are in general agreement, and the AICPA decided to include the earlier IFAC statements with its own guidance. According to Boomer, the task force wanted to make it clear that the gap in IT education is an international problem requiring an international solution.

What's required

The statements go into detail about the requirements of CPAs in different areas of accounting. Boomer pointed out some examples of the guidance provided: On a very basic level, a CPA should have the ability to use spreadsheet, word processing, database and general ledger programs. More advanced knowledge may include data conversions and network management.

However, Boomer said the statement emphasized it's not just what technology a CPA has but, rather, how he or she uses it. For example, "We made it clear that generally 70% of IT cost should be implementation and training and only 30% allotted for purchase of hardware and software."

The document also discusses at length the need for budgets and long-term plans. Armstrong said that entities tended to divide IT costs among different departments without ever adding up all the costs for review. Also addressed was the need for IT benchmarks to chart the progress of IT investments.

IT to change education, CPE, exam

Mary Beth Armstrong said accounting educators would have to take the initiative and begin discussing with their universities' IT faculty what needs to be taught and who will teach it.

For CPAs already in the workforce, companies and firms may try to hire outside trainers. "But they may end up being disappointed," she said, "because the technical person may not have the necessary communication and teaching skills." She thought this might open practice niches for already trained CPAs, who have both the skills and the knowledge of what other CPAs need and the teaching skills to convey the information.

"I think many universities are very willing to change their curricula to make sure CPAs' education is consistent with the guidelines," said Boomer. "Also, if the Uniform CPA Examination has more IT questions, you'll see more university classes with IT." Because the responses of the marketplace and state boards of accountancy to IT will drive continuing professional education offerings, Armstrong said she expected IT CPE offerings to increase, as well as increased IT in existing offerings.

A free copy of the document may be obtained from the AICPA order department by calling 800-862-4272 and asking for product no. G00117JA.

FYI

* The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) issued broad guidelines for national banks engaged in asset securitization activities. According to the OCC bulletin (OCC 96-52), it is more common for banks to secure loans by developing asset-backed securities structures. The bulletin advises national banks to fully understand the risks associated with asset securitization and to implement risk management programs to identify, measure, monitor and control those risks.

* An advisory council to the Labor Department was expected to encourage Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich to require defined contribution plans to automatically issue periodic statements to plan participants. The Advisory Council on Employee Welfare and Pension Benefit Plans opted to amend the Employee Retirement Income Security Act so plans could provide participants with statements summarizing contributions, investments and distribution activity.

* The Financial Executives Institute published recommendations to ensure that future retirees will have adequate retirement income. A copy of the policy statement, National Retirement Income Recommendations, can be obtained by contacting Alice Armstrong, government relations manager, at 202-659-3700 or by e-mail at ata@fei.org.
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Publication:Journal of Accountancy
Date:Dec 1, 1996
Words:725
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