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Fallout: The Financial Crisis

Accountants are the new cool kids

Marketplace Staff Jul 9, 2009
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TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: Wall Street traders and hot-shot dealmakers used to be the cool kids on the financial block. Accountants, well, they were the kids getting their milk money stolen. But the financial crisis and the recession it helped bring on has changed that perception a bit. Accountants are the ones doing a lot of the heavy lifting right now. Sorting through those pesky balance sheets and figuring ways to keep big banks solvent. Randy Beatty is not at all displeased by that shifting attitude. He’s the dean of the Leventhal School of Accounting at USC, just down the road. Thanks for coming in.

Randy Beatty: Thank you very much, Kai.

Ryssdal: What’s it like at USC these days to be an accounting major?

BEATTY: Well, it’s pretty amazing. We have an enormous number of students who have become interested in accounting over the last few years. Part of that is a response to the Enron crisis that occurred.

Ryssdal: Let’s remind people what that was. That was all the off-balance sheet accounting and all those problems that those guys had keeping their books straight.

BEATTY: It was a period over which there was a number of very highly publicized accounting scandals, and so this became very well understood on campus that accounting turns out to very important. For many years we were viewed as not providing not much of a benefit.

Ryssdal: Is it a stretch to say that accounting is sexy now?

BEATTY: I actually don’t think it’s a stretch. To be really honest, I never thought we weren’t sexy. But certainly we’ve gone through periods where we’ve been viewed as more important, and periods in which we’ve been viewed as really a necessary evil.

Ryssdal: There are all kinds of pejoratives that come with descriptions of accountants. Guys with green eyeshades. Bean counter is another. I imagine you probably hate that phrase.

BEATTY: Well, I’m not particularly fond of it. As you can appreciate, most of the people that I know that are in public accounting are very bright people. They’re very capable. They are involved in the arts. They’re thoughtful. They are some of the most fun people that I know.

Ryssdal: So with all the attention on the financial world, and business generally at large here in this economy, when you go to a dinner party, are you pretty much the center of attention?

BEATTY: Well, I’d rather think it’s because of my great personality. But it is interesting. We do talk a lot about how things are going to resolve themselves over time. So questions about the financial structure of some of the banking institutions, how regulation is being modified by some of the transactions that the government has become involved in. Accountants are right in the middle of this because of how those numbers are generated. And so, I have become from time to time the expert on financial accounting. Although I must admit, when people ask me about the tax code, I’m far less prepared to answer those questions.

Ryssdal: You and me both on that tax code. Randy Beatty is professor and dean at the Leventhal School of Accounting at the University of Southern California, right down the road. Randy, thanks for coming in.

BEATTY: Well, thank you very much, Kai. It’s been a lot of fun.

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