CPA vs. accountant: Are they the same?

Posted By: Tom Hood on September 22, 2008 in Accounting & Auditing&Legislative / Regulatory

What are the minimum requirements to call oneself an "accountant?"

Answer: There are none. No education requirements, no prerequisites. Anyone with a knowledge of Quickbooks could technically call himself or herself an accountant.

Legislative_history_map I just checked Wikipedia, which defines accountant as "a practitioner of accountancy." It goes on to qualify the term with the more specific terms like Certified Public Accountant, which now exists in numerous countries around the world. It then says, "Like other legally restricted professions including doctors and lawyers, different countries have their own training and examination systems to maintain the quality of qualified (certified) public accountants in their jurisdictions."

Yet, many of us continue to say we are "accountants" interchangeably with Certified Public Accountant. I want to encourage us to use CPA from now on.

There is a movement of special interests driven by unlicensed accountants trying to introduce alternative or second-tier licenses around the U.S. They want the rights and recognition of licensing to create increased blur in the public's eye between accountants and CPAs.

At a recent legislative / regulatory update, our members were surprised to know that such organized efforts existed, but they were presented a series of facts, some here in Maryland and some in Oklahoma and Hawaii. These groups are now starting at the tax preparer licensing level and organizing to stop our mobility legislation. We then presented a "map" of our legislative activities since CPAs were first licensed and recognized in Maryland in 1900 and noted that we have resisted these efforts since 1924!

Is_your_accountant_certified I want to emphasize two major points here. One is that all CPAs are accountants, but not all accountants are CPAs. CPAs are licensed by the states and involve a rigorous qualification process called the 4 Es:

  1. Education, currently 150 hours
  2. Examination -- the Uniform CPA Exam
  3. Ethics
  4. Experience -- a minimum of one year of supervised experience.

Upon licensure, we are sworn to protect the public interest and keep up with the changes in our profession through mandatory continuing professional education.

The second point is that we (your state CPA society) need you to help us stay vigilant and fight these threats to your license. You can do that by supporting us with membership, contributing to our PAC and helping us legislatively.

Next time someone asks you what you do, say, "I am a CPA!" You have earned the distinction, and we need the public to understand the difference.

TrackBack URL for this post: