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AICPA immediate past chair Robert Mednick asked Robert Israeloff, also a past AICPA chairman, to head an AICPA special committee on specialization and accreditation. The purpose of the committee was to consider the whole nature and purpose of specialties for the CPA and to recommend whether the AICPA should continue to expand the areas for specialty designation and under what circumstances.

The debate over the benefits of specialty designations has been ongoing for several years. Those in favor of specialty labels feel they help the CPA compete against other specialists such as those in financial planning and business valuations. Others feel that adding initials of accreditation on top of the CPA designation only confuses the public and dilutes the depth of meaning the public has historically assigned to it.

According to Robert Israeloff, speaking before the AICPA's Tax Division in late 1997, his special committee has reached conclusions
on some fundamental issues
as follows:

* There is no evidence the public has any strong feeling about specialty designations for CPAs.

* Accreditation of specialty areas, however, can be of help to CPAs in competing in the marketplace.

* There is no need for accreditation in areas where the CPA is known to be the leading quality provider--therefore there is no need for accreditation in auditing or general taxation. However, there may be a place for accreditation in specific tax subspecialties.

* There is no perceived benefit to establishing an accreditation in a specialty area where existing accreditations already have strong market permissions. Accordingly, the AICPA's thrust will be in new undeveloped areas where the CPA can be the first to establish an identity. ElderCare Plus and WebTrust, products of the Special Committee on Assurance Services, are illustrative of new areas where no other credential exists and where a moniker might assist CPAs in marketing their services.

* All accreditations will include "CPA" and a three-letter identifier such as the CPA/PFS designation in personal financial planning.

It will be up to the AICPA board to accept the committee's recommendations and move them forward to the AICPA Council in May. *

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