Small world means big responsibilities for CPAs

The world keeps shrinking, and the role CPAs play in it keeps growing.

That much was clear during the 2014 edition of the World Congress of Accountants. Created by the International Federation of Accountants, the WCOA brings accountants and finance pros from around the globe together every four years to exchange views on the issues and trends that impact the profession.

This year’s event was held in Rome, and the MACPA’s own Ken Kelly was there.

Kelly is a former senior vice president and controller with Baltimore-based spice giant McCormick, so he knows a thing or two about corporate finance, and even his eyes were opened by what he saw in Rome.

“You hear about globalization all the time, but being in the same room with four thousand accountants from around the world made it real,” Kelly told me in a recent phone conversation. “You could feel their passion, their belief that they can make a difference in advancing the economies of their countries, and the world economy as a whole.”

That passion covered a lot of ground in Rome. Among the issues were:

Fraud and corruption
Kelly said many of the accountants on hand believe the simple act of accounting — “of having a correct set of books and making them public” — plays a huge role in fighting fraud and corruption. “The thought is that our profession can be doing a lot more in that space,” Kelly said.

Growth of the profession
We’re spoiled in this country by our robust and mature accounting profession. Meanwhile, some African countries boast that their population of accountants has grown by more than 300 percent in the past decade — all the way to about 400 accountants in all. The point? The profession has a huge opportunity to gain a foothold — and make a significant positive difference — in developing nations throughout the world.

The debate over convergence rages on in the United States, but in many other nations around the globe, there’s no debate at all: IFRS is the go-to set of standards. The reasons are obvious: The European Union found itself juggling scores of different accounting standards before settling on IFRS, and developing countries in need of any solid accounting model quickly embraced IFRS.

The U.S. is a different story, Kelly said. It already has a working and reliable set of accounting standards, and switching to something different would be costly in terms of both time and money. That’s left a lot of folks frustrated — U.S. accountants are frustrated by the pressure they feel to make what they believe is an unnecessary switch to IFRS, and the rest of the world is frustrated because the U.S. won’t toe the IFRS line.

For all of our differences, though, accountants around the world have more in common than most of us realize.

Pope Francis himself said as much when he addressed the WCOA gathering in Rome.

“All those called to work in various capacities in the economy and finance are called to make choices that foster the social and economic well-being of the whole of humanity, offering everyone the opportunity to realize his own development,” he said. “In your activity, you accountants support businesses, but also families and individuals, in giving your economic and financial advice. I encourage you to act always responsibly, fostering relations of loyalty, justice and, if possible, of brotherhood.”

Kelly said so as well.

“Accounting is global, the economy is global, and we need to be bigger players in that,” he said. “As accountants, we can and should make a difference in the global economy. Accounting and finance can drive the global economy forward.”

Listen to my conversation with Kelly in its entirety, then check out these global accounting resources:


Bill Sheridan