At a luncheon in December, J. Clarke Price, executive director of the Ohio Society of CPAs and chairman of Shared Services, the group that represents most of the state CPA societies, made a telling point about the debate over the global credential and the name Cognitor. "You know the name Cognitor wasn't the problem?" Price queried.

I couldn't agree more. One of the more worthwhile points in the debate about a global credential was that the role of CPAs has changed and that profession needs to be redefined. The problem with Cognitor and its second iteration, the International Institute of Strategic Business Professionals, was that nobody defined the concept. More critically, no one defined what a CPA would be if the credential had been adopted.

The central question remains--What is a CPA in today's business market? What does or should a person with that title do? How does a CPA differ from other financial professionals? How should credentials be defined and administered? These questions linger and need answers. In the post-Enron era, the answers are more crucial than ever.

Cognitor and IISBP were aimed at a market in which the multi-disciplinary firm becomes a dominant force. As I joked in a previous column on this site, an MDP is a firm in which the CPAs get to boss around other professionals. I think the AICPA skipped a step. I don't pretend to have the answers to what the definitions should be. I think we should leave the lawyers out of this. I think we should gather together the broader accounting community.

How do we find those answers? I propose a creature I call the Council of Professional Accounting Organizations, a task force charged with sorting out the roles and credentials. There is a need, for example, to define how traditional audits relate to computer systems audits, since the computer is increasingly part of the process. One of the appropriate bodies to be involved in this discussion is the Information Systems Audit and Control Association/Foundation, which issues the Certified Information Systems Auditor credential.

Another group that should be represented is the Institute of Management Accountants. It was amusing during the Cognitor/IISBP debate to receive press release from that body talking about how management accountants are increasingly playing a broader role. You could have substituted AICPA and CPAs at most points in the press release for IMA and CMAs, and come to the realization that the AICPA is right, the role of a CPA has fundamentally changed. But so has the role of all financial advisors.

Let's also bring the Financial Executives Institute and perhaps the National Association of Enrolled Agents into this task force. Not to be forgotten are accounting software reseller and consultants, truly part of the modern accounting community. The AICPA's neglected Information Technology Alliance is probably as good a group to represent this community as any.

Let's start from scratch. Let's get the definitions first and then build the credentials. Maybe one of them will be a global credential. (I personally think something called business financial professional and a separate international business financial professional might emerge from this.) I don't think all CPAs need a global credential. But I believe some finance professionals do.

The need for debate and a new framework for the profession did not end with the vote on the AICPA's global credential. We might just get a better CPA out of the deal.

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