David Thomas, president of Intacct, which markets online accounting software, has a different take on the experience requirement for CPAs. Instead of working for a public accounting firm, they should be required to spend two years in industry first. "Every time I hire a CPA from a Big firm, it’s a disaster," says Thomas.

Right now the idea seems unique to Thomas. It may not even be workable. And experience requirements obviously have importance. (New York for example, requires 75 percent of non-public accounting experience to be in auditing services, and says the state board can determine how much private or governmental experience is equivalent to public accounting experience.)

But Thomas’s idea has a lot to recommend it. Don’t many large public firms operate by industry specialty? Wouldn’t it be advantageous to hire young accountants who have experience in an industry niche?

What Thomas is saying is that the present system is not good for many participants. People like Thomas get CPAs who don’t have enough real-world experience. The Big Firms produce accountants who are narrowly focused, not doing these CPAs a big favor either. In fact, Peter Frank, a CPA who is vice president of the New York Society of CPAs, thinks that two years with a small firm would be even better in providing practitioners who have broad experience, instead of getting stuck performing bank reconciliations for a large operation.

Certainly, the plaintive cry that business needs people with more real-world experience, not just book learning, is not a new one. A recent article in "USA Today" discussed the lack of value that many executives place on the MBA degree. Some executives said that getting an MBA simply takes a person out of the job market without adding enough experience to outweigh the time lost from the career track.

Whether it’s a realistic proposal, Thomas’ complaints strike at the issues surrounding the 150-hour law and the global credential. What CPAs need is not more schooling, but more useful apprenticeships.

Simply erecting new credentials won’t solve any of this. Maybe Thomas’ complaint shows the ultimate value of something like the Certified Information Technology Professional credential. It is based on real-life experience. Maybe we need such credentials in other niches. A lot more useful than a global credential-in my opinion.

Maybe the CPA community doesn’t need to think outside of the box on this issue. Maybe what it needs is some new bows and ribbons to wrap the box.. And some street smarts.

 

 

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