[IMGCAP(1)]I remember when being a Certified Public Accountant was a big deal.

When you were a CPA, you were a cut above the other professions. A CPA was regarded as the professional who was above reproach, who would give you an honest opinion or answer (whether you liked it or not), was your financial advisor, management consultant, auditor (who looked for fraud as part of the engagement), who produced financial statements that were designed to tell you the true facts about the state of the enterprise and was your personal confidant in all matters. He was, indeed, the trusted professional.

I remember when it was an honor to have “CPA, Certified Public Accountant” emblazoned on your stationery and entrance to your office.

I remember when ethics was an ingrained part of a CPA’s education and was a fundamental part of the way accounting was practiced.

And I remember when it started to change.

I remember that in the 1970’s, due to a spate of well-publicized audit failures, Congress launched an investigation, The AICPA, fearing governmental regulation, and as the spokesmen for the profession, convinced Congress and others that the establishment of the Division for Firms would eliminate what the lawmakers were reading about in the daily press. The entire profession was blamed for the misdeeds of a few (large firm) offenders.

I remember that in the September 1985 issue of the Journal of Accountancy there was an article which suggested that the AICPA code of Professional Ethics should be changed because “New concepts and standards are evolving in society and in the profession; moral and ethical norms are shifting….” They lost sight of the fact that right is always right…and wrong is always wrong,

The author stated, “The Institute should strive to have its members and the public see AICPA membership as a professional designation that means more than the mere possession of a CPA certificate.” Mere possession of a CPA certificate, indeed!

I remember that in 1997, we heard Mr. Barry Melancon, president and chief executive officer of the AICPA, state, “We have to change the perception of the public as it relates to our profession.” And “we need to change the mindsets of the individuals who make up the profession.” The AICPA proceeded to promote the concept of non-CPA ownership of CPA firms.

Mr. Melancon has done a fine job of promoting the AICPA and increasing its coffers, but very little to enhance the CPA, the Certified Public Accountant. Under him, at every opportunity, the AICPA has added a section that diminishes the Certified Public Accountant. The establishment of specialties such as Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF) and Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP) and the latest, Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA), have lessened the value of the certificate of the CPA. It’s great that the organization can make money for the Institute by increasing its membership of non-CPAs and producing pamphlets and seminars, but what of the Certified Public Accountants (like in AICPA)?

This trend, combined with the problems inherent in the need for small business being subject to the same standards (GAAP) that public companies are supposed to adhere to have caused many practicing CPAs in smaller practice units to leave the audit, forensic and management engagement areas.

And here we are today, 2012.

Not a day passes without the media telling the public about new frauds and schemes.
Ethics are among the most popular courses and seminars among professional CPA groups.
And new designations for "Certified" anythings are being launched.

While one can understand that the larger “accounting/consulting” organizations can, and do, set up departments for all of the “specialties” which enhances their revenue stream, little consideration is devoted to the smaller CPA firm that services small business. The recent economic downturn recognized that the strength of the U.S. economy rested, in large measure, on the ability of small businesses to produce, develop and sell product. In a similar fashion, the AICPA should acknowledge that small and medium-sized CPA firms are an integral part of the small business community and should be included in the planning when the “profession” is concerned.

I remember when capable certified public accountants would undertake engagements to seek out fraud, assist with updating and overseeing advances in client technology situations, and develop management procedures to modernize and update their clients’ business.

The formation of the “certified” label to fraud (forensics), technology and management have caused many capable practitioners to withdraw from the arena.

I would like to remember when they return.

Edwin J. Kliegman, CPA, is the founding partner of Marcum & Kliegman, CPAs (now Marcum LLP), founder of the Nassau/Suffolk Chapter of the National Conference of CPA Practitioners (NCCPAP) and Past President of NCCPAP. He has been an active member of the New York State Society of CPAs and has chaired numerous committees. He is a consultant for small practice units that seek guidance.

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