November 2000

A global professional credential-by whatever name-is no quick fix

In late September, the AICPA released an outline extolling the value of its proposed global professional credential and supporting a resolution on the subject. The outline presented the logic behind the proposed global credential: namely, that the past several decades (especially the most recent one) have stretched the CPA brand to its limits. As a result, the only way the profession can reclaim its relevance and vitality is to invent a new brand-a new identity- that can expand its place in the market: specifically, a "global professional credential" distinct from the CPA but encompassing much of the same body of knowledge and scope of practice.

The AICPA's attempt to reinvent the CPA brand is not surprising. What does surprise me-even fascinate me-is the amount of attention the concept continues to receive from our professional community. It is so remote from the day-to-day issues CPAs now face (for example, the SEC's proposed rulemaking on auditor independence, the shrinking numbers of new people at every level of practice, laws that are out of sync with the times) that expending significant resources on developing a new brand seems to be a search for an easy fix to difficult core issues.

The central argument for the global credential is that the profession represented by the CPA brand has reached the limits of its identity, much as Toyota needed to invent the Lexus brand in order to redefine itself and compete in the high-end market. But the CPA brand has always been flexible. Specifically, during the last 15 years it has stretched enormously to encompass consulting services in ways that many could not have imagined.

The appeal of the global credential (referred to first as XYZ and recently as Cognitor) lies in the belief that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. Some accountants long for unregulated turf where the professional is defined solely by the market and governing jurisdictions have no role. Many others chose this profession for its relatively low risk in both good and bad times and understand that, although dot-coms and investment banks seem to offer astronomical potential for wealth, those enterprises have always been high-risk and are not respected by the public the way the CPA profession is.

The AICPA Council, at its October 32-24 meeting, approved a more moderate version of the resolution issued in September. The resolution as approved calls for further study of the concept, including a detailed business plan and an analysis of how the global credential would impact various aspects of the profession. I applaud Council for its wisdom, especially in requiring a business plan, something that would have been a good idea at the beginning rather than in the middle of the proposal process.

I don't know exactly how a global credential would impact the accounting profession. Such a credential, by any name, is itself neither good nor bad and cannot single-handedly change what the CPA represents. Nor does it address deeper problems-

  • fewer new people entering the profession;
  • outdated state statutes;
  • challenges to GAAP and the periodic reporting model; and
  • new regulations for auditor independence.

    The essence of the CPA brand is integrity. The CPA can make sense of an ocean of numbers, determine what is valid and what is not in a given situation, and communicate the results in a meaningful way. I have no doubt that the CPA brand will endure, reinventing and redefining itself-as the best brand names always do.

    Louis Grumet
    Executive Director, NYSSCPA
    Publisher, The CPA Journal

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