The unparalleled distinction of the CPA license and the four E’s that serve as its foundation
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Professional Insights

The unparalleled distinction of the CPA license and the four E’s that serve as its foundation

2 months ago · 2 min read · AICPA Insights Blog

The Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license matters. The proof presents itself every day in the ethical, informed and trustworthy work CPAs do. Through their invaluable work, licensed CPAs bring confidence, experience, accuracy and honesty to an, often, uncertain financial world.

The CPA license signals to the public an accounting professional’s commitment to excellence and integrity in a complex, highly regulated, and constantly changing business world. The CPA license is much more than permission to work in a highly specialized field. It matters to the public, businesses and the broader financial world because of the tremendous substance and commitments that stand behind it.

When businesses and individuals hire a CPA, they know that they are hiring a well-qualified professional. With accounting, auditing, tax and technology at the core, the CPA licensure process prepares accountants to work in at least one of three disciplines: tax compliance and planning; business analysis and reporting; or information systems and controls.

Licensure also reflects reliability. A CPA enters a social contract with the public as a professional who has met exhaustive requirements, and practices with financial integrity, whether for an individual, company, governmental body or non-profit enterprise.

In their learning and public practice, an individual who seeks to become a CPA must submit to what is known as “integrity of the rigor.” In other words, CPAs must prove in multiple, concrete ways over time that they are qualified to meet the highest standards and uphold a code of conduct; state laws and regulations; and those from federal regulators, such as the PCAOB (Public Company Accounting Oversight Board) and IRS (Internal Revenue Service).

These four pillars stand behind every CPA license:

Education - Accounting students learn the fundamentals of the profession in college, completing 150 semester hours of education for licensure. To maintain their license, CPAs must also complete continuing professional education.
Experience - Candidates must also meet an experience requirement before a license can be obtained. Experience can be gained through several avenues including public accounting, industry, and government.
Examination - Passing the CPA Exam provides evidence that an accountant is qualified to practice at the highest level of the profession. The Uniform CPA Examination is the same exam for every CPA candidate in all 55 licensing jurisdictions in the United States.
Ethics - In daily practice, CPAs comply with a code of ethics, including the AICPA® (American Institute of CPAs®) Code of Professional Conduct, which reinforces a career-long commitment to integrity, objectivity, due care and competence.

Moreover, every CPA reinforces and revisits these pillars as they build their experience and further develop sound judgment; take continuing CPA education courses; and work overtime to abide by the regulations and laws that guide their work and promote public confidence.

In the business world, CPA licensure matters as only CPAs can perform what is known as the attest function — an independent review of a company’s opinion financial statement. This important level of assurance positions the CPA as a trusted adviser.

All of this taken confirms the CPA profession’s dedication to creating a system where licensure represents a true gold standard in training, practice, ethics, and career-long development. The CPA profession has decades of commitment to meeting and maintaining its contract with the public, creating a finely tuned, nuanced system to define and uphold best practices. This work constantly evolves as the nature of business, accounting, tax and capital markets change. Just as they have over generations, licensed CPAs monitor and adhere to the laws, rules and standards that guide them.

This, combined with keeping in place time-tested pillars that build rigor and promote public confidence, mean that accounting professionals who commit to upholding the highest standards of ethics, skill, independence, judgment and professional development proudly carry the CPA designation.

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