Extraordinary in the face of challenge: Barry Melancon reflects on 2021
In this interview, Barry Melancon, CPA, CGMA, CEO of the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (the Association), reflects on another extraordinary year and how the profession is preparing for 2022 and beyond.
Twelve months ago, you described 2020 as a “historic” year for the profession. How does 2021 compare?
Around the world, accountants and finance professionals demonstrated their role as the “most trusted adviser.” The profession delivered on its purpose, meeting the demands of a constantly changing, disruptive world to drive prosperity and opportunity for those who count on us. I’m very proud of the way the profession rallied around people, businesses and communities grappling with the economic fallout of the pandemic.
Since the start of 2020, we’ve grown, learned and evolved in extraordinary circumstances. We’ve made great strides in a short amount of time. Throughout our history, our profession has adapted. That’s how we thrived. Our work around COVID-19 is a continuation of that legacy.
How has the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants helped the profession navigate a second year of the pandemic?
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause enormous ripple effects across the globe. Many of our members, students and the accounting and finance community at large are still experiencing uncertainty, even as we make progress toward recovery. That’s why the AICPA® & CIMA®, through the Association, continue to stand behind the profession through our support with resources, guidance and advocacy work.
In this turbulent time, staying up to speed is critical. To that end, together with CPA.com, we’ve taken steps, such as maintaining the popular bi-monthly AICPA Town Hall broadcasts to deliver real-time insights on the most salient issues the profession faces. This year, we expanded the Town Halls into a podcast series. Meanwhile, the CIMA Economic Recovery Resource Centre provides members and students access to news, resources and guidance to help them advise their organisations and customers.
You mentioned last year that advocacy has become more essential to public policy changes than ever before. What would you say about 2021?
We have further stepped up our advocacy efforts during 2021 to respond to the pandemic, promote economic recovery and support positive change while continuing to represent members’ interests to the government.
It would be difficult to quickly list all of the monumental achievements from our advocacy efforts this year, but a few highlights include:
- In the United States, we continue to offer recommendations on key policy issues, including tax and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) concerns. In spring, we successfully advocated for a 60-day extension of the PPP application deadline and a one-month postponement for individual federal income tax returns deadlines and payments.
- We supported long-term sustainable economic recovery in the U.K. through meetings between key stakeholders and CIMA representatives. In the most recent Spring Budget in March 2021, the Chancellor announced in his budget 16 of CIMA’s recommendations put forth in our 2020 40-point plan. This month, we released recommendations on Tackling the U.K. productivity puzzle.
- We also accelerated economic recovery by advocating on behalf of small-to-medium-sized entities, skills building and professionalism in Hong Kong, South Africa, Poland, Ghana and the U.S., among others.
- Of course, enhancing audit quality globally always remains a top priority. In the U.S., through our Enhancing Audit Quality initiative, we develop resources and guidance to help auditors navigate challenges, such as auditing remotely, heightened fraud risk and single audit implications. In the U.K., we continue to monitor and critique U.K. Audit Reform.
Many describe both 2020 and 2021 as years of “great acceleration.” That is particularly true when it comes to technology. How has the Association helped encourage the adoption of technology in the profession?
These two years demonstrated how tech-savvy our profession can be, given the rapid embrace of remote work solutions and changing business models. We know that a continued tech focus will propel us into the future.
At the Association, we are helping accountants and finance professionals get in front of the rapidly changing digital landscape. We provide resources, learning, conferences and software that helps firms and business innovate and stay ahead of the curve, including:
- In January, we acquired the Business Learning Institute, introducing new, innovative learning content for accounting and finance professionals.
- In May, we ran our first in-person ENGAGE EUROPE conference in the U.K. Both U.S. and U.K. offerings were streamed and made accessible to worldwide audiences in May, June and July.
- In Q3, we introduced CGMA skills badges, opening new ways for individuals to access targeted competencies within the CGMA Professional Qualification.
- In partnership with CPA.com, we continued to enable business model evolution for firms.
- In October, we launched the first end-to-end release of the Dynamic Audit Solution (DAS) to firms participating in the programme.
- This month, we introduced Client Advisory Services (CAS) 2.0, a holistic approach to business transformation and change management to help firms take their advisory services to the next level.
- As of the first of 2022, we are expanding our magazines – Journal of Accountancy, The Tax Adviser and FM magazine — switching to an enhanced, all-digital approach that will deliver more timely news and insights.
The world is experiencing many changes beyond the disruptions the pandemic caused. What are some of the biggest trends you believe are affecting the profession?
We’re seeing accelerated change across many areas. This presents challenges, but also growth opportunities:
- There is a renewed emphasis on human capital as the “Great Resignation” continues to affect organisations of all sizes, including our firms and businesses. We know the strength of our profession depends on our people. To retain and attract staff, leaders should put people before profit, focusing on mental health considerations and the many advantages of diversity, equity and inclusion programs. We must continue creating opportunities that help grow our people’s skills and abilities, which includes reinvesting in our talent.
- Our pipeline is changing. As technology powers exceptional and accelerated change, we’re seeing a profession-wide shift. Accountants must have more diverse and valuable skill sets. That’s why we’re committed to evolving the CPA license. In 2021, in partnership with the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, we released the CPA Evolution Model Curriculum. We also continued to expand our CGMA Finance Leadership Program globally, opening a new pathway to the CGMA 100% online.
- Sustainability is a mainstream issue, and the sustainability call to action affects all finance and accounting professionals. We own the processes, systems, data, management information and reporting that support a transition to sustainable businesses, and we support sustainable decision-making through our business analysis and assurance of both financial and non-financial data. At the Association, we take our commitment to sustainability seriously. We have signed a statement of commitment under the Prince of Wales Accounting for Sustainability Project Accounting Bodies Network to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions as soon as operationally possible and publish a net-zero emissions pathway within the next 12 months. In addition, we believe corporate reporting must evolve to remain fit in a post-pandemic world. That’s why we played a key role in establishing the new International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB), announced at COP26 in November.
What should members keep in mind as we begin 2022?
If we’ve learned anything in the past two years, it’s that we’re ready for anything, even the unimaginable. This year, as we’ve always done throughout our history, our profession harnessed that resilient spirit and passed it on to our firms, clients, local and national economies and society as a whole. Now, as we look forward to a brighter — yet still uncertain — future, we must move forward with deeper resolve.
There is much work ahead of us with still a long way to go to economic recovery. Yet, the profession is poised for success because of the changes we’re adopting and the challenges we’ve overcome. We will continue to lead recovery efforts around the pandemic and do what it takes to build a better future.
For more insights into how the CIMA continued driving a dynamic accounting and finance profession forward in 2021, watch this video from Andrew Harding, FCMA, CGMA, Chief Executive – Management Accounting.