Briloff, conscience of US accounting profession, dies aged 96

16 December 2013 by TA editorial

Abraham Briloff, an accountant and accountancy professor at The City University of New York's Baruch College died on Thursday 13 December aged 96.

Throughout his career, Briloff advocated for stronger ethics in the profession and argued that accountants should have a genuine commitment to society and be able to "see beyond the numbers", as he told The Accountant in a recent interview.

Briloff gained fame through his prolific writing and fierce criticism of malpractices within the profession. He was a longstanding contributor of Barron's, a Dow Jones's financial weekly, wrote four books and made various appearances in public debates - including in US Congress hearings.

Following his death, Floyd Norris, chief financial correspondent at The New York Times and former editor of Briloff at Barron's, wrote of his work: "He simply believed that accounting should tell, not obscure, the truth."

Briloff was born of Russian immigrants in July1917 in Manhattan. His father was a butcher and his mother was a seamstress. He told The Accountant that he had set his mind on accounting when he was still a teenager. In 1937, he graduated from the School of Business of the City College of New York.

Throughout his interview with The Accountant, Briloff was reluctant to talk about the past, being rather more eager to give his insight on the latest news in the financial world.

On one occasion, however, he did linger into his memory, and recalled how at the age of 18, Emanuel Saxe became his professor and the impact this had on his life.

Later in 1976 he received the City College New York title of 'Emanuel Saxe distinguished professor of accountancy'. "All these years, I tried as much as I could with the totality of my being to do what Emmanuel Saxe had taught me," he said.

He learnt from Saxe that in order to be a good accountant, one had to have a good understanding of economics, of human values and sensitivity and a good understanding of behavioral sciences.

"The auditing subsumes a broad canvas of disciplines involving the liberal arts and science," he told The Accountant. "In order to be an accountant or an auditor as I envisage it, you need to have within you a deep commitment to what our professional responsibility is to society."

One of Briloff's colleagues and friends in Europe, Prem Sikka, accounting professor at University of Essex, described him as a "lone voice of sanity" and "the conscience of the US profession".

Briloff officially retired years ago, but he remained devoted to his ideas until his death. "I can't lose hope," he said, "even at 96, blind, and with other physical challenges, I still say: don't give up and keep on dancing."

Briloff is survived by his daughters, Leonore Briloff and Alice Ebenstein, and a granddaughter.

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