In June 2019, the AICPA was awarded the .cpa (pronounced “Dot CPA”) top-level domain, which is designed to promote the CPA brand in cyberspace as well as to enhance security for both CPA firms and their client/business partners. Beginning September 1, 2020, the AICPA opened registration for firms to submit requests to reserve their own .cpa domain which could result in a more succinct website URL and email addresses for firm personnel.
So, what does this announcement really mean and why should my firm consider a .cpa domain?
Virtually every CPA firm utilizes a .com domain and depending on how early your firm registered determined whether you acquired the domain name you wanted. Since .com addresses are “unrestricted,” meaning there are no rules as to who or how someone can register a name, domains were awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Early adopters of Internet websites saw the business opportunity and there was a rush to scoop up sites consisting of common names, locations, business types and initials, including cyber-squatters who bought up .com site names speculating that they could sell them for a significant markup in the future.
If your firm was named Smith and Jones, you had to contend with any other business named Smith and Jones, whether they were lawyers, plumbers, or a moving company. This resulted in firms having to add extensions such as “CPAs,” “LLC,” and “Co” to retain their firm branding. Under the .cpa domain, firms such as SmithJonesCPAs.com could apply for SmithJones.cpa, which not only succinctly maintains the firm brand but also protects your firm from a security perspective. In fact, the AICPA is promoting that the .cpa brand will help build trust and make firms more secure.
How can a .cpa domain make my firm more secure?
The .cpa domain is restricted, which means that only licensed CPA firms and individually licensed CPAs that have been vetted by the .cpa organization will receive and be able to use such domains. This will virtually eliminate the ability for bad actors to create copycat websites that are commonly used in the unrestricted .com environment for generating phishing emails and fake websites designed to harvest confidential data.
For instance, if you received an email from Roman@SMITHJONESC0.com, or visited the affiliated website, would you have realized the C0 was a fake website with a zero and not the letter “o”? This is a common tactic used by hackers and is even easier to fall victim when you access the email or website through your smartphone where it is harder to see the full address. Seeing the .cpa extension in a website will provide confidence that it is legitimate and the website is really your firm.
How would the .cpa domain inspire trust?
As mentioned above, there is a vetting process to ensure that only licensed CPAs and licensed firms can obtain a .cpa extension, with ongoing review and verification prior to renewals. The AICPA is following a proven methodology utilized in other industries such as banking (.bank) and pharmacies (.pharmacy) which has helped build trust between those entities and their clients for the long term as the internet evolves.
What is the process and cost to apply for a .cpa domain?
The initial registration period for firms will run through October 31, 2020, with verified domains being released in early November, which those firms can begin utilizing immediately. The cost for a standard domain is $225 per year and increases for some specific high-demand names such as locational (i.e. Phoenix.cpa), service branding (Tax.cpa), and shorter initials (abc.cpa). While this can be more expensive than most firms are currently paying for their .com branding, there is no comparison in regards to verifications and controls provided within a restricted domain. In fact, pricing for other professional “restricted” domains such as .bank and .pharmacy start at $900 per year.
What about my current .com domain?
Firms can continue to own their .com domain as long as they keep that registration current. They would use redirects to forward emails and website queries to the new .cpa domain and firm members would respond via email utilizing their .cpa extension. While the technical aspects of redirecting email and website traffic is beyond the scope of this article, the AICPA has provided a whitepaper to help firms understand the process and benefits.
To find out more and resister today, visit domains.cpa.
Roman H. Kepczyk, CPA.CITP, CGMA is Director of Firm Technology Strategy for Right Networks and partners exclusively with accounting firms on production automation, application optimization, and practice transformation. Roman is also the author of the 2020 Edition of “Quantum of Paperless: A Partner’s Guide to Accounting Firm Optimization,” which is available for download to members of the AICPA PCPS section.