In the Best Interest of the Public
by Cathy Lockman
What does Ernest Almonte hope people will say 20 or 30 years from now when they write about the current recession? The auditor general of Rhode Island and current chairman of the board of directors of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants hopes companies and individuals will be thanking their CPAs.
"Those in our profession have the skill set to assist people in tough times," Almonte said during his recent presentation as part of the Department of Accountancy's Lyceum Series. "I'm not an economist, but I think the recovery will be a lot like a dance move--two steps forward and one step back. It won't be smooth and it won't be fast, but in the end I hope that people will say they made it through because they had a CPA who helped them."
Almonte, who has twice been named one of the Top 100 Most Influential People in the Accounting Profession by Accounting Today, challenged the students in the audience to be that kind of CPA--one who has the best interest of the public at heart.
"I hope you will take the 'P' in CPA very seriously," he told them. "The public must be able to trust our profession. And the best way to ensure that is to adhere to not only a professional code of conduct but to be true to your own personal core values in all your decision making." It's a philosophy Almonte believes in so much that he has his own core values--integrity, reliability, independence, and accountability--printed on his business cards.
Almonte also believes in the ability of the AICPA to assist the profession in accomplishing that goal of public trust as well as many others. He pointed to various programs and initiatives, including the AICPA's Financial Literacy Program, its online Economic Crisis Resource Center, its inaugural Leadership Academy, and www.IFRS.com--the Institute's online resource on international standards. "The AICPA is working hard to set the foundation for your success," Almonte told the students.
He also shared some predictions with them. "If there would be only one accounting credential in the world, it wouldn't be the CPA," he said. "In the future, we'll probably have three, with the CPA being one of them." Almonte also predicted that "within five years, there will only be one accounting standards board--the IASB out of London." He explained that this development, the movement toward IFRS, and the fact that next year the CPA exam will be offered in two other countries, witness to the strategic importance of the international community in the profession.
In addition, Almonte explained that environmental issues will be an important consideration in the financial statements of the future. "We will need to determine what the standards are to be considered 'green' and then how to audit to ensure that those sustainability standards have been met."
Almonte, who is a Certified Fraud Examiner and also Certified in Financial Forensics, also told the audience that "there's a lot to be learned from fraud." He suggested that every accountancy student would benefit from reading Harry Markopolous' letter to the SEC regarding Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme. "In this profession, you have to be sure not to let celebrity affect your judgment," he said. "You can't be intimidated. You have to do your job and make decisions that are good for the public and good for the profession."
That decision making, said Almonte, begins with a commitment to exercising leadership. "You have to be ready to speak up if you have the piece of information that will solve a problem. You exercise leadership by being willing to have a courageous conversation. And that means defending a position without being defensive."
Students appreciated hearing firsthand these insights from such a recognized authority in the profession. Andrew Chapello, a senior in the College, said Almonte's "focus on leadership was meaningful and relevant both personally and from a professional standpoint." Saly Sebastian, also a senior, agreed. "Hearing from someone of his stature gives us an inside perspective on the ethical issues facing the profession," she said. "Something as simple as putting your core values on your business card makes a strong statement."
In addition to his many accomplishments in the profession, Almonte is the recipient of the Department of the Army Outstanding Civilian Service Medal. In that tradition, he opened the Lyceum by presenting special service coins to Professor Ira Solomon, head of the Department of Accountancy, and Dean Larry DeBrock "for their exceptional work and exemplary service on behalf of the accountancy profession."