It's been about a year since the ruling Council of the American Institute of CPAs passed a resolution to keep its three existing specialty credentials with the caveat that they reach financial break even and achieve membership goals over the next few years.

You may recall that, around this time last year, many designation holders were expecting the AICPA to either jettison some or all of the marks or to move them under the auspices of other organizations.

What a difference a year can make. Based on remarks made during a presentation at the Fall Council meeting this week in Orlando, the Personal Financial Specialist, Accredited in Business Valuation and Certified Information Technology Professional credentials today appear to be on much surer footing today than they were roughly 12 months ago.

In an update to Council members Monday, both AICPA senior vice president of member and public interests Alan Anderson and National Accreditation Commission chairman Robert Harris were upbeat in their assessment of the trio of credentials.

In the twelve months since the credentials' execution was stayed, the institute has established a staff dedicated to focusing on the credentials, created uniformity in the application process, computerized the ABV exam, and set its sights on building communities around the credentials as part of its promised "top-down" approach. The AICPA also forged a partnership with the American Society of Appraisers under which ABVs have reciprocity with the ASA and vice versa, and another with USA Today under which PFS credential holders host regular online chat sessions to answer consumer financial planning questions.

More important, all three marks have made membership gains, moving them toward their respective required goals. Since October of 2003, the PFS has increased its membership 4 percent, to 3,318 - less than 300 members shy of the 3,600 credential holders it must attain by 2006 (since it's been around the longest of the three), while the number of ABVs jumped 16 percent to 1,766 and the CITP grew its ranks by 28 percent to 671. The ABV must reach 2,700 holders by 2008, while the CITP - the newest of the three marks -- needs 1,700 by then.

Anderson noted that all three marks grew their ranks primarily without any of the new funding that was earmarked for the credentials last year by Council, since that funding didn't kick in until August of this year.

And Harris voiced confidence about the future of the three marks.

"Will the PFS reach its target? Without a doubt, we'll be there," he told Council members. Same for the CITP. "The reality is, we will make it, I'm confident," Harris said. Of the ABV, which is the newest and has the furthest to go, Harris was also optimistic, but did note that the credential "is going to change slightly," and that the body of knowledge would be moved under the umbrella of assurance and audit.

"With the PFS and the ABV, the low-hanging fruit is still there. With the ABV, we started with the credential and we had to build the discipline. Now we have to build a pathway for members."

That isn't to say that there isn't still tons of work to do, but the AICPA seems to keeping its word about making a go of the "pyramid approach" described last year. That model is based on the entire membership, narrows into the discipline each mark relates to, then to the membership section related to that discipline, and is topped off by the credential.

It's a long way from the sentiment of a just over a year ago, following the Spring 2003 Council meeting, during which Council voted to allow the institute to explore an array of options, from keeping the designations within the institute to abandoning them entirely, and credential holders were mulling their options for hanging onto their designations, with or without the AICPA's support. With the additional funding available, and the continuation of the current momentum by the institute and the credential holders, maybe by this time next year, the issue of whether the credentials are making their milestones will be a non-issue.

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