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.

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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

“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

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

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