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In Search of a Successful Future.

Debate on issues such as XYZ serves as a catalyst to change

"May you live in interesting times."

This old Chinese greeting alludes to the two-edged sword of change-a dual reality of opportunity and threat fused by a single phrase. It seems an apt admonition to us as the profession struggles to identify itself as it moves into the 21st century.

I was originally attracted to CalCPA and this profession by the energy many CPAs dedicate toward seeking a future that is responsive to the current economy, good for business and individual clients, and that maintains high ethical standards and values. The profession's adherence to these ethical standards and values have earned CPAs the title "trusted professional."

These are truly interesting times for the profession and I welcome the opportunity to be part of the search for a rational and successful future.


Some of the hottest professional issues that CPAs contend with today include the decreasing number of candidates for the CPA exam and license, as well as the changing roles of CPAs. As a result, on the national level, the AICPA seeks to define the future CPA practice as one that encompasses the many business services that CPAs already provide such as financial planning, technology consulting, business plan development and human resource consulting.

The AICPA leadership believes that the CPA license can form a platform from which CPAs may launch into these other services. They also believe that the CPA designation, or brand, cannot be stretched to include the expanded services, thus the current debate on the XYZ designation (XYZ is used as a placeholder for an, as yet, undetermined name).

Advocates propose to license XYZ under intellectual property laws and keep the designation private, rather than include this expanded concept within a changed CPA license. The advantages of this approach are: future changes in practice will not require legislative change on a state-by-state basis, therefore ensuring future flexibility; and the Opportunity to promote global awareness and recognition of the XYZ designation.


Perceptions of XYZ among CPAs are mixed, as last month's California CPA cover story demonstrated. Still, I congratulate the AICPA for its farsighted approach to planning for the profession's future.

More than most professional organizations that I have observed in my career, the institute is looking at changes in the environment in which their members practice. Instead of trying (unsuccessfully) to hold back the future, the AICPA is attempting to anticipate and prepare for it. This is what associations, at their very best, do on behalf of their members.

But, I think the most basic assumption of the XYZ initiative should be critically examined. That is the belief that the CPA brand cannot be stretched to encompass the greater activities of CPAs. I wonder if this is true? If many CPAs already successfully engage in the types of practice envisioned by XYZ- and they are-doesn't that mean that the CPA brand has stretched already? This observation, of course, does not address the licensure issues that the AICPA identifies or the apparent drop in attractiveness of the CPA curriculum to young people.


The AICPA is rightly concerned about the decline in accounting student enrollment. It believes that the rigorous process for demonstrating competency to perform attest functions, combined with fewer CPAs actually performing attest services, is a barrier that many young people are no longer willing to cross to gain the credential.

I'm not questioning the AICPA's statistics, but I do wonder whether there is a connection between declining enrollments and audit training. I'm not convinced that we thoroughly understand all of the reasons behind the enrollment decline as of yet.

The debate over the XYZ designation is a healthy one and I look forward to it. As is so frequently the case, this discussion will evolve over time and change with the economy, business practices and interests of CPAs and their clients. Whatever the outcome, short and long-term, the AICPA has rightfully jump-started the deliberations. It is now up to us to consider not only the designation, but the future of the profession.

May you live in interesting times....

Susan B. Waters is CalCPA's executive director. She looks forward to hearing your ideas the profession's; future and other issues.
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Title Annotation:accountants
Publication:California CPA
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Oct 1, 2000

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