In recent conversations, a concern keeps coming up: Does anyone want to be a CPA anymore?
In the past, it was typical for the finance chief to have an accounting background. But these days, fancy MBA degrees have somewhat outshone the CPA credential. According to recent research by Crist Kolder Associates, “over the past five years, the continuation of the trend for CFOs to have MBAs over CPAs remains evident.” A survey of CFOs at Fortune 500 and S&P 500 companies found In 2021, 50% of CFOs had an MBA, 33.6% were CPAs, and 10.4% had both designations. In comparison, back in 2017, 45.8% had an MBA, 35.1% were CPAs, and 11.2% had both designations.
I spoke with two experts about the outlook for CPA credentialing. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) has the CPA credential and the Chartered Global Management Accountant designation (CGMA: proficiency in finance, operations, strategy and management), Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, CPA, chair of the AICPA’s National Commission on Diversity and Inclusion, told me.
“I think that we need leaders who understand the business,” says Ellison-Taylor, who held global leadership roles at Oracle for almost 17 years and is now founder and CEO of KET Solutions, LLC, a consulting firm. “They understand the strategy and have the ability to help the CEO generate revenue, not just expense control. Increasingly, we have noticed that many CFOs performing those functions are not CPAs. In the ideal world, everyone would be a CPA. But we recognize that as long as you have those core competencies and leadership experience, those CFOs have been able to master and excel in those roles.”
Ellison-Taylor continues, “However if you’re the more ‘modern CFO’ as some people might call it, and you have a foundation in management accounting (the CGMA), it is really critical to make sure that your team members have the expertise and depth in areas that you may not meet.” For example, she says that the CPA credentials come in for financial planning and analysis, auditing, treasury management, integrated reporting, or regulatory compliance.
I asked Michael Decker, VP of CPA examination and pipeline at AICPA, the outlook for new CPA exam takers. “While there have been fluctuations in numbers of exam takers, the general trend since 2008 has been relatively stable in the number of CPA exam completions,” Decker explains. “The numbers for 2020 to 2021 did drop over years prior, but approximately 25,000 average number of candidates from 2008 to 2021 successfully completed the four-section CPA Exam.” He attributes that in part to the pandemic and testing site closures. In 2021, “new candidates increased slightly reflecting [their] willingness to begin testing again, as well as the opening up of more exam centers,” he says.
“The pandemic, the decline in academic enrollment and the rapidly evolving technological environment present challenges for the CPA pipeline, and the AICPA is focused on addressing these,” Decker says. The organization is working with state boards of accountancy, firms, universities and students to “discuss issues and take action to encourage new entrants to the profession and anticipated future demand for accountants and their skills,” he says.
There isn’t a shortage of CPAs—yet. “Our 2021 trends report published in April this year found that 89% of all U.S. CPA firms expect to have the same number or more CPAs on staff in 2022 compared to 2021,” Decker says.
“But if we don’t turn around this trajectory, we could have a shortage of CPAs in the future,” Ellison-Taylor says. Building a talent pipeline for the accounting field is starting early. AICPA and top firms have programs geared towards high school students to spark their interest, she says.
See you tomorrow.
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