The American Institute of CPAs is mulling the idea of internationalizing the CPA designation.

During the Fall Meeting of Council and Members, Leslie Murphy, co-chair of the AICPA/National Association of State Boards of Accountancy Joint Committee on the International Administration of the CPA Examination, and Arleen Thomas, senior vice president of member competency and development at the AICPA, presented a proposal asking Council members to consider offering the U.S. CPA Examination to international markets and issuing a non-audit CPA designation for use outside the U.S.

An international CPA title would require the same criteria and ongoing professional commitments as are required for domestic CPAs.

"The U.S. CPA should be one of the premier international licenses or designations," said Thomas (left). She noted that about 10 percent of CPA Exam volume comes from international candidates and approximately 7,000 individuals come to the U.S. or its territories each year to take the exam. "The value proposition for them is that they can demonstrate the understanding of the U.S. content," Thomas added.

Most of the people who receive the designation would not be working at accounting firms.

"These candidates typically work in business and industry, do not perform audit or attest work, and never plan to do so," according to the proposal. "For them, a U.S. state-based CPA license is unnecessary. Passing the exam is valuable to them, however, because their employers value the accomplishment and the investment of time and money it represents."

NASBA has been working on this issue (see NASBA Wants to Give CPA Exams Outside U.S.). Several state boards of accountancy that thought the test should be administered internationally initiated the idea. In the fall of 2007, NASBA invited the AICPA to join the discussions. Since then, according to the proposal, "The AICPA has been working with NASBA to develop a concept that would both allow international administration of the exam and provide professional rigor equivalent to that required of domestic CPAs."

The proposed model would follow the current state model. NASBA and the AICPA might also jointly issue and administer a non-audit CPA designation, but the name of the designation is still under discussion. The committee proposed that the name build on the value of the CPA designation, but should not be confused with state licenses. The new designation should also be attractive to international candidates, but not attractive to domestic professionals.

"We've got to be careful we don't advantage or disadvantage them," Murphy said. "We're in the middle of this. NASBA won't accept 'CPA.' It's got to be some kind of qualifier."

The committee realizes the proposal will be met with questions and concerns. Murphy, describing the designation as an extension of the U.S. CPA credential, said, "Some boards support it, some do not."

She said the committee has considered that some local professional organizations within different countries may object. In addition, there may be issues with test security within other countries, and there may be financial risks such as costs to market the offering. The weak economy may also be an obstacle.

The AICPA wants to be able to extend the reach of CPAs abroad. "The goal is to position the U.S. CPA to be one of the influential international designations," said Craig Mills, executive director of the AICPA's examinations team. "In order to do that, we have to be active in the international community."

Once someone from outside the U.S. passes a state U.S. CPA Exam, they could apply for a license and practice in the U.S., or receive an "acknowledgement of accomplishment," according to Mills. If they apply for a license, they would have to go through the process like anyone in the U.S.

If they opt for the acknowledgement, they would need to submit proof of eligibility that they have met the requirements of the Uniform Accountancy Act. They would then agree to a code of conduct, as well as agree to participate in disciplinary action (if necessary), and agree to procedures to keep up with continuing professional education requirements.

Those who only received an acknowledgement of accomplishment would not be able to do audit or attest work and they could not use the CPA designation in the U.S. Nevertheless, the acknowledgement of accomplishment would likely make these employees more attractive to their employers overseas, according to Mills.

The committee asked Council members for their thoughts and comments. The committee expects to present a business plan for approval by the board of directors of NASBA and the AICPA in December or January of next year, with the goal of launching the program in January 2010.

"Boards have asked us to explore this area," said NASBA chair Samuel Cotterell. "There needs to be involvement among state boards. There is work to be done, but we are very excited from the NASBA perspective on where we are headed. We're committed to getting feedback."

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