For The Spirit of Accounting's 10th anniversary in 2006, we reminisced about events over that decade, including this synopsis of a misjudgment that may be the worst ever:
Perhaps some have forgotten the silliness created when the American Institute of CPAs management decided it just wasn't good enough to be a CPA. Instead, the world needed "Cognitors," at least until the membership voted down this goofiness. In 2001, we commented: "We say good riddance to 'cognitor' - we always thought it combined the word 'cog' (a small piece of a large organization) and 'nit' (a worthless detail) and thus implied that the new accountants would slave away in obscurity on facts of no value to anyone." What we're still trying to figure out is how the perpetrators of this lame idea have remained in office.
We thought this misadventure was over, finished and buried. Alas, we underestimated the ambitions of those running the AICPA.
Specifically, we're convinced that the ballyhooed but banal "Chartered Global Management Accountant" campaign resuscitates the Cognitor debacle of 11 years ago with a different, ominous twist. CPAs cannot safely ignore this latest threat to their integrity.
THE AICPA ELITE
We begin by apologizing for our previous ambiguous references to AICPA "management." We have used that word instead of "leaders" because leaders take followers to good places. However, a reader suggested that "management" implies only AICPA employees.
To clarify, we criticize all who create and implement the institute's policies, including the chief executive officer and other officers, current and former chairmen, board members, and Council members, as well as others with informal power, such as large accounting firm chief executives and some state society directors.
We'll now refer to them collectively as the "AICPA Elite."
COGNITOR BACK STORY
In 1999, four years into the era of current CEO Barry Melancon, the Elite worried that the number of members was flattening, not grasping that the AICPA may have become less relevant to many CPAs. Because the Elite were primarily concerned that the revenue gravy train was drying up, their main goal was, as it is today, more members, dues and fees.
To boost revenue, they hatched the idea of adding non-CPAs, including information technologists and attorneys. Resistance was strong from the beginning. After all, if it's the American Institute of CPAs, why admit people who aren't CPAs? They tried to sell the idea by saying these people and institute members would be issued a new certificate. (Hold onto this thought for a few paragraphs.)
They next proposed calling everyone "Cognitors," not a new word but definitely not a household term. When put to a vote, the outcome was a crushing defeat that conveyed no confidence in the Elite.
THE CGMA PLOY
What about today? The Elite is once more hunting for new funds to sustain their positions and aspirations. Despite being burned the first time, they're trying again, hoping no one remembers the Cognitor fiasco. To their consternation, we and others do.
Where are they looking for new members? Turns out it's management accountants outside the U.S., and they've gained access to them through a joint venture with the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants.
On its part, the Elite decided (without a membership vote) to endow a great many AICPA members with a new designation, "Chartered Global Management Accountant." In return, CIMA authorized its "Chartered Management Accountants" to hold themselves out as CGMAs.
WHAT'S A COGMATOR?
To emphasize the connection with the past blunder, we propose that all who hold the CGMA designation should be called CoGMAtors (pronounced COG-ma-tores).
How can CPAs be instantaneously transformed into management accounting experts? Knowing that requiring any effort would surely turn most away, the Elite's idea is to just give the CGMA to members who can fog a mirror, in the sense that their work histories imply, ever so faintly, that they know something about management accounting.
There's no testing, no required proof of experience, and no mandatory CPE like the real CMA requires. The minimum threshold is three years of experience in "financial/managerial accounting," whatever that means, or just two years for members who also had one year of public accounting. That's it. This screen sets a low standard that excludes only tax folks, lifetime auditors, and educators, even those who've taught management accounting for decades.
What's the catch? Beginning January 31, in the midst of the busy season when they're totally distracted, eligible AICPA members were granted the charter for a free six-month trial. After that, they'll have to pony up $150 every year if, as the Elite's Web site ostentatiously boasts, they want to "have the opportunity to use the CGMA designatory letters and become part of the CGMA global community." Just how gullible do they think we are?
To persuade the reluctant, the fee is discounted to only (!) $100 if they belong to a state society. To boost participation, the Elite have offered state societies a "royalty" (really a bounty) for assisting in the promotional effort, thereby rewarding them based on how many of their members pay up. (Was this plan created by someone with Tupperware or Amway marketing experience?)
At first glance, this deal might seem to be good for CPAs because they don't have to do anything to get what others actually earn after passing an exam. Not so fast ... .
This system for becoming a CGMA is equivalent to earning a specious Master's degree from an Internet "university" that gives college credit for so-called "life experience," but only after charging a lot of tuition. If it's not a scam, then it's a sham.
Our bottom line is that all who accept and display the CGMA actually downgrade their rÃ©sumÃ©s, instead of enhancing them, because the process for getting it makes it bogus.
Why would the AICPA Elite run the risk of foisting this boondoggle on institute members? We're persuaded that they have an ulterior motive that runs much deeper than desperation for revenues.
Specifically, we're certain beyond doubt that this CoGMAtor gambit is the initial phase of a back-door maneuver to transform the AICPA into an international empire with the Elite on top of the organization chart. Here's the smoking gun evidence: When the institute and CIMA formed their joint venture, they called it the "Association for International Certified Professional Accountants."
Are those familiar initials an accidental coincidence? No way.
We dub this joint venture "AICPA 2.0" and anticipate that if and when the Elite conclude that the CGMA is established as legitimate, they will launch another public relations blitz to get members of AICPA 1.0 to approve changing its name and extending membership to (guess who?) all those 100,000 or so new CoGMAtors gratuitously created by CIMA.
We hope we're wrong, but we're irrevocably convinced that this stealthy strategy is for real. If so, the Elite is undermining the integrity and distinction of being a Certified Public Accountant, not by accident, and not for any good purpose.
A "NOT TO DO" LIST
What, then, should outraged members of the AICPA not do?
1. Do not become a CoGMAtor. Avoid giving the Elite reinforcement and money while actually damaging your rÃ©sumÃ© with a bogus credential. We guarantee it will not enhance your status, despite the shrill claims otherwise.
2. Do not resign your AICPA membership. Although you may be thoroughly repelled, even disgusted, the institute needs as many principled members as possible to vote this scheme down and provide real leadership.
3. Do not make any contributions to the AICPA political action committee. The lack of donations will help send a message of no confidence in the Elite. Besides, there's no reason to believe they have ever used that money wisely.
4. Do not vote to change the institute's name or to open membership to non-CPAs. Doing so will degrade the profession and your personal reputation as well.
5. Do not expect the Elite to repent and resign, no matter how embarrassing the situation. They are entrenched and got there by wittingly or unwittingly sacrificing some or all of their self-respect. Surely they would deny it, but their actions reflect these three premises: The institute exists for their benefit, they deserve to be on top, and they can do no wrong.
6. Do not leave the remedy to others. Be active. Start at the grass roots by pressuring your state society to not participate in the CoGMAtor marketing conspiracy. Also, communicate your dissatisfaction to your state's AICPA Council members. Finally, write to the Elite in your own words, without waiting for someone to provide a frivolous cookie-cutter letter.
A COLD CHILL
We have to admit that, like most everyone, our first response to the CGMA was to take it lightly and dismiss it as just another in the long line of misguided ideas from the Elite, such as advocating IFRS and the International Accounting Standards Board, the hot-under-the-collar campaign on private company standards, and CEO Melancon's pretentious claims to speak for the whole institute when he knows both that the membership does not have a singular view on any issue, and that there is no process for determining the members' opinions.
However, when we looked at this situation more closely, we felt a deep chill because we realized that they aim to highjack the AICPA from its legitimate members and dilute its prestige by bringing in others who aren't part of our profession. They either have short memories or think everyone else does.
To stir your memory, or to provide new information if you haven't been around long enough to remember, we direct you to our column from May 2002 entitled "12 Reasons to Change Things at the AICPA" (online at AccountingToday.com).
You'll be amazed these people have been insulated from accountability for that long.
This time around, we intend to not only short-circuit this misbegotten coup, but also permanently discredit its perpetrators. This kind of nonsense simply cannot persist.
Paul B. W. Miller is a professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and Paul R. Bahnson is a professor at Boise State University. The authors' views are not necessarily those of their institutions. Reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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