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From Where We Sit

The challenge of the modern CPA

The business landscape is being continuously reshaped by globalization, by advances in technology, by demographic and political shifts, and by transformational innovation and disruptive business models. For accountants, there is a two-fold challenge to this constant reshaping: first, the need to assess the implications of these transformative forces to the business of the organizations they serve; and second, the need to prepare and equip them adequately to address these changes.

In response to the foreseen challenges, the Board of Accountancy increased the continuing profession development (CPD) unit requirements for Certified Public Accountants (CPAs). The Philippines, being a member of the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), is mandated to comply with and increase the CPD units to 120 from the current 60 CPD units. Over a three-year period, the required CPD units will be increased with increments of 20 units per year starting in 2017.

The declared increase in CPD units has not been well received but rather is viewed as costly, in terms of finances and time investment. The reaction stems from the common understanding that CPD units can only be earned through traditional training. However, further study of the pronouncement shows that only 40 units are required to be earned through training covering three broad thematic areas: Technical Competence (30 units), Professional Skills (5 units), and Professional Values, Ethics and Attitudes (5 units).

The rest of the units can be earned through various modes, in keeping with the view that learning is a lifelong process and not strictly confined to activities in the workplace. The other sources of CPD units include completing a post-graduate degree, participating in fellowships, authoring books, doing creative projects, inventing programs or solutions, writing articles, speaking in workshops and conventions, and other self-directed learning activities. It is the hope of IFAC that through a more robust CPD program, CPAs can choose modes of learning that suit specific needs in preparation for the challenges ahead.

With the aim to assist CPAs to comply with the CPD requirements, our firm through the P&A Grant Thornton Academy offered a curriculum called Learning Excellence in Accounting Practices (LEAP). As we endeavored to educate fellow professionals, it has become apparent in our interactions with them that the role of the accountant has transitioned towards that of being a business advisor and partner for the companies they serve.
Apart from the technical rigor, accountants need to revisit their crucial role to all stakeholders, not just to management. There is growing consensus to provide focus on a holistic view of complexity, risk, and performance. Such a holistic perspective must account for the complexity of modern business and encompass financial and non-financial indicators of a company's status and potential. Reporting should also assess organizational health, performance, and prospects alongside their impact to the communities wherein they operate.

The profession is also called to address public concerns when it comes to establishing trust and ethical leadership. The profession could do more to highlight and prevent small-scale financial irregularities up to thwarting major systematic failures that helped cause the global financial crisis and the ensuing economic uncertainty.

Even though the above demands seem daunting, our experience in working with fellow CPAs proved to us that we are more than ready to take on the challenge of the profession. The breadth and depth of what we can do to influence economic development is vast and far-reaching, making it impossible to look at our calling with frigid passivity or apathy.

CPAs are the unsung heroes in fiscal management and good ernance. We are the quiet vanguards of transparency and accountability. We are the silent workers who build and strengthen the financial ecosystem so our economy can grow robustly and sustainable. We are the obscure leaders whose influence cuts across all sectors in society. We are the defenders and guardians of integrity that our collective conscience is in dire need to be infused with. We are so many things, we have so much to do, and if done well, we can make a whole lot of difference.

The pace of the global expansion of firms from developed and developing markets alike is taking the spotlight to the accountant's ability to master the technical, language and cultural challenges of cross-border operations. An agile mind with a global orientation is crucial to successfully navigate the nuances of working within a high diversity hyper connected workplace. CPAs need to continually learn, adapt, and evolve to be relevant to the business landscape that is continuously being reshaped.

Jahleel-An Burao is a managing consultant, Advisory Services of P&A Grant Thornton, one of the leading audit, tax, advisory, and outsourcing firms in the Philippines, with 21 Partners and over 700 staff members.

As published in Manila Times dated 12 October 2016