Magazine article The CPA Journal

Give Me the Good and the Bright

Magazine article The CPA Journal

Give Me the Good and the Bright

Article excerpt

Even with the string of financial frauds that led to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX), some accounting professors continue to wring their hands not over the moral failures of the profession, but over attracting students who are "the best and the brightest."

A study by professors Thomas Frecka and William Nichols, published in Issues in Accounting Education, found that the best MBA programs are attracting students with significantly higher test scores than are the top graduate accounting programs.

Changing the Curriculum to Attract New Recruits

The proposed solution to this is, as always, improving the creativity and relevance of graduate accounting programs. Graduate accounting programs are seen as cookie-cutter curricula that point only toward the traditional role of CPAs as auditors. Graduates are perceived as having inadequate business savvy, and the implication is that they are no match for their MBA counterparts.

Perhaps improving the relevance of graduate accounting programs is the solution to attracting the best and the brightest to the profession. Universities appear to be willing to do whatever is necessary to draw in targeted students, including classes any time of day or night (or online), hands-on experience, world travel, or an enviable lineup of guest speakers. So maybe more relevant and creative accounting programs will be enough to fix the problem.

But I would say without equivocation that the accounting profession would have been better off if CFOs Andy Fastow, of Enron, Scott Sullivan, of WorldCom, and Mark Swartz, of Tyco International, had never entered it. I would be much happier if they had never been recruited in an attempt to draw in "the best and the brightest."

What the accounting profession lacks is a strong attraction to the good person who also happens to be exceptionally bright This was not historically true, but the profession's focus on individual success has undermined its historical commitment to two things: truth-telling and restraining unethical behavior. Instead, CPAs in recent years have provided the impetus for many of the major frauds that resulted in Sarbanes-Oxley. Even when the CEO can credibly deny complicity, the CFO is almost always implicated. In the case of HealthSouth, five different CFOs were complicit in the fraud. Competence has trumped integrity in the accounting profession. …

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