Someone has to ask the question and as a matter of fact Sharon Gubinsky, one of our favorite Maryland CPAs, already has.

Before we get to Sharon’s enlightening comments, however, let’s examine the AICPA’s idea to expand membership to non-CPAs. As is, AICPA membership is limited to those who hold a current CPA certificate. Since the AICPA is a professional organization charged with protecting the protectors, you’d think it would be simple to decide who can and cannot join the organization.

Those of us affiliated with the industry but without CPA certificates are more than welcome to cheer from the sidelines but are rightfully barred from membership in an organization that oversees licensure and sets the overall tone for CPAs across the country. But here are the proposed changes:

In May 2010, the AICPA governing Council unanimously voted for a member ballot on a proposed bylaw amendment to update the requirements for admission to the Institute. This recommendation is a part of the first major comprehensive review of membership requirements since the 1950s. The bylaw amendment would add a provision to the current CPA certificate requirement for voting membership. Therefore, if the ballot measure were to pass, individuals could become voting members of the AICPA if they meet at least one of the following criteria:

1. Possess a valid and unrevoked CPA certificate issued by a legally constituted authority, the present requirement for membership.

2. At any time possessed a valid CPA certificate and the certificate was not revoked as a result of a disciplinary action (i.e., the certificate holder allowed the certificate to lapse because they were not providing public accounting services and therefore the certificate was not required by their state board of accountancy).

3. Fulfill the education, examination and experience requirements of the Uniform Accountancy Act (UAA) for CPA certification (see Appendix B) and are of good moral character but have never been granted a right to practice because they do not hold out as CPAs.

Back to Sharon. Not arguing with the first two requirements (nor am I), she and many others take issue with the third. Why on Earth would someone meet every requirement for licensure and choose not to be licensed but still wish to be a member of a large, influential professional organization like the AICPA?

She says:

An additional sore spot for current members opposed to this amendment is that in order to maintain an active CPA license a required amount of continuing education credit hours is mandatory. For the State of Maryland the State Board of Accountancy requires eighty hours of CPE every two years in order to renew your license. Those without a valid license are not subject to this requirement. Not only is the CPE a scheduling issue at times due to billable client work but it is not cheap. The average cost for eight hours of training is approximately $300.00. The positive note is that the CPE requirement does keep us informed and refreshed.

Having a CPA license keeps CPAs incentivized to protect the public and adhere to the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct that gives that credential such weight. There is some level of prestige in saying one has accomplished it and a level of service to the public interest required by those who hold it. So why open up AICPA membership to anyone who could be a CPA if they put in the legwork but haven’t?

I think an associate membership idea – if additional membership revenue is what the AICPA is after – is an excellent idea and I for one would be one of the first non-CPAs to sign up just to show my commitment to what the industry stands for. But that doesn’t mean non-CPAs should be allowed to vote on issues important to CPAs, regardless of how intimately acquainted with the profession and the industry’s professional standards one might be.

Licensed CPAs? Yes.

Inactive CPAs? Yes. They still put in the work to pass the CPA exam and secure experience, they have simply chosen to drop out of public or move into a different line of work. That does not negate their professional experience.

Non-CPAs? NO.