A grizzled old football coach once confided in me one of the secrets of gridiron success. He told me, “It ain’t how many times you catch the ball; rather, it’s what you do with it once you got it in your hands.”

Well, since this particular set of hands rarely touched the ball that season other than to stuff it back into the equipment bag or warm up our all-county quarterback, it was probably a lesson better spent on a player with more talent. Still, I never forgot that philosophical tidbit, nor its application to more practical things in life.

Although I received that little pep talk about 30 years ago, I had a sudden flashback to that autumn afternoon just last month after attending the Fall meeting of Council for the American Institute of CPAs in New Orleans.

At that two-day confab, where most of the presenters made some reference to the ongoing restoration of the profession, I was struck by how the unfolding events related to that Normal Rockwell-like pep talk of three decades ago.

Take the specialty credentials, for example.

Certified Information Technology Professional, Personal Financial Specialist and Accredited in Business Valuation designees had been preparing an array of strategies, or attempting to form alliances with other umbrella groups when, just a few months ago, it seemed a sure bet that the institute would drop some or all of the specialty tags.

But not only did institute Council overwhelmingly vote to retain the designations, it also earmarked $16 million in additional funding, as well as approving a resolution to eradicate an annual progress review by the AICPA board.

Now some may argue that this is a good news/bad news scenario, considering that, when one mentions the AICPA and its scrapbook of marketing misfires, the failed XYZ global credential with $5 million in marketing costs and a decisive vote by its membership to jettison the project is frequently held up as Exhibit A. The controversial for-profit Web portal CPA2Biz had been — until it significantly slashed its losses — Exhibit B.

Nevertheless, the specialty groups have their work cut out for them.

The CITP and the ABV credentials must hit break-even by July 31, 2008, while the PFS must reach that target two years earlier on July 31, 2006. At their break-even dates, the PFS must have 3,600 holders, while the ABV and CITP must have 2,700 and 1,700, respectively. With the CITP, which currently has the lowest membership numbers with just over 500, each credential holder would be responsible for bringing in at least one new member — much like newly sworn-in lodge brothers trying to meet a recruiting quota.

There would also be annual statements on each designation, while the National Accreditation Commission would coordinate with the executive committee for the designations to map out marketing and implementation strategies.

AICPA officials made the requisite speeches about “listening to their members,” regarding the fate of the trio, but let’s face it — the onus is on the credential holders.

Many of them stirred up a lot of passion, in commentaries and on various Web sites, about saving the designations or trumpeting alternative strategies.

Some have said that the AICPA Council retained the designations more out of convenience than a belief in their future. Now, while there may or may not be some truth to that, the fact is that the ball has fallen squarely in the hands of the holders.

It’s up to them to decide where and how far to run with it.

Bill Carlino

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