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Opinion: The AICPA’s Future CPA Exam Plans Are Really Just a Desperate Money Grab

ICYMI, a couple weeks ago I wrote about a joint AICPA/NASBA plan to drag CPA licensure into the 21st century. So far, the initiative is in the early planning stages but it feels like the profession is moving far quicker than its usual snail pace to adapt to our rapidly-changing world, so to think this will end up dragging out as so many “future-proofing” attempts do would be a mistake.

On the whole, I thought the plan looked good. Hell, any acknowledgment on the profession’s behalf of our changing world and the skills CPAs will need to provide value in it is a good thing, right?

One reader did not agree with me that the plan appears to benefit future CPAs. They write:

I read your article from July 10 on the CPA Evolution and I think this is bigger than your story points out. I’m new to being involved with the Association, but I’ve been pretty disgusted with the lack of regard for existing members and the attempt at a grab by the AICPA for more membership. Since they can’t get accounting students to take the CPA exam, they’re looking for new members.

The CPA Evolution is part of a broader strategy effort by the AICPA to expand its membership base. The CPA Evolution isn’t just about updating the exam. Guiding Principle 4 talks about opening up who is eligible for the CPA exam, including non-accounting professionals?! This is in line with what the AICPA is doing with all of the ancillary credentials (ABV, CITP, etc.): opening them up to non-CPAs.

I’m surprised there hasn’t been more coverage on this and/or more backlash from practitioners around the strategy. Any thoughts? Thank you

At issue, item four on the five-item list of “guiding principles” TPTB are using to develop the future roadmap to CPA licensure:

The profession, and therefore entry into the profession, must be redesigned to attract individuals with technological and analytical expertise. This includes non-CPA professionals whose technology and analytics skills are critical to the performance of assurance and other core services, as well as nonaccounting major students. All must demonstrate minimum required competencies necessary to perform professional accounting services as a CPA.

I’ll admit when I first read that, it gave me pause, too. At first glance, and knowing what we know about how desperate the AICPA is for fresh meat and email addresses to send discount insurance offers to, it could seem like they’re branching out and considering some kind of “CPA Lite” to encompass non-CPAs under their umbrella. As it stands, however, it’s not clear that’s the plan.

The last sentence is what makes you really wonder. It’s one thing if the AICPA wants to start offering non-CPA certifications in crossover technology like data analytics for audit to be developed by non-auditors for use by auditors. Anyone got a beef with that? In that vein, you wouldn’t expect an analyst to be well-versed in, say, federal taxation. The AICPA could have some influence over the type of technology being developed to make auditors’ lives easier and the auditors benefit by not having to do that work themselves, instead leaving it to little data gophers specifically trained and skilled in that field. Win-win, right?

The obvious concern comes, as mentioned above, knowing that the AICPA has been vocal about declining CPA exam numbers, talent shortages, and a less-than-robust pipeline of fresh meat. Who’s to say they won’t start finding creative ways to fill chairs and collect dues?

Personally I don’t think that’s the big takeaway here. At the same time, I think it’s wise to stay diligent as the prospect of credential dilution out of desperation isn’t that crazy. As our reader pointed out, it already happened with the ABV.

It’s worth remembering that the AICPA is militant in its defense of the CPA credential. And why wouldn’t they be, that’s their thing. It would take some next level desperation for them to open the flood gates and let any old clown start snagging credentials left and right.

We’ll be keeping an eye on this, of course. You have until Aug. 9 to make your thoughts on the proposed guiding principles known to TPTB, so hurry up and say something if this isn’t sitting right with you.