The term has been around for quite some time but the definition differs depending on whom you ask. Exactly what is a "most trusted advisor?" If you ask a poll taker, who do you go to for financial advice, it usually is the CPA. The answer is probably based on the fact that CPAs give better advice than the other professionals, or the relatives, friends, and business associates who were consulted.

If you ask some consolidators or financial service providers (e.g., broker/dealers), it is still the CPA, however, for a different reason. It is probably because of the access to a client base that is ripe for the marketing and sale of products and services.

If it is the executives at Enron, it is still the CPA, in part because the CPA assisted in the structuring and/or approval of elaborate financial arrangements which fueled geometric growth and market value for the company.

Most importantly, the marketplace defines the term "most trusted advisor." Whether it involves an individual or a business, it really comes down to the professional who maintains the financial well being of that individual or business.

I view a CPA like a doctor. If I want a good physician, then simply having M.D. by his or her name isn't enough. I want them also to be board certified, ranked as a top doctor in a qualified evaluation, and an affiliation with a hospital that is nationally known, especially for the doctor's specialty.

Maybe it is time that a similar system be adopted for CPAs. Let's have the term "most trusted advisor" institutionalized with CPAs as the official holders. Of course, we'll need a uniform definition of a CPA/MTA and agreement on the qualifications. There would also be a need for an independent evaluation and an enforcement mechanism to ensure that the quality of CPA/MTAs is maintained.

With all the capitalizing that is being done on CPAs as the most trusted advisor, I see a great deal of trampling on that reputation. If CPAs want to continue to hold on to it, I think there has to be a uniform definition, and distinctions might just have to be made between those CPAs in or out of public practice and those advising public and private companies. Ultimately, the most important thing that has to be done is for CPAs to unify as a group and start protecting that status as the most trusted advisor. Because, once that staus is lost, it is virtually impossible to get back.

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Accounting Today content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access