By Susan S. Coffey, CPA, CGMA, EVP — Public Practice, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants
Back in January, I wrote about the CPA Evolution initiative, a joint project with the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) to explore integrating technological and analytical expertise into initial CPA licensure requirements.
I was thrilled that so many of you sent me emails with your thoughts on the blog post and the need for “CPA” to evolve with the ever-changing business landscape. Clearly, you all are very passionate about keeping the credential strong and relevant.
A few themes emerged from your feedback. Since your insights are so valuable to this initiative, I wanted to share them with you as NASBA and the AICPA continue our discussion throughout 2019. Here’s what I heard:
1. Change is good
Although many of you had different ideas for how to evolve the CPA licensure model, there was overwhelming agreement that the profession should evolve to align with the changing marketplace. We were glad to hear that. This thinking is consistent with what the profession’s leadership, regulators and other key stakeholders have expressed as well.
Your feedback pointed out that technological innovation will provide many new opportunities for CPAs to deliver value and is critical in our ongoing commitment to protect the public. Innovations in information processing, automation and data analytics can eliminate some of the manual tasks CPAs have traditionally performed, freeing up more time for analysis and delivering more insightful and meaningful information.
Several of you also pointed out that technology opens up new opportunities for CPAs to serve clients and employers. As organizations integrate more technologies into their business processes, CPAs can advise on the efficacy of their systems and controls while helping address potential risks. If our profession can embrace change and evolve to serve in these roles, we can enhance the value we provide to organizations and the public.
2. Education, examination and experience are important
Your feedback also emphasized that the “three E’s” — education, examination and experience — are important to the initial licensure process. I particularly liked one of your comments that referred to this shared experience as “one of the strengths of our profession.” I wholeheartedly agree, and this will continue to be top of mind as NASBA and the AICPA consider different solutions.
3. However, the CPA Exam should change…
Several of you said that the CPA Exam needs to change to keep up with new technologies, skills and competencies affecting practice. Some suggested enhancing the amount of Exam content related to technology competency and critical-thinking skills. This is all great feedback for NASBA and the AICPA to think about, particularly as the AICPA conducts a practice analysis to ensure the Exam remains current.
4. …and so should education
I also heard from you that there’s room for improvement in accounting education. Some of you suggested that college coursework should have a greater focus on the technological skills and competencies that newly licensed CPAs are expected to have when hired. Others pointed out that there could be a greater focus on the needs of small businesses and startups in accounting education.
Again, this feedback will help inform the direction in which our two organizations take CPA Evolution. NASBA and the AICPA have had an ongoing dialogue with the accounting academic community throughout this project. For example, we’ve met with leadership from the American Accounting Association, and we’ve had discussions with the AICPA’s Pre-certification Education Executive Committee. We’ll continue to keep the academic community involved and share feedback as we move forward.
5. Core accounting skills and competencies must remain
Perhaps some of the most pervasive feedback I received was concern that core accounting concepts, skills and knowledge will be jettisoned in favor of a very tech-heavy profession. While incorporating more technology skills and knowledge into licensure is a key goal of CPA Evolution, we’re not trying to turn CPAs into IT system designers, coders or software developers. Instead, we’re aiming to make sure future CPAs have the skills and competencies they need in technology and analysis to do their jobs more effectively. Some of these skills include data analysis, cybersecurity risk management, business intelligence and information system and organization controls.
Some of you expressed concerns that changing CPA licensure would change what makes the CPA so strong today. I hear you. The CPA stands for integrity, objectivity, trust and competence. Our goal is to promote these strengths in a way that keeps pace with the evolving nature of business and our services.
My ask of you
I’d like to challenge you to think about what it means to be a CPA, the value our profession really provides and how CPAs can keep providing that value in a marketplace increasingly driven by technology and data. Who are the CPA candidates of the future? What skills and competencies will they need to be successful in tomorrow’s business environment and fulfill their public protection mandate?
Take this scenario: If assurance practice becomes more focused on systems and less on numbers, what does that mean? What if artificial intelligence, robotics and blockchain permeate the services CPAs deliver or the way they work with business partners and clients, and bots automate previously time-consuming tasks? Would the CPA of the future need the skills and competencies required for licensure today? Or are there changes that can be made so future CPAs are better prepared for that environment?
Consider another scenario: If cybersecurity assurance becomes a core service of CPAs (which it should), is the financial-statement expert the right person to sign the attestation report? If not, who is? How can individuals with cyber expertise be held accountable to the same high standards and the same lifelong learning and ethics requirements as CPAs who provide assurance on financial statements?
This doesn’t mean future CPAs won’t need to know debits and credits. But it does mean the profession needs to expand our thinking around CPA “core skills and competencies” if we want to remain relevant. And rest assured: maintaining a strong CPA profession will always be the AICPA’s top goal. In fact, that’s why we’re partnering with NASBA to do this in the first place.
Many of you had questions about specific tactics and details around the implementation of CPA Evolution. Here’s where we are in the process: NASBA and the AICPA are currently reviewing your feedback. We’re using that information to create principles that will guide the development of a potential new model for initial CPA licensure. We’ll be talking to you and other stakeholders throughout the spring and summer months about these principles. Keep an eye out for more information; we’ll want to hear your thoughts on these guiding principles as well and continue the conversation.
Again, thank you to those who shared your thoughtful comments. I really appreciate your engagement, creative thinking and clear investment in and passion for the future of the CPA profession. To continue to monitor our progress, engage with us and share your thoughts, you can send me an email at [email protected].
Originally published by AICPA.