Barry Salzberg, CEO of Deloitte LLP, shared his vision of the next five years for the accounting profession with a large audience of accountancy students on March 27. Salzberg happily reported that "today the corporate and professional worlds are open to anyone, from any background, as long as you are smart, skilled, and willing to work. The doors have been flung open to people from all backgrounds."
Globalization is a huge force for change in the accounting profession. Companies and the firms like Deloitte who serve them need people with a wide array of skills and experiences to meet the needs of an increasingly globalized economy. Students entering accounting firms will likely work for one or more of the growing numbers of complex multinational clients and rely heavily on communication and cultural skills.
Citing an impending shift from the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) standard, used only the in the United States, to the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), Salzberg described a profession where both experience and inexperienced accountancy professionals are struggling to prepare. The rules-based GAAP standard will give way to the principles-based IFRS in an upset not seen since the creation of the Securities and Exchange Commission 75 years ago.
"We expect that within the next two to three years, the SEC will give companies in the United States the option to switch to IFRS for reporting. Sometime after that – probably after the next Chairman takes office – the SEC will set a date for mandatory conversion," said Salzberg.
To excel over the next five years and beyond, Salzberg counseled the crowd to acquire a broad base of knowledge in accountancy and beyond. "It's a big world out there, and the more you know about a range of subjects, the better off you'll be," he said. "Learn how to think, how to do research, how to develop ideas and form opinions, how to challenge information critically, how to support your judgment and conclusions."
But most of all, Salzberg encouraged students to find their ethical compass. Deloitte research shows a troubling trend of weak standards among high school students who, "seem to expect that when they enter the working world, they will magically abandon their unethical behaviors. But I don't don't see how that's possible," says Salzberg, "because the pressures, the stakes—and the potential rewards—will only get higher."
Ethics should also apply to the organization, according to Salzberg. Deloitte is working hard to respect its employees needs with two very successful programs instituting flexible work arrangements and customized career paths. Deloitte supports community concerns by formally supporting employee engagement of pro bono work.
Salzberg finished his talk by adding, "The bottom line is that, if you have families or friends who think that accounting equals a boring, status quo career – get ready to prove them wrong. It's a very exciting time to be starting your careers. And I'm looking forward to seeing where you and your colleagues will take your careers and our profession."