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Don’t Forget: Voting on the AICPA-CIMA Merger Starts on Monday

Over the last few years, we've watched the AICPA and CIMA hamfist the CGMA into our lives. The claim was that it would "raise the bar on management accounting" but all it really did was remind people of the cognitor fiasco from the late '90s/early '00s and invite lots and lots and lots of mockery from this website. Now that we've endured it for a few years, the AICPA and CIMA announced last November that they would be proposing a "natural evolution" in their joint venture.

It all sounded pretty weird and mysterious, but to a lot of people it sound all too familiar, specifically because of the similarities to the previously mentioned "cognitor" credential. Now, if you're wondering what this cognitor thing is, you may have also heard it referred to as the "XYZ credential" because accountants are so good at coming up with creative monikers. Here's what The New York Times reported in April 2001:

Would an accountant, by any other name, sound sweeter? The question has been raised by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, which has floated a proposal to create an internationally accepted credential certifying a certain level of finance expertise. The aim is to complement the existing accounting certification, and to attract more students and practicing professionals.

Rings a bell, huh? It gets better:

But the proposal has run into trouble, not least because the name first proposed for the credential was the reptilian-sounding ''cognitor.'' Many accountants also resent the implication that they need an additional title and hate the idea of increased competition from lawyers, consultants and other professionals, who would be eligible to take the test for the credential.

''This has just been a disaster from the beginning,'' said Arthur W. Bowman, editor of Bowman's Accounting Report in Atlanta. The accounting institute's leadership ''started pontificating on the profession and saying, 'This is what we need and this is why we need it,' rather than people out there in the real world'' making suggestions, he said. ''There's a real communication gap.''

At the time, both the New York and Illinois Societies were opposed to cognitor/XYZ so that made for some pretty good infighting. But what the hell is with that name?

Perhaps the biggest mistake the group made was in the name of the credential. The institute's officers are now careful not to use ''cognitor'' at all.

''What do you think of?'' Mr. Bowman asked rhetorically. ''I think of some pterodactyl-type dinosaur swooping over the mountaintops. If they had left it at this XYZ credential, then there would have been nothing to get your hands on to be against.''

Back to present day, both Tom Selling at Accounting Onion and professors Paul B.W. Miller and Paul Bahnson have written about the parallels between cognitor/XYZ and now the CGMA/AICPA+CIMA merger. As you might imagine, they aren't saying, "No" insomuch as they are saying, "HELL NO" to the AICPA/CIMA tie-up. Here's Selling:

My understanding is that when the AICPA first proposed to offer a CGMA credential, the ongoing requirement would be for all CGMAs to also be licensed CPAs.  That was later broadened to eliminate the licensing requirement, and then finally that it would be extended to anyone who could merely qualify to sit for the CPA exam.  Hence, there is a real possibility that the public will be confused regarding the distinction between a real CPA and non-CPA CGMA — and a wide gulf separating the two in the form of competency.

So much for “…keeping the CPA strong in the U.S.”  In point of fact, the brand has already been diluted by the joint venture with CIMA.  For the life of me, I can’t see what value a CPA will get out of the merger. Heretofore, nothing prevented a CPA from also being a member of the CIMA; and the old-school CPA/CMAs have been sold down the river.

And here's Miller and Bahnson who predicted these developments back in 2012 not long after the CGMA was rolled out. For a little bit of context, the "Elite" they refer to are AICPA brass:

Why would the Elite run the risk of foisting this CGMA boondoggle on institute members? We’re persuaded they have an ulterior motive that runs much deeper than desperation for revenues. Specifically, we’re certain beyond doubt that this gambit is the initial phase of a back-door maneuver to transform the AICPA into an international empire with the Elite on top of the organization chart.

“Here’s the smoking gun evidence: When the institute and CIMA originally formed their joint venture in 2011, they called it the ‘Association of International Certified Professional Accountants.’

“Are those familiar initials an accidental coincidence? No way.

“We dub this joint venture ‘AICPA 2.0’ and anticipate that if and when the Elite conclude the CGMA is established as legitimate, they will launch another public relations blitz to get members of AICPA 1.0 to approve changing its name and extending membership to (guess who?) all those 100,000 or so new CGMAs gratuitously created by CIMA.

“We hope we’re wrong but we’re irrevocably convinced this stealthy strategy is for real. If so, the Elite is undermining the integrity and distinction of being a Certified Public Accountant, not by accident, and not for any good purpose.”

Both articles are also deliciously cynical about the timing of the voting, which begins on Monday and is open through June 16th. Selling, "suspects that they are trying to discourage 'no' voters’ participation," and the Pauls agree:

Although we anticipate a lame excuse blaming the CIMA for that timing, we’re convinced the Elite hopes many members won’t look at the proposal. Perhaps they’re also hoping many won’t actually vote because the measure would pass with approval from two-thirds of the returned ballots, not two-thirds of the membership.

I don't have a dog in this fight — my license has been inactive for years — but it's hard for me to not see this as a pure power play by the AICPA. There's nothing to be gained for practicing CPAs except a diluted designation. As for the claim that the combined entity would be beneficial for the younger generation, that's a joke, right? Just because some stat says that "36 percent of next-generation accountants" want to work overseas doesn't mean they want some super colossal professional association thingamajig to look out for them. They just want to Snapchat themselves working in a foreign country.

And sure, Selling and the Pauls sound cynical but lots of us weren't around to fully appreciate the cognitor/XYZ charlie foxtrot. When I hear people talk about it, no one — and I mean no one — thought it was a good idea. Of course, this CGMA/CIMA thing smells fishy to them. 

Anyway, the merger needs two-thirds membership approval so it seems like a longshot, but you never know with these things. Part of me wishes this was a caucus, though. I think the disorder and buffoonery would really help the profession sort through some of these issues.

So! Where do you all fall on AICPA-CIMA merger? Voting for? Voting against? We'll have our own little caucus right here if we have to.

[NYT, Accounting Onion, AT]