WHAT DID YOU SAY THE "A" STANDS FOR?
By J. Sam Johnson
The accounting profession as we know it today is radically different from both what it has been in the past and what it might become. Changes in regulation and external forces, as well as our vision of the future, will impact how the profession evolves and how the CPA designation is understood and perceived.
Imagine, if you will, the following conversation between two school-age children:
Sally: Say, Tommy, what do you want to be when you grow up?
Tommy: Gee, Sally, I don't know. What about you?
Sally: I want to be a CPA.
Tommy: A CP what?
Sally: A Certified Public Accountant.
Tommy: What's that?
Sally: A Certified Public Accountant is a highly educated, highly respected licensed professional who provides any number of high quality services to businesses, governments, and individuals.
Tommy: Wow! How do you get to be one of those?
Sally: You go to school and get a degree then you take an exam to prove you know about accounting.
Tommy: That's all there is to it?
Sally: No, silly. Then you get some experience under a CPA and then they give you a license.
Tommy: Oh. What did you say the A stands for?
Tommy: So CPAs are licensed to provide all these professional services?
Sally: No. CPAs are licensed to provide the attest function. They can issue opinions on audits in accordance with GAAS and reports on compilations and reviews in accordance with SSARS. But they can call themselves CPAs when they provide some of these other services.
Tommy: What did you say the A stands for?
Tommy: Oh. So when I get this license, I have to do accounting, right?
Sally: Wrong. You can provide all kinds of interesting services and you never have to do the attest function or accounting if you don't want to.
Tommy: Why would I want to be a CPA if I don't want to do accounting and I don't have to have a license to provide all these other services?
Sally: Because as a CPA you are a member of a profession that has attained a reputation for integrity and objectivity. The public has a high regard for the CPA profession. There are a hundred years of goodwill behind the initials CPA. Of course, you would have to live up to that reputation.
Tommy: Of course. So I can become a CPA, enjoy the reputation of the profession, and never have to do the one thing I'm licensed for?
Tommy: What are these other services?
Sally: Gee, Tommy. There are so many it's hard to name them all. I guess it's even harder to imagine all of them. I will say this though. The American Institute of CPAs says that the future of the profession will be in providing timely, pertinent information to the users of CPA services. CPAs will even provide assurance as to the validity of the information. CPAs will be the premiere information professionals. Providing historical accounting information will become less important.
Tommy: Information. Assurance! I thought you said the A stands for accounting.
Sally: It does.
Tommy: Wait a minute. If the A stands for accounting, but I don't have to do accounting, and information is what's important, why don't they call it something else, like CIP?
Sally: CIP? What's that?
Tommy: Certified Information Professional.
Sally: What, and lose that hundred years of goodwill? Besides, the profession has always changed to meet the needs of the users of its services.
Tommy: Sally, if I want to be a CPA but don't want to provide the attest function, can't they just test me on the other stuff, let me get experience in the area I want to work in and give me a license?
Sally: Gee, Tommy, that's a thought. They could test you on the attest function later if you decided you wanted to do it. That way you wouldn't even have to get your experience under a CPA. They could even let other people do the attest function. They could be tested and not have to call themselves CPAs.
Tommy: But if information is the future, won't the profession have to sell itself and the public on the idea?
Sally: Sure, Tommy.
Tommy: This sounds better all the time. What a great profession! I think I'd like to be a Certified Public A.... What did you say the A stands for? *
J. Sam Johnson is the president of the Georgia Society of CPAs. This article is reprinted with permission.
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