The Path Forward
Good afternoon and thank you for joining us today at the first-ever virtual AICPA Council meeting, during what are truly extraordinary times.
I’m honored to be the 107th Chair of the American Institute of CPAs, and — after our 133 years — to be the 6th woman to take on this role. This next year, I’ll also serve as Chair of the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants — the united voice of the AICPA and CIMA — and I’m excited to have the opportunity to talk with members about the value we’re delivering, across the globe, as one organization.
I’d like to start off by saying how grateful I am to those who have served before me. Bill Reeb, you’re a hard act to follow. Your courageous, energetic leadership has inspired us to see the tremendous opportunity in our rapidly changing world. As you told us, we must take leaps, not steps, to meet the demands of today and the future. And we must accept the discomfort of change.
The impact of COVID-19 has made that truer than ever.
You don’t need me to tell you how this pandemic has turned our world upside down. We all are experiencing myriad disruptions in our daily lives, with new routines for work, for our families, and even for getting basic necessities. We are truly living disruption — not incremental change, but a radical break from the familiar.
As you have heard over the course of our meeting, our profession has a crucial role to play in helping navigate this disruption. From our advocacy work related to the CARES Act and IRS filing deadlines to providing resources to members auditing in this new environment, the AICPA is here to help businesses and individuals get through these tough times, learn from them and grow.
In an uncertain world, CPAs will be needed as trusted advisers who can lead a path forward. Now more than ever, CPAs will be called upon to help rebuild our communities and our economy. We will help our clients and employers survive this crisis and thrive again because of our dedication to navigating these waters with them, moving through the storm to safe harbor.
And, as I see it, we will need to do three things to help:
- Find strength in our connection with one another.
- Seize the opportunity to make much-needed changes.
- Evolve in order to thrive.
First, let’s all commit to finding strength in our connection with one another. Even as we distance ourselves physically, we can help each other, our clients and our employers move through this crisis with our knowledge, our experience, our compassion and our leadership. It’s a tremendous responsibility to lead a path forward to recovery, but together we are more than capable.
My personal experiences have taught me the power of a network, and that’s a big part of what excites me about my role as Chair. My father, who adopted me when I was four, was Filipino-American, and right away his family embraced my Irish-American mother and me. You can see in family photos that my mother and I looked different, but I didn’t feel different. I had an extended network of relatives who cared for me, took pride in me and accepted me as one of their own.
Having a diverse family who looked after one another profoundly affected me, as did having a dad in the military. His career took me to many different parts of the world, including years in Taiwan and Germany. I saw first-hand the power of seeing across differences to what unites us. I learned that what matters is our character and the connection we have to one another.
I am fortunate to have learned this lesson from my family when I was young, and my good luck continues today with a wonderful husband, Russ, and son, Connor, who lift me up with their love and support. I am also deeply fortunate that I have had this support professionally. And among you watching today are Deloitte colleagues who have given me very meaningful support during my career.
What these people and experiences have taught me is that what matters most in good times and bad is that we are always willing to lift one another up and give back — no matter the differences that may seem to separate us.
I see the AICPA guided by these values. I’m so proud of the ways we’re lifting up and supporting our members, students and the entire economy. The Institute is providing much-needed resources and tirelessly advocating on behalf of the profession, small businesses and the public. I know staff and volunteers like myself are honored to serve a profession that plays such a pivotal role in helping individuals and businesses manage these difficult times and see a path forward.
And I’m certain all of you are living these values of lifting up and giving back, too, as you provide much-needed support to those around you during this crisis. I know your knowledge, experience, compassion and leadership are of tremendous value. I know your clients, employers and colleagues are finding strength in their connection to you.
In our role as trusted advisers, many of us are connecting with clients in new ways, like joining virtual meetings. I’d like us to consider, though, that maybe those are ways we should have been connecting with them before.
We are all learning from this situation, but it’s also confirming what we already knew and, perhaps, didn’t push hard enough for in the past. We know going digital is no longer a theoretical “nice to have,” but is vital, and we know reimagining our value for a changing marketplace is necessary.
Which leads me to my second point: We need to seize the opportunity to make needed changes.
It’s in times like these that our eyes can open to what is most important, and we can make the changes needed to thrive in the new normal — and the next normal after that. So, let’s not only respond to today’s immediate need for evolution — let’s get ahead of it. Let’s move beyond the familiar, get past entrenched ways of thinking and create the value required now and in the future, on the path to recovery and beyond.
We’re ready as a profession and as an organization to do this work because we have been building muscle to innovate and reimagine our skills and services for years. That is one of the reasons we have been able to respond so quickly to the impacts of COVID-19. And, as the profession continues to make needed changes, the AICPA is here to help.
We’re supporting our members worldwide as they expand their service offerings. In the assurance space, we have grown the SOC Suite of Services to include not only SOC for Cybersecurity, but SOC for Supply Chain. And, as I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, this pandemic has underscored the necessity of understanding and assessing supply chain risks.
You have also heard us discuss opportunities in sustainability reporting and assurance in recent years. Before COVID-19 dominated the news cycle, at the beginning of 2020 major organizations and companies were talking about sustainability issues, giving the issue a higher profile. For example, at Davos this January, 140 major companies worldwide expressed support for sustainability-related metrics and disclosures for businesses. The marketplace is driving this change, showing how much of a company’s value is off the balance sheet. And it is incumbent upon us to embrace the opportunity to deliver trust and assurance in this area. The current disruption we’re all experiencing is living proof of the value of being able to pivot, and this is yet another area where firms of all sizes can help drive the economy forward. Let’s not miss the opportunity.
Of course, sustainability isn’t the only area where CPAs can excel as trusted advisers. Now more than ever, individuals and families have concerns and questions about their long-term finances. Tax practitioners who are not already doing so can help their clients with personal financial planning, which AICPA research shows is what consumers want even during normal times.
We’re also helping expand the management accounting space. We used our Future of Finance research to update the CGMA Professional Qualification syllabus and exams, as well as the CGMA Competency Framework — all of which were released last year. The digital, business and leadership skills included in this framework are precisely what are needed in these times. Organizations need financial professionals who not only have knowledge in business continuity, digital strategy and risk management, but who can also communicate effectively and lead with vision.
In assurance, we are experiencing a move to remote auditing, which is a change that brings many challenges and opportunities. And the AICPA is committed to helping auditors in this environment by providing guidance on everything from inventory counts to reporting considerations.
COVID-19 is spurring many of us to make much-needed changes — to reimagine our value and innovate with technology. Even though these are challenging times for many of us, let’s seize this moment to evolve our skills and competencies, and how we deliver value to clients and employers.
Which brings me to my third point. We must evolve to thrive.
Whether you are new to the profession or decades into it, lifelong learning is the new normal. Next month, it will be 24 years that I’ve been a partner at Deloitte, and I love that I’m always still learning.
A couple of years ago, I started working on academic accreditation with the AICPA. It’s not something I knew a lot about, but I thought it’d be interesting. And it’s been a tremendous learning opportunity that’s stretched possibilities for where I can make an impact. It’s exciting to be in a position to help people starting off on their career path.
What might learning look like for you? That’s what I’d like you to ask yourself today.
Regardless of your practice area, learning right now could mean growing your leadership skills, practicing your communication skills and finding new ways to collaborate across teams. And on the path ahead to recovery and beyond, what will lifelong learning mean for you?
“Growth” today isn’t just about getting up to the next rung on a ladder. It’s about crossing over to all new ladders — creating a new path for ourselves that may look different from every other professional around us. Today, growth means remaining flexible and ready in a world that changes faster than our ability to adapt.
And whether it’s webcasts on the business impacts of a crisis like COVID-19, introductory technology courses or advanced and specialized learning, the AICPA and the Association have the learning you need to chart your unique way forward.
Perhaps the most exciting area of growth relates to our CPA Evolution initiative. We are evolving the profession to meet the demands of a rapidly changing world while remaining guardians of trust. And delivering trust is the foundation and future of the profession — our ethics, our professional judgement and our insights are where we will continue to deliver value.
By helping firms evolve through reimagining services and their delivery, by helping individual CPAs evolve through lifelong learning, and by evolving licensure to both preserve and advance what it means to be a CPA, we can be confident that, together, we will be ready to meet the challenges of this moment and the future. Together, we will remain a vibrant and vital profession.
Thinking about the year ahead leads me to reflect on when I first started down this path, when I had my future before me. It may not surprise those of you who know me that in high school I was voted “Most Likely to Become President.” When I got to college, I decided accounting was a good match for my ambition — it would open up opportunities for me and enable me to make a difference. And I’m grateful — and, frankly, a little amazed — I had that foresight at eighteen, because the opportunities I’ve experienced as a CPA have exceeded my expectations.
Don’t lose sight of that potential in the day-to-day during these challenging times. Our work is meaningful: We’re driving forward prosperity, opportunity and trust. And during a time of historic challenge, our profession is needed more than ever.
As each of you navigate your way through COVID-19’s impact and beyond, I challenge you to keep these three imperatives top of mind:
- Find strength in our connection with one another.
- Seize the opportunity to make much-needed changes now.
- Evolve in order to thrive.
We will be called upon for our integrity, our judgement and our communication skills. We will be called upon to add value beyond what technology can do. And we will deliver, leading a path forward to our new normal.