Does the Certified Information Technology Professional credential appeal to a finite universe, or can it ride the wave of rising client demand in information technology consulting and systems upgrades?

A bit of both, according to critics and proponents of the American Institute of CPAs' designation, which attests to IT expertise and currently has more than 650 holders.

"It is up to the individual CITP to capitalize on the credential when selling services to clients, applying for a new position or expanding influence within an organization. For me, it has definitely worked," said Mary R. MacBain, an independent consultant in Naples, Fla., who added that she is able to use the certification to distinguish herself from her competition in the marketplace.

"I really don't think the CPA profession has bought into this credential," said Allison Jane Owyoung-Fong, an information technology auditor at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The CITP credential - one of three designations offered by the AICPA - has received a more enthusiastic member reception than that of the ill-fated Cognitor, or XYZ, designation of several years ago, but it still remains some distance from meeting the mandated 1,700 participants and financial break-even by July 31, 2008, as stipulated by the AICPA.

At its 2003 Fall Meeting of Council, the institute, after mulling several options, including disposal, decided to maintain its trio of specialty credentials, which, in addition to the CITP, includes the Personal Financial Specialist and Accredited in Business Valuation designations. However, the credential committee and the board issued mandates on member participation figures and financial break-even dates for all three.

"There are plenty of proponents of CITP, and those who continue to question the value of the credential," said Mike Dickson, chair of the CITP credential committee for the AICPA. "But my assessment is that we're ahead of the yearly goals set by the AICPA. We've worked to define the value proposition and have begun working on programs and related content that we're going to be presenting to the membership over the next 12 months."

Philip Friedlander, of Friedlander Advisory Services, in St. Petersburg, Fla., conceded, "We're not yet seeing demand for this credential."

Where are they?

The AICPA Web site indicated that, of all CITPs, some 648 reside in the U.S., while the remainder are scattered throughout Hong Kong, Canada, Switzerland and Barbados.

Regions or metropolitan areas where demand for IT expertise presumably exists because of the concentration of accounting firms, showed rather modest levels of involvement. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut combined have only 53 CITP members. Texas, meanwhile, boasts 64, the most of any state, while California, home of Silicon Valley, comes in second place with 60.

From there, it is a large drop to No. 3, Florida, which counts 35, and Ohio, with 34. Virginia tied with New York at 28, whereas Illinois and Michigan each boast 25. No CITPs were listed for Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, Wyoming and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The figures for the rest of the U.S., including Guam and Puerto Rico, were in the teens or single digits.

In an effort to enlist more CPAs, the AICPA drew more than 100 applications for the designation during the institute's Tech 2004 conference in Las Vegas last May by waiving the $400 application fee. At that time, the credential committee also created a new discussion area for CITPers, at www.citpforum.aicpa.org.

At its fall 2003 meeting, the AICPA board also recommended funding of $5.6 million in excess of revenues through that year for the credential, the underlying disciplines and the institute membership sections where the certification resides.

"We've tried to make it a no-brainer for those who work with technology to join the [AICPA's IT] section or earn the CITP credential," said Dickson. Renewals for the credential are required every three years, and $100 of the $300 renewal fee goes toward the institute's IT section.

Dickson also said that the institute is currently developing a Technology Center, which will feature different tiers or sections with open areas for the general membership and others for IT section members and CITP holders.

One reason for modest membership gains may be whether CPAs need another title.

That credential redundancy was one of several reasons behind the burial of XYZ, which was rejected by a 2-to-1 vote by the AICPA membership and ultimately dropped by the institute - but not until after the group had spent roughly $5 million on its development.

However, the CITP designation does have its supporters. Sultan M. Chowdhury, who was one of the managers for the Year 2000 project at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., said that the CITP "gives exposure and recognition" to titleholders, of which the District of Columbia has six.

Dale W. Bender, who started his own accounting practice in Bakersfield, Calif., in 1979, said that the credential "without a question" enhances the marketability of its holders and confers a higher degree of credibility with clients. "This designation," he noted, "appeals to the more entrepreneurial" within the CPA community.

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