One year since being given the green light by the American Institute of CPAs, its trio of specialty credentials - the Personal Financial Specialist, the Accredited in Business Valuation and the Certified Information Technology Professional - have made steady, if not spectacular, membership gains, while the committee charged with their progress has deployed a grass-roots strategy to improve their value proposition.

"We had to build them from the bottom up," said Robert Harris, chairman of the AICPA's National Accreditation Commission at the institute's Fall Meeting of Council, here. "And that involved working on the three 'Cs' - community, communications and competency."

"We've re-engineered the process," Harris explained. "We now have things like uniform certificates, we've computerized the ABV exam, and reinvented the application process [for all three]."

At the AICPA's 2003 Fall Meeting of Council in New Orleans, the institute passed a resolution to maintain and fund the designations, but established membership and timeline targets for each.

The PFS must have a minimum of 3,600 members by 2006; the ABV's target is 2,700 members by 2008; and the CITP's mandate is 1,700 by 2008.

Current membership for the trio are 3,318 (up 4 percent from October 2003), 1,766 (up 16 percent)and 671,(up 28 percent) respectively.

As an example of improving the credentials' value proposition, Harris said that the ABV designation now has a reciprocity agreement with the American Society of Appraisers. For the CITP, Harris revealed that the body of knowledge is moving into assurance and auditing, so that "CPAs with a CITP have a value and a place in an audit firm."

To hone communications, the NAC is working toward building a community with town halls, online forums and monthly letters from the chair of each designation to members.

"It begins with the membership," Harris said. "We want to reach the people and lead them down the path."

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