Nov 06, 2017

Notes from an AICPA Council Newbie

Jenkins_EdBy Edward R. Jenkins Jr., CPA

My friend Jerry Maginnis asked me to consider serving on AICPA Council. I figured it would be easy and stress free. After the meeting this week in San Antonio, Texas, all I can say is, “Jerry, I am so going to get even with you.”

My head hurts. The theme of the Oct. 22-24, 2017, meeting was “Accounting in Extraordinary Times,” and there was a lot to take in.

Conception of artificial intelligenceWe had the wonderful Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, chair of AICPA, welcome us and run the program. What a privilege it is to work with such a talented pro! I listened intently to futurist Calum Chace, author of the book “The Economic Singularity: Artificial Intelligence and the Death of Capitalism,” as he explained just what the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” is and what the exponential rate of technological change means to our society. Barry Melancon, AICPA’s CEO, went on to describe some of the implications of these changes on our industry. He used as an example the driverless electric car:

  • What will be the effect on health care? Driverless electric cars will eliminate death by motor vehicle (Yay!), but that will dry up a main source of transplant organs.
  • What will be the effect on logistics? A lower cost of delivery may expand consumer choices and make life cheaper, but how will 5 million truck drivers in America survive?
  • What will be the effect on car dealers? Will you need to own a car if you can just tap a device and a driverless vehicle shows up at your door?
  • What will be the effect on law enforcement? Will the resources used for traffic policing be transferred elsewhere, or go away?
  • What will be the effect on the insurance industry?

That should give you an idea of where we were headed. And the implications of expanding technology ripples across all industries, including ours. It scared the heck out of me!

Melancon went on to explain how the AICPA is focused on what the profession needs to look like to survive and thrive in a time of automation and artificial intelligence. I am thankful that someone is watching out for us. More importantly, Melancon made me think about what my students and PICPA members need to learn in order to survive and thrive going forward. Here are some imperatives that came across to me:

  • We must focus on skill building, not content memorization. Rules will become irrelevant or inapplicable with blazing obsolescence. The idea is over that you can learn everything you need to know, take a one-time test, and be done. Continuous learning will be requisite. Students will need to be practiced at a variety of techniques for problem solving, creative thinking, critical thinking, data management, and quantitative reasoning.
  • The ability to focus on a problem amidst a turbulent background of constant change will be a valued skill.
  • Best practices in change management and related skills for organizations will be paramount.
  • Leadership skills will increase in importance over management skills.
  • People skills (mentoring, development, etc.) will become more valued.

AICPA Council also had the honor of hearing from John O’Leary. O’Leary recounted how suffering burns over 100 percent of his 9-year-old body led him to live a life inspired. O’Leary went on to explain how Jack Buck, the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer, touched O’Leary’s life and inspired him to live on after his injury. He recounted how Buck would end each day by journaling, and asking the question, “What more can I do for this 9-year-old kid?” We all struggled not to cry when O’Leary went on to play the piano with his injured hands.

One of the big takeaways was how valuable our relationships are, how one person can touch the life of another and provide life-changing inspiration. Our relationships are important now, and will be crucial in the upcoming “extraordinary times.”

I got to spend some time getting to better know my colleagues in the PICPA delegation, and I came away thoroughly impressed. I came back from San Antonio very grateful for the opportunity to represent the PICPA at AICPA Council. I learned a lot, and I now want to alter my verdict: “I hope I can get even with you, Jerry.” Because I owe one. Thanks!

Edward R. Jenkins Jr., CPA, is an instructor of accounting at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pa., a tax consultant for Boyer & Ritter in State College, and newly elected member of AICPA Council for a three-year term. He can be reached at erj2@psu.edu.

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