(UPDATE) CPA Status and Promotions: What Is Your Firm’s Policy?

With all the news on raises, promotions etc. etc., a reader got in touch, asking the following:

Can we start a thread to discuss when you need the CPA designation if you want to move up at various firms by practice (audit, tax, specialty groups, etc.) and what exceptions there are?

The idea jumped off of a recent comment on yesterday’s post discussing E&Y’s raises keeping pace with PwC:

From what I can derive, PwC was bleeding staff in the early part of the year to the best of my knowledge, requires more time to get promoted up the ranks (3 years to senior compared to 2 at all other firms) and the requirements are higher (must have passed the CPA exam). The higher raises, at least from PwC’s perspective, may be their way of staying competitive with the market because, without higher pay, PwC is not competitive. E&Y may also be attempting to compensate but I am not entirely sure what for.

So three years to earn a promotion to SA at PwC isn’t news to us and some – dare we say, many – may argue that should be the standard timeline for associates in the Big 4/second tier firms. You can debate that all you want but what about the CPA requirement? If PwC does in fact require their associates to have their license before making SA, that’s nothing if not a motivation to finish the CPA ASAP. At the same time, there are many SAs that don’t have their license that do excellent work but for whatever reason are still stalling on obtaining the CPA.

The reader continues by asking:

For instance, if you have an Enrolled Agent, can you still make manager if you’re in tax, etc. [?] I’m also curious about any place that will demote anyone of a certain level who hasn’t gotten their CPA in the last couple of years. KPMG has threatened it for managers in tax who are qualified to sit for the exam (U.S. accounting degree with enough hours), but I wonder if that’s more empty talk.

That’s the first we’ve heard of a demotion for not having a CPA but frankly, that seems appropriate. If the manager has an EA, then perhaps that’s a suitable exception, although the idea of a Big 4 tax manager without a CPA just doesn’t seem right. For many, the lack of the those three precious letters means the end of their careers at the Big 4, so it’s definitely an issue.

So indulge our reader and let us know your firm’s policy regarding promotions and CPA license status. Does it matter? Are there exceptions? Should your performance make up for your uncanny ability to fail FAR? Talk it out.

UPDATE: We obtained a copy of the KPMG policy mentioned above and it appears to be FSF with a few exceptions for those that are “CPA Eligible” and certain “waivers.” Also there’s this, “In circumstances of noncompliance without appropriate waiver, professionals may be subject to disciplinary action, including but not limited to demotion or termination from the firm.”

KPMG Tax Promotion Policy