AICPA Membership Changes 

by Jeannie Patton, AICPA Vice President, Students, Academics and Membership 
Published September 07, 2010

There have been a variety of questions regarding the reasons for the proposed ballot changes. The following may give some additional insight into the areas where questions have been raised.

Changing Profession:  The current bylaws and membership requirements were established nearly 60 years ago when the CPA profession looked considerably different from how it does now. The profession of 60 years ago was virtually 100% public practice. Over time, the business environment and accounting marketplace have recognized that the level of professionalism and expertise of CPAs in public accounting firms had a value that needed to be brought directly to their businesses.

Over the past 20-30 years, CPAs have followed a variety of pathways into and through the profession.  While the traditional path is public practice to business and industry, the profession now sees individuals going directly into business and industry. 

One of the primary issues in the dialogue seems to cycle around the view that CPA = certificate/license, rather than CPA = education, CPA examination, experience and adherence to a Code of Conduct. 

Half of the AICPA membership at the present time consists of members in business, industry, government or education – outside the arena of offering accounting services to third parties. A certificate/license may not be required for them to provide services to their employers, in spite of the fact that many may choose to maintain that certificate/license.

AICPA Membership and Proposed Requirements:  The ballot proposal has two elements that would be modified for voting members if it passed. The first one would allow individuals who have previously been certified/licensed, but who no longer maintain a certificate/license, to become voting members. 

Certainly, those are likely to be those in business and industry, government or education as anyone offering accounting services to third parties would be required to have a certificate/license in their state. These individuals have the exact foundation credentials (education, passage of the CPA examination and experience) that our current population of voting members has. 

Category Education1 Passed CPA Examination Experience2 CPE Required for Membership Adherence to Code of Conduct Ability to "Hold Out" as a CPA3
Current Voting Members
Varies depending on state requirements
Varies depending on state of certification/licensure
Allowed if holding a current license which may be a CPA certificate
Proposed: Individuals who at any time possessed a CPA certificate and whose certificate was not revoked as a result of disciplinary action
Varies depending on state requirements
Varies depending on state of certification/licensure
Proposed: Individuals meeting UAA requirements
150 hours as defined by UAA
One year of experience as defined by UAA

1 Because AICPA membership spans some 50-70 years, the education requirements applicable to voting members range from Associate degrees through 150 hours.
2 Some state boards have required two years of experience; a few others have a public practice experience component to their experience requirements; currently 43 states have a one year experience requirement.
3 "Holding out" means the use of the title "CPA," "certified public accountant" or other protected titles. The ability to "hold out" as a CPA is controlled by the states through licensure and rules provisions. Generally a license (which in some states is the CPA certificate) is required when an individual "holds out" as a CPA offering services to third parties.

In addition, although not required by state licensure requirements, these individuals would need to agree to maintain CPE (120 hours every three years) and adhere to the Code of Conduct. The AICPA has its own CPE requirement that voting members must comply with in order to maintain their membership. An affirmation of meeting that requirement is done annually through the membership renewal process.

The AICPA likely already has voting members who do not hold a current certificate/license as that requirement only applies at the time the individual submits an application for membership. Those members, in many cases, were admitted to the AICPA when they were in public practice. Some may have moved into business and industry positions where the certificate/license was not required, others may have “retired’ from active involvement in the accounting aspect of their jobs. Time has proven that we do not have an issue of behavioral inconsistency or ethics violations from this population of existing members who consider themselves to be part of the CPA profession, with its attendant responsibilities and levels of professional behavior.

Standards for All Voting Members:  These two additional avenues to voting membership do not reduce any of the mandated requirements or responsibilities of membership.

All voting members, including proposed categories, would have to:

  • Pass the Uniform CPA Examination and have one year or more of experience
  • Agree to maintain 120 hours of CPE every three years
  • Abide by the Code of Professional Conduct

Even though new members admitted under the proposed revised bylaw would not have CPA certificates, ALL voting members are required to obtain 120 hours of CPE every three years (that is an AICPA membership requirement now). In addition, all AICPA members are required to adhere to the Code of Conduct. Nothing in the proposal would grant an individual the authority to hold themselves out to the public as a CPA. State boards of accountancy actively enforce provisions where individuals may inappropriately hold themselves out.

Holding Out: The issue of individuals using AICPA membership to indicate certification/licensure status is similar to the issue of CPA firms having non-CPA professionals who provide services to clients. 

A client entering a CPA firm that holds out as a CPA firm is likely to assume that the individuals providing professional services are licensed CPAs. In fact, their work may be done by a variety of highly qualified non-CPA professionals. Those non-CPA professionals are held to the firm’s standards of quality and integrity which is one of the reasons that clients choose CPA firms. Employees of that CPA firm would likely be terminated if they failed to uphold the firm’s practices, policies and standards of quality. The same would apply to those who did not adhere to AICPA membership and appropriate limits related to their licensure status.

Professional Diversity and Public Interest.  We are one of the few professions that have a 360 degree perspective on the scope of professional responsibility. Business and industry members produce the financial information that markets depend upon and public practice members audit that information.  Together, they are partners on behalf of the public interest.

The Uniform Accountancy Act (UAA):  The second option under consideration would allow individuals who meet the UAA requirements (150 hours of education, passage of the CPA examination and one year of experience) to become voting members. This represents the highest level of requirements to become certified/licensed and is the national standard for licensure that has been used extensively to promote licensing consistency across the country. 

Bearing in mind that we have a fairly broad range of ages in AICPA voting memberships, we have voting members who may have an Associate degree in accounting or much less than 150 hours of college education depending on when they were originally licensed. Many members who entered the profession pre-1990s would have 120 hours of college education or less.

Those seeking membership under the proposed UAA provision would need to submit proof of meeting the three key provisions of the UAA:

  • 150 hours of education, 
  • Passage of the CPA examination, and
  • One year of experience verified by a CPA.

They also must agree to complete the 120 hours of CPE every three years and uphold the Code of Conduct.


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