CPA2Biz has enough problems--a lack of direction and product strategy, a lack of market recognition, CPAs who use it as a target for their anger at the AICPA--in fact it is a bit hard to think of too much that has gone right. But the recent decision to market Payroll Services looks like a way to repeat the mistakes of the past.

In the mid 1990s, the AICPA owned and marketed the Accountants Trial Balance, a package that was later sold to Creative Solutions and is on its way out of the market. But at the time, tax software vendors were furious at the Institute for competing with them in commercial software. The AICPA was using its member-based resources to market a competing product and many feared the AICPA would get deeper into the software market. That anger led many vendors to withdraw from the AICPA Tech conference. Many of the tax vendors never returned to exhibit.

Now CPA2Biz is offering payroll and human resources services and promising more products under its brand name. The payroll product, available as Payroll Manager, in both package and online forms, is powered by InterPay, which was a partner of Rivio, the company that CPA2Biz bought earlier this year.

Suppose you are a vendor and you see CPA2Biz, which markets the AICPA conferences at which you are being asked to exhibit, also marketing competing software and services. Suppose you are an AICPA affinity partner who is shelling out money to reach the CPA market? Aren’t you going to get a tad nervous that your partner is competing with you?

It’s hard to make any more sense out of what CPA2Biz is doing, although looking at the redesigned Web site, it seems clear the one thing they have done right is realize that the name that really has value is AICPA. That message was clear at Tech 2002. Where Tech 2001 was a CPA2Biz infomercial, the name was much harder to find at this year’s rendition of the Tech conference. In fact, it looks increasingly like both the AICPA and CPA2Biz are burying the latter name.

However, the debate about the direction of CPA2Biz may be irrelevant. The presidents of most major accounting software companies have said privately "I don’t see how this works." Looking at the inability to come to an agreement with the state CPA societies over royalties and the lack of market recognition, it’s increasingly difficult to see how it works.

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