So, if they are not doing audits and accounting, where does the accounting profession want to go? Perhaps unwittingly, TOdd provided the answer with that reference to the book Accounting Education: Charting the Course through a Perilous Future by W. Steve Albrecht and Robert J. Sack.
It seems that Messrs Albrecht and Sack, the authors of that book, took the question of the future of Accounting seriously:
Sales experts long ago concluded that "word of mouth" and "personal testimonials" are the best types of advertising. The Taylor Group1 found this to be true when they asked high school and college students what they intended to study in college. Their study found that students were more likely to major in accounting if they knew someone, such as a friend or relative, who was an accountant.
So they tested it by asking a slightly more revealing question of the accounting professionals:
When asked "If you could prepare for your professional career by starting college over again today, which of the following would you be most likely to do?" the responses were as follows:
Type of Degree % of Educators Who Would % of Practitioners Who Would Who Would Earn a bachelor's degree in something other than accounting and then stop 0.0 7.8 Earn a bachelor's degree in accounting, then stop 4.3 6.4 Earn a Master's of Business Administration (M.B.A.) degree 37.7 36.4 Earn a Master's of Accountancy degree 31.5 5.9 Earn a Master's of Information Systems degree 17.9 21.3 Earn a master's degree in something else 5.4 6.4 Earn a Ph.D. 1.6 4.4 Earn a J.D. (law degree) 1.6 11.4
These results are frightening,...
Well indeed! As they say:
It is telling that six times as many practicing accountants would get an M.B.A. as would an M.Acc., over three times as many practitioners would get a Master's of Information Systems degree as would get an M.Acc., and nearly twice as many practitioners would get a law degree instead of an M.Acc. Together, only 12.3 percent (6.4% + 5.9%) of practitioners would get either an undergraduate or graduate degree in accounting.2 This decrease in the perceived value of accounting degrees by practitioners is captured in the following quotes:We asked a financial executive what advice he would give to a student who wanted to emulate his career. We asked him if he would recommend a M.Acc. degree. He said, "No, I think it had better be broad. Students should be studying other courses and not just taking as many accounting courses as possible. ...
My job right now is no longer putting numbers together. I do more analysis. My finance skills and my M.B.A. come into play a lot more than my CPA skills.
.... we are creating a new course of study that will combine accounting and
information technology into one unique major....
...I want to learn about information systems.
(Of course I'm snipping out the relevant parts for speed, you should read the whole lot.) Now, we could of course be skeptical because we know computing is the big thing, it's the first addition to the old list of Reading, Arithmetic and Writing since the dark ages. Saying that Computing is core is cliche these days. But the above message goes further, it's almost saying that Accountants are better off not doing accounting!
The Accounting profession of course can be relied upon to market their profession. Or can they? Todd was on point when he mentioned the value chain, the image in yesterday's post. Let's look at the wider context of the pretty picture:
Robert Elliott, KPMG partner and current chairman of the AICPA, speaks often about the value that accountants can and should provide. He identifies five stages of the "value chain" of information. The first stage is recording business events. The second stage is summarizing recorded events into usable data. The third stage is manipulating the data to provide useful information. The fourth stage is converting the information to knowledge that is helpful to decision makers. The fifth and final stage is using the knowledge to make value-added decisions. He uses the following diagram to illustrate this value chain:
This five-stage breakdown is a helpful analysis of the information process. However, the frightening part of Mr. Elliott's analysis is his judgment as to what the segments of the value chain are worth in today's world. Because of the impact of technology, he believes that:
- Stage 1 activity is now worth no more than $10 per hour
- Stage 2 activity is now worth no more than $30 per hour
- Stage 3 activity is now worth $100 per hour
- Stage 4 activity is now worth $300 per hour
- Stage 5 activity is now worth $1,000 per hour
In discussing this value chain, Mr. Elliott urges the practice community to focus on upper-end services, and he urges us to prepare our students so they aim toward that goal as well. Historically, accounting education has prepared students to perform stage 1- and stage 2-type work.
Boom! This is compelling evidence. It might not mean that the profession has abandoned accounting completely. But it does mean that whatever they do, they simply don't care about it. Accounting, and its cousin Audits are loss-leaders for the other stuff, and eyes are firmly fixed on other, higher things. We might call the other stuff Consulting, and we might wonder at the correlation: consulting activities have consumed the major audit firms. There are no major audit firms any more, there are major consulting firms, some of which seem to sport a vestigial audit capability.
Robert Elliot's message is, more or less, that the audit's fundamental purpose in life is to urge accountancy firms into higher stages. It therefore matters not what the quality (high?) is, nor what the original purpose is (delivering a report for reliance by the external stakeholder?). We might argue for example whether audit is Stage 2 or Stage 3. But we know that the auditor doesn't express his opinion to the company, directly, and knowledge is the essence of the value chain. By the rules, he maintains independence, his opinion is reserved for outsiders. So audit is limited to Stages 3 and below, by its definition.
Can you see a "stage 4,5 sales opportunity" here?
Or perhaps more on point, can you avoid it?
It is now very clear where the auditors are. They're not "on audit" but somewhere higher. Consulting. MBA territory. Stage 5, please! The question is not where the accounting profession wants to go today, because they already got there, yesterday. The financial crisis thesis is confirmed. Audits are very much part of our problem, even if they are the accounting profession's solution.
What is less clear is where are we, the business world? The clients, the users, the reliers of audit product? And perhaps the question for us really is, what are we going to do about it?Posted by iang at September 18, 2009 09:13 AM | TrackBack