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November 1, 2009

New AICPA president welcomes changing times in the US

Jimmy Buffet’s Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude is one of Robert Harris’s favourite songs and the title the new chairman of the world’s largest accounting body chose for his inauguration speech.

Harris focused on four main points as he embarked on his one-year term as chair of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA): globalisation, sustainability, re-regulation of financial services, and getting more CPAs actively involved in the profession.Robert Harris

Sustainability and the globalisation of the CPA profession, particularly in terms of accounting standards, have been two areas the US has lagged on, but this is changing.

At the highest level of politics, former US President George W Bush is infamous for his denial of issues such as climate change, while awareness of these issues is growing under the Obama administration.

Sustainability is also high on Harris’s agenda and he told The Accountant the AICPA is taking a leadership role by becoming involved in the Prince of Wales’ Accounting for Sustainability project.

“There are no official rules on how an organisation would report sustainability. The CPA profession can play a critical role by creating the measures and furnishing the proof that businesses can be profitable and, at the same time, environmentally responsible,” Harris said.

The US is the last of the world’s major economies with no firm timeline for allowing or mandating the use of IFRS for large listed companies. This too, could soon change.

“It’s essential to have a date certain for future adoption if the United States is going to gather any real momentum towards adopting IFRS,” Harris said.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission’s draft road map for IFRS adoption envisioned US adoption by 2014. But Harris said AICPA membership surveys have shown the majority think it would take three to five years to adopt IFRS and 2015 is a more realistic date.

Harris said convergence in other areas, such as auditing standards and regulation, is also important.

Audit oversight reliance between the EU and the US hit a snag recently, with the EC excluding the US from a proposal that audit regulators in EU member states co-operate with certain other national regulators in the exchange of audit working papers.

One condition was reciprocity, which the US cannot grant due to national law. Harris said the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board is working with US politicians and foreign counterparts to find a solution.

“There is correcting language in pending legislation in the House of Representatives that would expand the production of audit information and provide for exchanges with foreign counterparts,” Harris added.

AICPA veteran

Harris has a lengthy history of service with the AICPA, including time on the board of directors and the governing council. He was chair of the National Accreditation Commission between 2003 and 2008, and has been involved with committees covering issues as diverse as women’s initiatives, disability insurance, state legislation and finance.

Harris is also managing director of Harris, Cotherman, Jones, Price & Associates, a local CPA firm based in Vero Beach, Florida.

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