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The Accounting Profession Is Running Low on CPAs, But There’s an Obvious (and Completely Ignored) Fix For That

Soooo not sure if you heard but there’s a pipeline problem. This website has been around since 2009 and I’ve been loitering out here on the periphery of the accounting profession like a stalker in the bushes since I started in CPA review way back in 2007, so suffice to say we’ve seen some shit over the years. And I have to say I haven’t ever seen the profession panic about anything quite like they’ve been panicking over the pipeline problem.

And why shouldn’t they? The Big 4 business model demands a steady flow of fresh warm bodies to restock the slots left open by previous warm bodies getting the hell out of there for greener pastures. I mean, it’s a joke at this point, getting your “two and done” solely for a foot in the door and a resume item that will earn you a spot at a company you actually want to work for. Lather, rinse, repeat. This is how it’s been since the dawn of time, or at least since the time George Touche was still in (cloth) diapers.

The entire thing relies on a healthy supply of people to churn through, and they’re now finding themselves wondering why they seem to be churning more than usual and light on the fresh new bodies to replace the ones leaving. It’s almost as if, I dunno, technology has enabled us to share information like never before, making the shiny brochures about exciting opportunities in public accounting and Black Hole Sun-esque grinning recruiters useless against the thousands upon thousands of first-hand accounts on Reddit, blogs, and obscure forums detailing the bullshit public accounting throws at its beleaguered staff.

In 2019 we found out that CPA exam candidate numbers were the lowest they’ve been in more than a decade. The AICPA puts out its Trends in the Supply of Accounting Graduates and the Demand for Public Accounting Recruits report every two years which means we’re due for a fresh one any day now, so it will be interesting to see how the numbers shake out.

While the leaders of the profession stand around in their summer homes scratching their balding heads wondering why on Earth no one wants to be a CPA anymore, an obvious solution is staring them right in the face: make it easier to take the CPA exam. Seriously. It’s that simple.

In my CPA review days I can’t tell you how many times I got panicked phone calls from candidates who, despite their best efforts, had run out of time on their review course (mind you this was back in the day when “unlimited” access hadn’t been invented yet) because life got in the way. And by “life” I mean “work.” Many students hadn’t even opened a single book or watched a single lecture in a year. Why? Well, the Boomers might say because they’re lazy pieces of shit, but it’s pretty obvious to anyone born after 1964 that the whole system sets them up for failure.

For any outside observers who may be reading this, allow me to explain how it goes. You’re an accounting student, and after going through recruiting, you (hopefully) get at least one offer from a Big 4 firm (they’re pretty much all the same, but we won’t get into that). You then take your offer to a CPA review course that offers a discount to employees of your soon-to-be-firm, get all your materials, and then you start work. Maybe if you’re lucky you have a few months from offer to start date during which you study, but more likely you spend that time frantically reading Reddit posts about how much it sucks to work at [your firm] and trying to figure out how you’re going to fit all the alcohol you’ll need to get through your first busy season into your already tight budget. Then you’re tossed head-first into work while your review course materials sit gathering dust in a dark corner of the apartment you’re rarely at until a year has gone by and you realize you haven’t studied for a single section.

Perhaps — and bear with me here, I’ve been accused of throwing out batshit insane ideas before — more early career accountants would be interested in sitting for the CPA exam if they were given the TIME to study. And no, I don’t mean the couple months between offer and start date. Nor do I mean the slight underutilization you might get at a firm that can afford to keep you half-sidelined every now and then so you can fill your time with studying. I mean give people real time to study and sit for the exam. Throw some money at them too while you’re at it. But the main issue here is time, or rather the lack thereof.

The AICPA recommends setting aside 300 to 400 hours to study for all four parts of the CPA exam. Including the exams themselves, that’s 416 hours an early career accountant needs to set aside on top of work, and that’s assuming they pass the first time which very few people do. Even preschoolers know that there’s a finite amount of time available in a day, so where exactly are they supposed to fit this in? Obviously work won’t let you allocate time away from the almighty client service, which leaves only two other sections to steal time from: sleep and leisure. Who needs sleep anyway, right?

It’s time to end the bizarre hazing ritual of throwing first-years straight into the meat grinder to see who has the guts to hack it in public accounting. I mean WTF, it’s accounting, not The Challenge. While the firms were busy hand-wringing over millennials and their pesky expectations of being treated like human beings, they’ve missed the most obvious way to encourage more people to take the CPA exam: time.

Or whatever, they can keep doing what they’ve been doing and then complain about no one sitting for the CPA exam and how it’s so hard to find talent. That seems to be working out great for them.

77 thoughts on “The Accounting Profession Is Running Low on CPAs, But There’s an Obvious (and Completely Ignored) Fix For That

  1. The real criminals in this are universities who charge students 5 years of outrageously expensive tuition in return for an inability to pass a fairly straightforward test on the very subject they studied. Our whole higher education system is a scam.

    1. I can pass the exam, it’s just not worth it. Because after I pass, the cheapskates in industry will still demand 3 years of experience I don’t have to get licensed.

    2. Agree. When I was in school (40 years ago) senior accounting students were required to take a course called “CPA Problems”. It was basically a review course for Theory and Practice (back then 60% of the exam).

    3. I agreet 100% with your observation that CPA makes wanting to take the examination so damn onerous and going around the mulberry bush in frustration.

      The first obstacle is that one should have a batchelor degree.
      This dictum is nonsensical and reeks of exclusivity and classcism as if those who have reached senior ranks in their employment have not had exposure to actual subject matter of all aspects of accounting.
      Such candidates are willing to pay to take the exam and dont need the unnecessary devisive process of elimination and professional jealously employed
      In dismissing passes gained from other bodies.
      No wonder the dearth of candidates is now apparent as candidates should now pivot to data science as a change of skill.

    4. It used to be 4 years. Not really sure what year 5 does other than add an additional barrier to entry and give colleges and universities more $$.

  2. Shortage of CPAs because cpa firms underpay and overwork their employees. Blame the big4. Accounting makes less than Finance in industry too and face pressure of being outsourced. Accounting is not glamorous. Go be a software engineer or go into fp&a. CPAs aren’t important anymore.

    1. In my day I worked a minimum of 55 hours in public accounting, took a cpa review course, studied, and took all parts at once. It seems to me maybe young people need to toughen up a bit and realize hard work never hurt anybody while handing out participation trophies does. I hope the profession maintains it’s high standards and doesn’t succumb to a bunch of whiners who wants everything to be easy and anpat on the back for showing up

      1. I agree. And they already made it easier this year by removing the testing windows.

      2. Passed the exam first go – worked my a#% off -quality of life as a CPA is horrible. Corps are always trying to do more with less people – your 5 accountant team working 50-60 hours a week chained to their desk to complete the required work is hurting the company’s bottom line – let’s cut the most experienced accountant (not me) and expect the remaining 4 to pick up the slack – all about getting that stock price boost so managements’ stock options / grants are in the money. This happened at multiple employers. There are better to ways make a living!

      3. I agree. Keep the test hard and keep the standards high so I can bill $395/hr forever and make a boat load off the newbies. I love the system it has worked 75 years but this generation of youth wants it all on a platter. What’s wrong with passing the exam around your graduation date? All it took for me was dedication. I still couldn’t get a big 8 job it was too competitive so had to pay my dues some more and go to grad school. Owning a CPA firm is the best. Working for one..not so much.

      4. 55 hours was a light week even in non busy season when I was in Big 4 audit in NYC and usually that meant you were eating hours. It was very hard to make time for studying. I ended up becoming a cpa after going into private accounting.

      5. I have a Masters Degree in Accounting receiving a 4.0..did that at the age of 50. Studied my ass off, using expensive Becker, for a CPA exam that is unfairly timed, built to fail the majority and control the profession. I shall not be labeled lazy. I work at least 10 hours a day; studied 4 hours every single night, 6-8 hours on weekends, flashcards in tow always. You think I could pass one section? No..not a chance in hell. The AICPA is as corrupt as the government. Oh, despite my degree, I am not allowed to call myself an “Accountant” in the state of Indiana because I am not “certified”. Here’s to you all who we able to pass! Congrats.

      6. You do realize that it was the Boomers & Gen X that were giving out those participation trophies right? No one wanted to receive them. They were embarrassing and they knew it was just to make them feel less badly for losing, and it didn’t work. It’s not that younger generations are lazy, it’s that they got thrown into a system set up for them to fail that was set up “back in your day”.

      7. Not to mention the outdated material on the CPA and AICPA lack of adoption of new methods of testing that reflect real life in 2021+

      8. Have you seen the size of the CPA book. I had a Controller who says when she took the exam in your day there was about 10 technical GAAP. Compare to today. It is a lot and it keep changing so by the time you are ready to take it there will be something new to learn.
        The salary for many CPA is another story.

      9. This view is the problem I constantly work 60 hour weeks have a family of 5 and need to squeeze time in for studying and the exam. The boomer partners don’t know the modern standards and I’m their source of the current rules yet I’m the slacker because I haven’t had time to set aside for the exam.

  3. Great article Adrienne. Although I agree that CPA firms don’t allow enough time for their early employees to study for the CPA Exam, I also think the economy has been too good for parents to demand their children to pursue a career like accounting. As the economy weakens, the demand for guaranteed salaries increase.

    Social media, and the temptation to give it all up to be an influencer, is also a reason for the CPA shortage.

  4. Beyond passing the CPA exam, the profession is regulating its self to extinction by making it difficult to practice.

    1. I agree. After passing the exams and got the CPA title, here the regulations in the name of making yourself updated: by having to undergo so many seminars about accounting standards “updates” to earn credit hours that you may use to renew your license, get accredited to practice public accounting.

  5. Starting salaries have failed to keep pace. Hard to sell students on delayed gratification if they can major in data science and pull $10k-20k more without 150 credit hours.

    1. What starting salaries? The entry level market is a joke. They all require years of experience that nobody but the big 4 are willing to provide. I left accounting because of this.

  6. Everyone makes the CPA exam sound impossible. It’s changed so much over the last 25 years, to become easier and easier (i sat for mine in 2006).
    I worked at a big 4 and outside busy season I studied 9pm-midnight a few times a week and on the weekends for 2-3 months and then sat for a section.
    Not everyone but most don’t have spouses and children and lots of responsibility that comes down the road, there’s plenty of time, outside busy season to get the studying in.
    As for why people don’t want to become accountants, i do agree that the big 4 don’t make it sound very glamorous and unless you can see the better opportunities then it seems dry as a profession.
    What I see as the huge opportunity now is the demand for those that stay in the profession. Given the demand you can decide on how you want to practice, as a tax planner, CFO, controller, internal audit, in-house accounting department etc….

    1. Good article. However the true issue is ignored: money. CPA firms do not pay their staff wages that match the job (and education requirements) asked of them. No experienced accountant wants to work 60+ hour tax seasons for $70k with the promise of earning $75k if they pass the exam. The solution is firms need to grow a collective spine, raise their fees (because partners are also underpaid IMO) and pay their staff accordingly.

      1. Fully agree with this. Speaking about audit/assurance: Back in the 1990s: 1) the cost to becoming a CPA was lower as only 120 hours of education was required, 2) The CPA exam only had 4 sections and therefore took less time to pass, 3) The body of material that existed (tested) was lower, 4)Big 4 staff/seniors had an overtime bank. When they worked overtime those hours accrued in their “bank”. They would use that bank for extra time off, extra cash at the end of the year or some combo. I admit, bonuses weren’t paid to staff at that time, but that’s OK since bonuses are small and arbitrary at that level. In the past, if you worked like a dog, you were compensated. 5) Therefore Big 4 (actually Big 7 and then 6 at the time) weren’t incentivized to squeeze every last drop out of employees rather than hiring additional employees. Busy season meant working maybe 55 hours a week with an occasional max at 60hours. I’m shocked to read about people working 65/70 hours regularly and extending beyond busy season. We would sometimes have projects in the May-November time frame that would involve overtime, but otherwise we were auditing Employee benefit plans and nonprofits and working the 37.5 hours required per week. Without technology, we would be sent offsite for a week here and there for training with other offices. Fun and bonding/networking time. Not getting CPEs while sitting on your computer after hours.

        Meanwhile the pay hasn’t changed, actually it may have gone down a little (I ran my beginning staff salary in a cost of living/inflation calculator and it equates to $69,000 in today’s dollars which is more than incoming assurance associates are being paid in NYC. (Oh and now PWC requires a full additional year to make senior?)

        So let’s see, slightly lower pay, way higher hours. (in other words maybe half the pay if you look at it on an hourly basis). But an extra year of school for the right to be a CPA , so higher costs/barriers to entry. Why would anyone do it? Either hours need to be cut or pay needs to be increased by quite a bit to keep the pipeline of incoming associates flowing. Ideally some combo of the two

      2. Accountants (and I am mainly focusing on audit/tax here, not the bullshit A/P and that crap) are one of the most underpaid professional careers. We have done it to ourselves, rather than structure our billings like a lawyer does, we give flat rates and then plug in some B.S. billing rates to try and “act” like we bill high. Its all bull crap and devalues accountants everywhere. We should be billing by the hour and an auditor should have individual authority to get information and other data from the company, without having to beg a client. Oh and we should be paid by the SEC not clients, huge conflict that makes doing an ACTUAL audit, impossible.

  7. I’m an Enrolled Agent, and we have the same problem. We cannot find staffing…

    My assessment is that the whole industry is way too complex and overwhelming for all of us to practice. The younger folks aren’t interested. We are aging out, and there will be no one left to care for our clients after we are gone.

    I get many new clients every year from practitioners who have died or gotten sick and simply closed their doors.

    My solution? Change the tax code and make it way simpler. It’s really getting ridiculous.

    1. Exactly, the complexity is more than one professional can handle. Many tax preparers don’t have a good handle on SALT issues as state rules get more and more complex. Foreign issues? I’ll do a 114 and 8938 but if you need more than that, I can’t help. I take extra CPE keeping up with the rest of it, some things I just have to cut out.

      50 years ago, all you needed to know was your own state rules, maybe the one next door. Today in the international economy, the complexity is incredible. You need to have multiple managers now if you want to be able to offer a full range of services, and offer it well.

  8. The 150 hour requirement is a killer to the profession. You don’t come out any brighter in my opinion. The 5th year would be better spent with actual work experience. Colleges won’t go for that though. The work itself is dry and boring the first few years. In addition, except for the larger firms us old timers don’t leave. No room to advance till your 50. No thanks.

    1. Bingo, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Why get a masters degree equivalent to get paid crap for the number of hours you end up working.

    2. Nailed it. Especially since the extra 50 hours do not have to be in accounting or business. Go back to bachelor’s degree only, this would help the pipeline and help with the profession’s diversity problem.

  9. The best thing is to actually bless the CPAs and limit the career of non-CPAs. Some firms don’t even promote to Senior if you don’t have it.

  10. Agree. Also , its the ridiculous hours caused by the short window of time to get our tax season work done. Change deadlines and let us spread the work throughout the year. Especially when the tax rules are changing significantly over the past few years

  11. Good article. However the true issue is ignored: money. CPA firms do not pay their staff wages that match the job (and education requirements) asked of them. No experienced accountant wants to work 60+ hour tax seasons for $70k with the promise of earning $75k if they pass the exam. The solution is firms need to grow a collective spine, raise their fees (because partners are also underpaid IMO) and pay their staff accordingly.

  12. Interesting read, as an early career accounting consultant I think my time would be better spent getting a master’s in something relevant to my speciality or an MBA. The CPA exam review courses do not have anything to do with what I consult on.

  13. Good read .I am calling our government to take any steps to interfere with this issue .

    Maybe lower the passing grade and revised college pre CPA curriculum .

  14. Go to a college that has a built in review course and get the exam done before you ever start your job. And not much sympathy here, had to take all 4 parts at once with only 2 chances per year to do so, thankfully only needed the first try.

    1. Yup. Everyone thinks they know everything. The CPA license is earned by those that dare to challenge it.

      There’s a reason for the strict requirements and rules changing. Thanks for Enron and all the shady shit people do, it’s a mechanism to keep the CPAs accountable.

      Majority of the people agreeing to this level 1 analysis of pure “time” constraint is silly- on the flip side, there’s accountants that have all the time in the world and they simply don’t care to be a CPA. As others mentioned, most are underpaid vs other opportunities for the same or less time investments.

      I agree NASBA is a PITA and the process takes way too long for the fees that candidates pays- the continuously testing window is as sweet as it’s going to get. 4 windows a year vs about 16 tries per section now. Relatively speaking, the CFA, CFP, CMA, etc exam windows are still limited.

      At any rate, if you want to live your best life, take what’s yours and stop jumping on the band wagon. Dare to be different, think for yourself.

  15. If you read through the comments and visit other message boards etc., you will realize the problem has nothing to do with the CPA exam. The exam has a curve. Many firms have even lifted the requirement to advance to manager without a CPA license. The problem is that life as a CPA is terrible. Firms are simply struggling to keep people, because noone wants to stay in accounting. There is constant pressure to do more work, in less time, without errors. Work weekends. No time for family. Cant use vacation days, and if you do, you make it up on the weekends. Constant fire drills. Partners hoard money and underpay personnel who are overworked and burnt out. If people stayed in public accounting, there wouldnt be a staffing problem (duh). But turnover prior to becoming partner is notorious. The business model has nothing to do with the CPA exam. It is the failure to retain people. I loved public accounting, the work and intelligent people. It teaches you incredible personal financial skills and a great understanding of business, law and economy. But as a senior manager, i saw the lifetime of hours my partners worked and decided further advancement wasnt for me. Many millenials feel that way. Many of my coworkers did the same. Tech industry is the same. The elephant in the room is the hours and reluctance of partners to reduce their salaries in an effort to hire more people, so the work gets bottlenecked on a handful of loyal performers. When a loyal performer gets fed up and leaves, the workload is like “hot potato” and handed to the next sorry soul. Get it?

  16. I agree in part and disagree in part with this article. I am exceptionally happy, that this article is creating a community of responses. The real issues are being discussed: lack of sex appeal, lack of balance, lack of compensation. Those far exceed the exam issue; which is still an issue nonetheless. Sadly I do point some of the blame at the greed of those old timers who have gone before us that refuse to pass the baton because of the personal cost to their finances in making a transition.

    Will my aging generation enforce and continue to promote the mantra that “you must go through hell because I had to go through hell? “ Will the younger generation refuse to work hard because they’ve been told they all get participation trophies and the world owes them their successes? Both are foolish and wrong.

    The battle is. It between us you guys. It is with the public. It starts with forcing clients to properly value our staff and services and owners and employees alike need to enforce that concept together as a team; not right and compete for a commoditized dollar. Better clients= more money = better salaries and resources = less work for the same dollar = happier employees = better clients…. Gee I think I see pattern that does work.

    We’ve been a small firm that has operated remote since 2005, have exceptional salary structures, some seriously awesome engagements and yet not even we can find candidates.

    Both myself and my partner are committed to doing things differently than our predecessors. It comes, at first, with great stress. But over time you build an amazing practice with even more amazing people. However with all the lies in the profession no one trusts that our value system is real and, thus, it’s impossible to recruit. Why should they? Every firm pukes the “same thing” and I’ve (in my 25 years of experience) have not met one firm that will actually live up to their stated vision, mission and, most importantly, their values.

    We love to be the right employer for the right people. But it takes two. Our disagreement and fight over economics should not be against one another (me the “greedy employer” or you “the lazy entitled employee”)but we ought to work together as a formidable team to make our profession, sexy, fun and lucrative. TOGETHER people together. Let’s make this fun and economically worth OUR TIME together.

  17. I own my firm. Started with not much 33 years ago. Made a ton of money. Had fun. Now I work 5 hours a week . It did take time. I have great employees and good clients.

  18. Lack of pay, not lack of time is the real culprit. Partners have gotten to be very greedy lately and refuse to share their spoils with the staff by compensating them appropriately. It’s going to come back to bite the profession hard.

  19. I have little sympathy for people who can’t find the time. It’s called midnight oil or the crack of dawn. I recently passed each section on my first try. I wasn’t a fan of the simulations but overall the exams weren’t overly hard.

    I’ve heard the opposite of some of these comments. The CPA exams have actually gotten harder but the review courses have gotten better. I don’t know and I don’t really care. They give you a very generous window to pass the four parts. Time shouldn’t be an issue.

    I did the CFA program years back. I think CFAI’s philosophy is what the AICPA needs to adopt which is that they are agnostic towards what your degree is in as long as you pass and get the work experience.

  20. I graduated college in May. Took a 12 week review course number for this summer, which I think was twice a week for 2 hours each. That is all of the studying i did. After all, they are called review courses for a reason. You should have learned it all in your college courses and this is just a refresher.

    I took the exam that nov and passed it on the first try. That was back when you only had two times a year in to even take it. Now you can take it multiple times a year, and only have to study for the section you are going to take next.

    I personally think if you have to take a section more than twice in order of the pass it, you might be in the wrong profession. Maybe that’s why some people seem to hate it so much. I wouldn’t want to be doing something that was that difficult for me.

  21. Great article. On another note, rather than make the exam easier, why don’t firms not have 65+ hours weeks. I think the main reason for the lack of CPAs in public is people are tired of having no life for 4 months a year. The thought of hiring extra employees to lighten busy season and having them sit around in the off season when it slows down isn’t even a thought. But why? You wouldn’t be wasting any more money in efficiency than having high turnover, or having to cough up larger salaries when your top performers threaten to leave.
    At least non-big 4 when most clients are private, most deadlines can be moved or shifted. It’s become so commonplace that busy season is busy season and always will be. Until that changes I see less and less people staying with public.

  22. I took the CPA 40 years ago when calculators were not allowed while I worked 40 a week at the State auditors office. Took a couple of tries, but I passed it and received my CPA license. Worked for a couple firms, after went on my own.
    Not the best way to make a good living but not the worst.
    That CPA licence I still hold but rarely use, gave me the ability to not work for anyone else in 35 years. To me, that’s was priceless !

  23. Although the article is true that more time would help. I’ll bet more people would sign up for the exam if we dropped the ridiculous 5 yr education requirement. It costs students more money and provides no benefit. I’ve been in the profession for 30 yrs and don’t think any new staff was better off because they had an extra year. The learning curve is the same.

  24. As someone studying for the exam now (many years after graduating), one of the culprits which I can’t help but wonder how significantly contributes to low CPA turnout is the absolutely ridiculous 150 credit hour requirement. This was being rolled out back when I was in school and I don’t understand it any more now than I did then. Why are you raising the barrier for entry so much? Education is very expensive, and the requirements don’t even call for a masters degree. I filled out my 150 hours with miscellaneous crap (I’d switched majors to accounting from a non-business track and everything carried over). I’m no more qualified than I would have been at 120. IMO, the only real requirements should be passing the CPA exam and a year or two of work experience. The only reason I think that’s not the case is (ironically) gatekeeping. I have no proof of this though.

    1. This is spot on! The 150 credit hour is ridiculous! I graduated with all the classes I needed yet had to go back and take me re classes to meet that credit hour requirement. I didn’t take business courses, I took bullshit classes to get the hours because I was working public accounting hours at the time. It was a waste of time and money!

  25. I’m sorry but the exam is not THAT hard. It does require more than just a little bit of effort. It covers all the basics you should know. If you can’t pass the exam you shouldn’t be a CPA. Period.

  26. Nowadays education brings no benefit like before I know people who have done CPA’s and yet they don’t have jobs. The only thing which is working in the current world is connections without any connection then you don’t have any job. I think people should focus on self employment more than office jobs.

  27. Let’s not forget managing partners and partners in these firms are probably the worst in the world to work for! Royal jerks! They have no skills to manage and lead people and their egos are bigger than Lebron James’ ego.

  28. To me it’s simple, with the 150 hour requirement the curriculum should produce an exam ready candidate. No further review required or necessary. The vast majority of graduates will take the exam, more will pass and employers will be able to fill positions reducing the hours for all. I did the old school two day test all at once after taking a review course while working 60+ hours. Not everyone can do that, they shouldn’t have to.

  29. The real solution is to allow accounting students to qualify for the CPA with fewer hours of college. Who wants or needs to go to college for 5 years just to qualify? The AICPA created this shortage by requiring 150 hours. This excessive education requirement is the real reason behind the CPA shortage.

  30. Gee, where do I start.
    -1- schools should teach you what you need to know to pass the exam at a minimum – taking Becker was great, as that was what helped me pass all parts first time. But I shouldn’t have had to pay the fees, drive 12 hours round trip and be away from my family the entire weekend to review. It was bad enough that I went to school, worked at least 8 hours days and had two small children at home.
    – 2 – I do not have an acctg degree – I had the hours to sit. The Professor asked me why I was registering after passing the exam so I left. But I needed the advanced education for the complexities encountered.
    – 3 – there is almost no practical experience in school to be able to know what you are getting into
    – 4 – I love my work, but I work every – day – of the week. Every one. It is too much to expect. Too little respect. Too little money. Too much CPE. But it is interesting.
    – 5 – laws need to be more simplified and stop govt trying to have a limited number of preparers cram these complicated returns and constant law changes into 3 1/2 months.

  31. I have racked up about 3 years of experience jumping around firms in my local area (small towns). I used WGU to get all of the credits I needed at a fair price in under a year to sit for the exams. Another 9 months to study for the exams using Wiley CPA excel for $1500, and as of February 2021 became licensed. I was working and studying on and off the whole time, and the whole endeavor took around 3 years from starting my degree to becoming licensed. I disagree that the exams are hard. In fact, they don’t prepare us enough for the tech changes coming to the industry. More topics should be included, and the level of difficulty remain the same. Its very doable, and we would not be considered financial experts if it were easy.

  32. I got my Bachelors degree in Accounting. I’m not someone who majored in something else then realized I couldn’t make any money with my degree and went back to school. In order to sit for and actually receive my CPA license, I would have to go back to school for additional credits which is required now in about all states. Credits in what??? If I was going to do that, I would be going for a Masters degree rather than taking classes somewhere just for the sake of getting the credits. I don’t care about going into public accounting I have 20 years work experience. I just want to be able to do a review course, take the exams and be able to get the license. Currently, I’m a Controller at a small business that doesn’t require a CPA but I still want it. It’s like a club I’ll never belong to.

  33. Agree with the article, but I think these problems only apply to those working for public accounting firms. Not enough pay and time, and thus no motivation to pursue the CPA license. So, no one wants to make time to study for such exams. Why bother when the pay sucks anyways?

    For those who do not work in public accounting firms, getting the CPA license is a huge obstacle because even after working hard to pass the exams they still cannot get the license due to the lack of working hours under an active CPA. The public accounting firms wont hire them because they are too “old” for the audit work. So, it is not hard to imagine that most people wont bother pursuing the license because they will end up wasting time and money on the exams and still not getting the license.

    For someone like me, even after going through all of the trouble passing the exams and finally obtaining the working hours to get my license, I often get discriminated and disqualified by many companies for not working at public accounting firms. Guess what? Those making these hiring decision are those came from public accounting firms. So, I often discourage people from getting the license because it is not worth the trouble.

  34. 150 hours is adequate requirement. Cramming 35,000 pages of fasb codification, throwing in distractions and curve balls in questions doesn’t make it easy. And on top of that throw in defined benefit pensions that no one uses, stocks and securities that are niche accounting flair and warrants a separate certification. Additionally, aicpa added government standards and accounting, and to top it off, added non for profit. It is ridiculous! This has not become a test of expertise, but test of ability to memorize questions.
    I’m amazed they removed IFRS from the exam content.
    For comparison, ACCA, the UK variant of CPA has 14 exams. CPA has 4. Aicpa simply doesn’t want the fragment the content and specialize the certification. One license for all – government, not for profit, investments and she on is just a hypocritical approach.
    1.8 min per question defines by distractors, exploiting loopholes and contradicting definitions in fasb is also one thing that makes you fail. $2500+ for study materials and $3000 for exam sitting is ridiculous. And they don’t even provide access for students to the codification! Why?

  35. Exam is not the problem. It’s the old school mentality of the firms treating people like slaves. Same goes for corporate. With so many ways to make a living these days, the whole idea of working till you drop dead is just not so attractive.

    1. I beg to differ.
      Quoting you: “It’s the old school mentality of the firms treating people like slaves.”
      I think it is a matter of perspective. What you see as slave driving is seen as a necessary crucible for training accountants by others. Accounting is a highwire profession; the making of accountants is different from the making other professionals. See my perspectives here:

  36. Perhaps the industry should consider increasing compensation for a position that requires the educational equivalent of a Master’s degree, plus Supervised experience, and yearly continuing education hours. When staff, that do not even have an Associates degree, start at a higher salary than the accountants, is very easy to pass on investing anymore time and money into becoming CPA. Accountants are simply not valued by the business industry or the public.

  37. Hi Adrienne:

    Thanks for your beautiful article on the danger facing the accounting profession as the pipeline for replenishing CPAs runs dry.

    My mentor in Delotte Nigeria, Godwin Opurum, former Partner in the firm, shared the link to your article with me and wondered how I survived the crucible of becoming a Massachusetts CPA in 1989 in Boston. He found the article interesting and, like him, I can understand your concerns and motivation for your recommended solution for addressing the draining pipeline of CPAs today.

    You can read my thoughts at this link :

  38. Hi Adrienne:

    Thanks for your beautiful article.

    My mentor in Delotte Nigeria, Godwin Opurum, former Partner in the firm, shared the link to your article with me and wondered how I survived the crucible of becoming a Massachusetts CPA in 1989 in Boston. He found the article interesting and, like him, I can understand your concerns and motivation for your recommended solution for addressing the draining pipeline of CPAs today.

    Here are my thoughts:

  39. The problem is compensation. There is no money in the profession of being a CPA anymore.

    When I graduated from one of the US News “Top 5” accounting programs in the country in 2016 after a 5th Masters year that pumps 70% of grads into Big4 – I made less then the Finance/Marketing majors starting out who only had 4 years of school.

    The extra student loan debt was not worth it.

  40. To Adrienne Gonzalez, pea-brained writer for

    Is it really necessary to use four-letter words in articles intended to be read by professionals? Or are you just too stupid to do anything else?

    1. Oh hey Warren Miller, good to see you again! Last time I saw you was several months ago in my inbox when you sent me a long, pedantic email about how I was using the word “continuous” wrong even though that’s the language NASBA uses when describing “continuous testing.” And here you are again clutching your pearls over some saucy language.

      Since you’re such a critic, perhaps you’d like to share your professional writing with the class? It’s funny that for a guy so offended by what I do around here you’re still hanging around. Obviously you’re a fan so xoxo.

  41. For me the issue is the education requirement. I got my BA in an unrelated subject, went to community college to study accounting, then passed the CPA exam. But even though I have 150 hours, because I didn’t graduate from the right kind of program (and also because I didn’t take 36 hours of “general business” classes) I’m not qualified for a license in New York.

    It’s disappointing that passing the exam and having the work experience isn’t good enough, but at this point I have a job, so why bother jumping through hoops to bother with the license.

  42. Once i started college I immediately had positions using what I was learning in college. I have over 20 years experience in a variety of industires and while at one point wanted to get my CPA, I decided not to. I don’t need one. I never plan on filing anything with the SEC and never will prepare an audited financial statement.

    I make more money than the CPAs that I know. Why? Because while they were busy going to college and studying for the exam and most not having to work, I was gaining tons of experience utilizing my knowledge. So you have a CPA, doesn’t matter if you have no experience.

  43. Okay so of ya’ll are way out of touch and I am not surprised. I am a 5th year accounting student (co-op so I have 1 year of work experience) and there are 4 simple reasons why there are so few new accountants. 1. Pay – it’s pretty bad compared to living and tuition costs. I can work a similar job in industry for better pay, better benefits and better hours. 2. Work life balance? Ever heard of it? Why would I want to work 70+ hours a week? Bc you guys did? So does it mean it’s right? F no I enjoy life. What’s the point of work if you don’t have time to enjoy and spend the money you earn. 3. Older people are working later and not retiring. There is little place for movement. There is a opportunity. 4. Complexity, what was the tax act when you did you CPA 40 years ago? 1/10 of the size it is now.

    Fix the issues and you’ll actually keep the students and young professional.

  44. This article is right on!! This has been my sentiments since graduating with a BS in accounting and having over 25 years of experience. The one thing too, when you start applying the knowledge in the real world you discover it is not as difficult as the colleges marketed accounting to be!! This is a turn off for students and causing them not to major in the field. Also, in my experience, there is a lot of egotistical characteristics portrayed from those carrying the title CPA. I have worked for a diverse group of CPA ‘s and it is such a turn off. That does not give me a positive example to want to be a CPA.

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