[IMGCAP(1)]Here’s some exciting news: As of April 22, 2016, there were 664,532 actively licensed U.S. CPAs.

You might think that simply giving a headcount of the members of a profession — particularly a profession as closely associated with numbers as accounting — would be more “interesting” than “exciting,” but I stand by my contention that the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy’s enumeration is, in fact, exciting, and I’ll double down on it by adding “ground-breaking.”

Why? Because no one had ever done it before. I’ve had occasion a few times in this space to boggle at the notion that no one had ever managed to count the bean counters, or number the number-crunchers, but I’m more than happy to give up that complaint, and applaud NASBA for its first-ever count of CPAs, which it drew from its Accountancy Licensee Database, a national database of CPAs containing official board of accountancy data aggregated from 51 of the 55 CPA licensing jurisdictions.

To be sure, despite the extreme specificity of the number 664,532, different practices in different jurisdictions mean that some inactive CPAs may be counted as active, and so on, so it’s worth taking with a relatively small grain of salt. But given that until just a month or two ago, no one had any idea at all how many CPAs there were, to be able to confidently come within 5,000 or even 10,000 of an exact figure is amazing.

More important, it makes us hungry to know more. For instance, here are some things I’d like to know about the 664,532:

  • What percentage are in public practice, in industry, in government or in some other corner of the economy? And how are those percentages changing?
  • How many participate in their profession — with their state society or the American Institute of CPAs, for instance?
  • How many would recommend that their children become CPAs?
  • How many are over 50? Over 65?
  • How many are women? (Here are some numbers to get us started: The AICPA reports that, for 25 out of the last 27 years, more women have entered the accounting profession than men; at the same time, the institute notes that only 26 percent of CPA firm partners are women.) Similarly, what’s the ethnic breakdown of the 664,532?

That’s a lot of questions, but once we get through those, here are some other numbers I’d like to know.

  • How many firms are there? How many will be up for sale in the next 10 years? How many are being created every year?
  • How many accountants don’t follow the advice they give their clients?
  • How many Millennials act like “those Millennials” that we’re all always complaining about? And how many are leaving the profession because those complaints are unfounded?

These are just a few of the numbers I’d like to see — there are plenty more. Numbers are powerful, after all, and accountants know that better than most. And with that in mind, I’ll add that, while I’ve always been confused that the profession didn’t know its own headcount, I’m equally baffled by the many things individual accountants don’t know about their own businesses. You might want to know, for instance, which clients provide the most revenue, or how long it takes to make partner at your firm, or how old your client base is, or what value an independent analyst might put on your practice, or which of your partners are pulling their weight.
It shouldn’t take long to get all these numbers counted up — after all, there are 664,532 of you to get the job done!

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