It has been almost a year since the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was signed into law. This complex legislation was the most significant change to the tax code in three decades, and ascertaining its impact has kept CPAs busy throughout 2018, as they waited on interpretive regulations and planned for its eventual implementation in 2019. But the TCJA is not all that the accounting profession has been talking about this past year. The following is a collection of some of the topics have sparked the most interest from our readers in 2018, based upon your feedback and what has received the most clicks on our website.
The “big three” accounting standards—revenue recognition, leases, and financial instruments—continued to be of such interest that the most read article on the Journal website in the past calendar year was actually published in 2017—the Max Block Award–winning “Accounting for Leases Under the New Standard: Parts 1 & 2,” by Robert Singer, Alyssa Pfaff, Heather Winiarski, and Mark Winiarski (August/September 2017, http://bit.ly/2KEUnnLand http://bit.ly/2FJZbtp). But more recently published articles focusing on the more specific, practical implications of the “big three” were also popular with readers, such as “Accounting for Credit Losses Under ASU 2016-13,” by Ariana Pinello and Ernest Lee Puschaver (February 2018, http://bit.ly/2Pa96Ih) and “The Impact of the New Revenue Recognition Guidance on Cloud Computing Arrangements,” by Nicholas C. Lynch and Charles R. Pryor (June 2018, http://bit.ly/2DMwpWt).
The scope and purpose of the financial statement audit has been debated ever since CPAs were granted the franchise, and 2018 was no different. One of the most read articles was February’s “Audit vs. Fraud Examination: What’s the Real Difference?” in which Doug Carmichael argues that auditors do bear some responsibility for fraud detection and proper execution of this role is integral to the public’s confidence in the independent audit (http://bit.ly/2KM9j3P). Also worth noting is the PCAOB’s changes to the audit report, which introduce the concept of “critical audit matters” in an attempt to provide users with greater insight into the auditor’s process and judgment. “Auditors’ Increased Responsibilities Under the PCAOB’s New Audit Reporting Standards: Communicating Critical Audit Matters,” by Alan Reinstein, Gerald W. Hepp, and Thomas R. Weirich (February 2018, http://bit.ly/2Q29tcS), was a well-read article on the new requirements.
Our February 2018 issue featured a roundtable discussion, “The Decision Relevance of Financial Reporting,” featuring perspectives of CPAs from all corners of practice (http://bit.ly/2TSOFmC). Questions included whether the recent slew of new standards are actually making financial statements more relevant and whether the efforts of preparers, auditors, and regulators represent time well spent. The roundtable discussion appeared in print, and the full video also appeared on our website (http://bit.ly/2KEzjhe).
How emerging technologies will affect the accounting workplace was of interest to readers. “How Robotic Process Automation Is Transforming Accounting and Auditing,” by Miklos A. Vasarhelyi and Andrea M. Rozario (June 2018, http://bit.ly/2F7t5aE), was the second-most read article published in 2018. Also making the top 20 from that issue was “Using Visualization Software to Compile and Analyze Data: A Step-by-Step Guide for CPAs,” by Kevin Pan and Alan Blankley (June 2018, http://bit.ly/2Sghbgd). Both articles emphasized how new technologies can be integrated into accounting practice, handling rote tasks while freeing up professionals to spend time on more analytical, meaningful work. And as accounting practice is transformed, the education sector stands to be disrupted as well, according to “The Impact of Disruptive Technologies on Accounting and Auditing Education: How Should the Profession Adapt?,” by Chanyuan (Abigail) Zhang, Jun Dai, and Miklos A. Vasarhelyi (September 2018, http://bit.ly/2Q01pJH).
CPAs are still getting acclimated to the new presentation format for the financial statements of not-for-profit entities introduced by ASU 2016-14. Readers looking for advice on the new guidance turned to “Using the New Reporting Requirements for Notfor-Profit Entities,” by Paul Copley and Loretta Manktelow (April 2018, http://bit.ly/2BDkbhq), the 11th most-read article published this year.
Public Interest Debate
The debate over the accounting profession’s public interest responsibilities continues in our pages and online. One of the year’s top 20 most read articles and a finalist for a Folio Magazine award, “Accounting in the Public Interest: An Historical Perspective on Professional Ethics,” by Steven Mintz (March 2018, http://bit.ly/2QqDVgn), provided a long view on the ethical questions that continue to entangle the profession. The most recent version of the Code of Professional Conduct takes a new threats-and-safeguards approach to dealing with potentially problematic conflicts of interest; time will tell whether this will be effective enough to prevent future lapses in professional independence.
The Future of the Profession
Prognostications of the profession’s future are as popular online as they are in print. “Ten Trends that CPAs Will See in 2018” by Jason L. Ackerman (January 2018, http://bit.ly/2E231fB), made the year’s top 20 list; readers can judge whether the author’s predictions have come to pass or remain in the future tense. In the well-read “The Future of Accounting Is Now: Financial Performance Is Linked to Sustainable Growth” (July 2018, http://bit.ly/2zqKPII), Jeffrey Hales argues that, if it is to remain the “language of business,” financial accounting needs to evolve to meet markets’ increasing focus on sustainable growth. The fact that environmental, social, and governance issues are closely linked to financial outcomes can no longer be ignored, and CPAs would do well to think about out how these factors can be integrated into traditional financial reporting. Sustainability reporting today is still a work in progress, however, according to “The Current State of Sustainability Reporting,” by Jill M. D’Aquila (July 2018, http://bit.ly/2RqiMAl). The variety of competing frameworks and inconsistent reporting methods have hampered comparability but also created opportunities for CPAs to make sense of it all for businesses.
A review of the past year of the Journal would be incomplete without revisiting our coverage of the impact of the TCJA. Many of the year’s most popular articles—six of the top ten, in fact—dealt with the topic, from our first overviews of the just-passed legislation published in January to more focused articles on the IRC section 199A qualified business income deduction, the new cap on the deduction for state and local taxes, and the higher lifetime exemption from the federal estate tax. All of our articles on the TCJA can be found in a special section of the Journal website at https://www.cpajournal.com/category/tcja-impact/.
Looking to 2019
What will the next year bring? The first filing season under the TCJA will no doubt be worth watching, especially given the likelihood of continuing regulations and legislation at both the federal and state levels. The macroeconomic environment shows signs of reaching an inflection point, with potentially significant implications for industry and public practice, not to mention employment and consumer spending. If an economic downturn were to occur in 2019, how will the new accounting guidance—like the current expected credit loss model and going concern disclosure framework, both developed in the wake of the last financial crisis to warn investors earlier about potential trouble—perform under pressure? Finally, the regulation of the profession may well take a different course, as the new leaderships at the PCAOB and SEC settle in and develop their agendas. You can be sure that we will cover all of these topics, and more, in the coming year of the CPA Journal.