What is a CPA?
Well…we’re the only ones licensed to perform financial statement audits. The federal government requires it for public companies, and the states issue the licenses. But is this what defines us? Is our identity basically defined by regulatory statute?
“Bringing integrity to information.” That’s sorta what an auditor does – makes the financial information believable, adds credibility. And even if we don’t perform audits, the public turns to us when it wants an honest opinion: when it needs to be objective and independent.
“Making sense of a changing and complex world.” That’s what the CPA Vision Project proposes. I have very deep respect for the folks involved in the project, though this statement sorta leaves me wanting for more. “Making sense of a changing and complex world” feels a little vague, and lacking in a sense of direction to me. I sorta feel like it’s a definition for being “human”: we’re all just trying to make sense of the changing and complex world we live in. But what makes the CPA unique? What do they bring to the table that others don’t?
“Accounting is the language of business.” We’ve all heard that one before. But is it really? Are there some realities of “business” that accounting fails to, well, “account for”? And all languages evolve — in what ways has our language evolved? Fair value accounting perhaps? Are the pictures we paint with numbers now, clearer or muddier than the ones we painted 25 or 50 years ago?
Let’s circle back to the auditing idea for moment: auditing requires a particular skill set, and a particular understanding. The goal is to be able to take a high level view of things, and trace it all the way down to its implications for the individual transaction. And, in turn, to be able to see an individual transaction, and trace its significance all the way up to the high level view of things. To see both the particular and the general, in context. That requires a lot of knowledge about how things work, and how they work together; how they act and interact; what pushing on one side of the financial apparatus, causes to come out the other side. We could call it perspective: seeing both the forest, and the trees.
Maybe it’s here that we find our calling. We are about the business, of business. We are detail visionaries. Our visors look both downwards, and forwards. We are, dare I say…creative accountants.
So perhaps there are two ways to organize things: (1) You can organize things after they’ve happened, or (2) You can organize things in order to happen. If we’re not careful, we could get ourselves stuck in the former. But I propose the latter is where the true value to our customers is at, and what the CPA of the future should be about: helping people organize things to happen. But the ultimate test about whether we’ll be able to assume this identity, of course, is whether we can, well, organize ourselves to make this happen. How bout you: are you in?
Adrian Simmons is the Chief Creative Director of David G. Simmons, CPA in the Washington, D. C. Metro area. Look for Adrian’s article on Thriveal the first Monday of each month. You can also follow Adrian on twitter at @AdrianGSimmons .