The CPA Credential and the Profession Are in a Race For Relevance, Says ICPAS CEO Todd Shapiro

Interest in the CPA credential has been down significantly since at least 2016, and we have discussed this issue to death so I don’t need to link you to the evidence (but here’s some anyway). The problem here is that talking about it isn’t solving it, thus we will continue talking about it and hope it all works out somehow.

Fewer people taking the CPA exam on its own isn’t a huge problem (well, the AICPA might say it is but they’re slightly biased), especially when you consider the trend toward accounting firms hiring more non-accounting graduates than they used to. We fully expect that trend to continue and it’s not the worst thing in the world since the future is upon us and said future consists of piles and piles of data in need of analyzing. But the raw CPA exam numbers aren’t the only problem. There are multiple issues hitting the profession at once from multiple fronts, like the fact that the AICPA estimates 75% of CPAs will retire in the next 15 years and that there is a serious shortage of accounting professors. Interest in accounting programs is still there, but this September 2019 CPA Journal article suggests that while accounting program enrollment data looks good on its face, there may be trouble ahead — a “current disenchantment” they called it. All of these taken together could mean a critical shortage of CPAs in the near future.

So we’ve established what pressures exist and why they should be concerning, but the profession continues to wonder out loud why people aren’t drawn to the CPA credential like they used to be. The following short video just put out by the Illinois CPA Society has some ideas:

CEO Video Series: Putting Destination CPA Back on Accounting Students’ Radar from Illinois CPA Society on Vimeo.

I know you all are very busy so in case two minutes and 26 seconds is more time than you have to spare, here are the reasons ICPAS President and CEO Todd Shapiro gives for why people might choose not to pursue the CPA credential these days based on feedback they’ve received researching this problem:

They feel they can take off in their anticipated or chosen careers without it.They believe that any value the CPA credential holds is outweighed by its lack of relevance to their personal endeavors and the time commitment necessary to obtain it.They don’t see the personal or financial return on investment.Their employers or prospective employers aren’t supporting or requiring it.They see other experiences as being more valuable.

A few of these fall under the “no time” category which is something we’ve addressed before; however, as anyone who has ever camped out in line overnight on new iPhone release day will tell you, most people can make time to do something when they’re sufficiently motivated to do so. And in the case of the CPA, it seems like more and more accounting graduates are deciding that the personal investment required for licensure is too great a trade to make in exchange for the potential benefits.

This is not an argument about “is the CPA worth it” because we know it is. And we should not extrapolate any information about its value from the fact that fewer accounting graduates are taking it these days. But the profession needs to do some serious reflection on the why of this issue and what it can do to address it. What will it take to convince tomorrow’s accounting graduates that their personal and financial investment is worth it? In other words, how can the profession fully convey the credential’s value? You’d think that would be an easy question for a bunch of accountants to answer but alas, here we are.

Further reading:
A CPA Pipeline Report: Decoding the Decline [Illinois CPA Society]

Photo by Lukas Hartmann from Pexels

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