Beyond the numbers
This week witnessed the 73rd Annual National Convention of the Philippine Institute of Certified Public Accountants. How ominous that the convention was lightly brushed by Tropical Depression “Samuel,” though the storm had by then weakened.
This year’s convention was in Bacolod City, where the weather was expectedly cool but not wet. Dark clouds hovered but the rains didn’t pour. Chilly breezes and prickly humid heat took turns in routine shifts. All was well.
Coincidence or not, November hosts not only this annual national gathering, but also International Accountant’s Day, held every 10th of November. The day is intended to celebrate not only the profession and its vital role in our financial markets and macroeconomics, but also the hard work and dedication of accountants, or—as people would like to call us—number crunchers.
How vast and multifaceted the work we do, though it’s also strenuous and demanding. It is not uncommon to put in long hours at month’s end, or burn midnight candles during tax season. Most difficult of all, we find ourselves becoming bearers of bad news, or, more often, interpreters of quantitative information to nonaccountants. Such tasks are hard, especially for a profession still stereotyped for its introversion. An accountant’s communication skills are severely underrated, and accountancy students are distraught to discover that accountants have to do a lot of talking.
So in that regard, spare a positive thought or two for your accountant and for all of the accountants you had had to deal with at some point. We are ubiquitous, if you come to think about it. From financial statement preparation to the counting of ballots at the Oscars, an accountant is always at hand—most likely hunched over a spreadsheet.
My journey as a CPA is still very short, and whatever opportunities my profession allegedly offers, I haven’t fully exploited yet. But what an adventure it is so far! My CPA hat has taken me from the divine corners of financial markets in Makati and Hong Kong to the rural charm of “purok” and coastal communities. It has required me to be in a business suit on numerous occasions, where I pretend I’m a character straight out of “Mad Men.” But most of the time, it requires me to be in my working clothes, down on my elbows at work.
My profession has exposed me to the unmatched efficiency of financial institutions, the magic behind financial instruments, and the never static world that is corporate Philippines, along with its bizarre hierarchy, rituals and diplomacy. Sadly, it has also exposed me to the ferocious drive for growth and the escalating demands of a borderless world. Efficiency also meant competition, and magic came with its secrets.
The profession is brutally challenged. It takes years to become a seasoned accountant, but time has also challenged the relevance of the profession. It is a profession with practices that still hark back to medieval roots.
The word “capital” has seen dramatic changes in centuries past, but recent years has seen it change at a faster rate. Accountants had grown accustomed to a time and system when cash was king. But today, cash is being overthrown by data.
“Going concern” is a principle used in accounting, when we assume the continuity of a business’ life. But today’s average business life span is much shorter, and will continue to shorten still. Generally accepted accounting principles are challenged by changing business models. And financial statement information are now just a “chunk” of the limitless information that today’s investors use and need.
Ours is a traditional profession in an evolving time. Strange, then, that for an accountant to remain relevant, he should stick to time-honored principles: integrity, professional skepticism, materiality. But these should be practiced not in isolation, but in collaboration.
An accountant goes beyond measuring into advising, from reporting to mentoring—not as machines but as humans. My colleagues and I are challenged. Number crunchers should go beyond just digits. The corporate world, tough as it may seem, already has enough numbers. It needs more soul.