It's time to rebrand and reposition the Certified Public Accountant. The market is being disrupted by new business models that are performing what CPAs typically did in the past minus financial statement preparation and attestation. Some accounting professionals favor the title Certified Trusted Advisor, or we could bring back Cognitor (only kidding).

At this point I am in favor of positioning the Chartered Global Management Accountant as the brand for accountants who specialize in other areas than auditing. The framework of competencies that surround the CGMA revolve around four knowledge areas as follows:

  • Technical skills;
  • Business skills;
  • People skills; and,
  • Leadership skills.

The plus to the CGMA is that it contains the word “Accountant,” and this type of accountant and certification can be positioned as a trusted business advisor. In actuality the Governing Council of the American Institute of CPAs passed a resolution at its Fall meeting in October clearing the pathway for broadening who can qualify for this designation. We need to broaden what the public thinks of when they think of CPAs and CGMAs, or a designation such as the CBCAA — Certified Business Consultant Accounting Advisor.
At this point I think it is all about the marketing of what a CPA does, but a different designation would go a long way in helping CPAs preserve and promote our services.

In a recent Web search, I found many definitions. Some of them start with the basics: “an individual who has passed the Uniform CPA Examination.” Some definitions cover the basic duties of a CPA, like this one from Investopedia: “In reality almost all of today’s CPA firms offer three basic areas of expertise: 1. Business advisory services. 2. Accounting and record-keeping. 3. Tax advice. There is a fourth area called audit, but not every firm offers this service, even though this is the one service that only CPAs can perform by law.”

It could be time for us to redefine the term “accountant,” and that is why I believe it is time for the organizations that support the bulk of CPAs who perform everything other than audits to take action.

Technology has changed the name of the game and allowed all accounting firms to automate most of the “accounting function or process” of recording, sorting and summarizing transactions, and placing them in a trial balance on a worksheet. Smart accountants are becoming more consultative and strategic. That is why I see “Business Advisory” or “Consulting” becoming the lead service offered as we move forward.

A quick tour of the Web sites of cutting-edge firms of all sizes — from the Big Four down to forward-thinking startups — shows that they are leading with advisory services, not emphasizing their status as CPAs but rather stressing that they can help their clients become more successful.

Bottom line is, it’s time to make sure that when one looks at the definition of a CPA or other certified designation they see statements similar to the following:

A CPA is an individual who has passed the Uniform CPA Examination and who has received state certification to practice accounting and to provide advisory services to assist their clients in becoming more profitable, liquid and solvent as a CGMA or a CBCAA. 

David Bergstein, CPA, CITP, CGMA, is a veteran practitioner and a strategic account manager with the Accountant & Advisory Group at Intuit.

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