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CPA Evolution Aims for Radical Rethinking of Profession

Ruth Singleton
Published Date:
Feb 27, 2020


In response to the rapidly changing skills and competencies that the practice of accounting requires, the  American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) have been collaborating on an initiative called CPA Evolution, which seeks to transform the CPA licensure model. The project aims for a radical rethinking of what it is to be a CPA. The NYSSCPA is an active participant in the initiative through its representatives on the AICPA Council, the governing body of the AICPA comprising 265 members, and representatives from every state and U.S. territory. 

“This project is vital to preparing the profession for the future,” said NYSSCPA Executive Director and CEO Joanne S. Barry. “As complexity in the marketplace has increased, the body of knowledge required has expanded.” She sees the CPA Evolution project as crucial, in light of the rapidly changing environment that CPAs operate in today.

Several factors have led to the need for the CPA Evolution initiative, which envisions broad systemic changes to the CPA profession. One is the enormous impact of technology—including artificial intelligence, data analytics and blockchain—on the profession. Many traditional roles for CPAs have become automated. Another is a shift in hiring practices. According to the 2019 AICPA Trends in the Supply of Accounting Graduates and the Demand for Public Accounting Recruits report, in 2018, there were 29 percent fewer accounting graduate hires by accounting firms than in 2014. Meanwhile, hires of nonaccounting graduates, as a percentage of all graduate hires, rose from 22 percent in 2014 to 31 percent in 2018. Many of these nonaccounting graduates are proficient in technology. Yet another factor is a change in the knowledge base and skills that CPAs will need to develop. Some relatively recent areas include continuous reporting, digital assets, sustainability and cybersecurity. 

Barry observed that the audit function, in particular, will need to change its focus. “Investors and other interested parties want to know less about what happened last year, and more about what’s happening at this moment in time,” she said. She added that there is much room for broader attestation of other systems.

In a recent speech at the Accountants Club of America, AICPA President and CEO Barry C. Melancon made a similar point. He observed that on many audit teams today, CPAs are in the minority, and he warned that if the profession doesn’t change the definition of CPA to include a technological component, the numbers will continue to go down. Melancon said that auditors of the future will have to adapt to the prevalence of technology in audits by auditing entire systems rather than just numbers. “We have to think about a new system of information—the notion of attestation not just of numbers, but of whole systems, including human capital and the environment,” he said. (See story, page 9.) Barry, likewise, said that the profession must move into the sustainability area and other areas that are not directly financial.

The CPA Evolution initiative began in 2018, when the AICPA and NASBA circulated and discussed a conceptual licensing model. In February of last year, they drafted five guiding principles, and last spring and summer, they circulated those principles and sought feedback from state societies and other stakeholders. 

The five principles of the CPA Evolution initiative, summarized, are the following:

• We must adapt quickly.

• Technological expertise is essential.

• Licensure requires rethinking.

• We must expand our view of the CPA candidate.

   −All must demonstrate core competencies.

• Change should be rapid yet deliberate.

Last July, the NYSSCPA created a CPA Evolution Task Force, which sent a comment letter to the AICPA and NASBA on Aug. 8, stating that the Society was, overall, in agreement with the project. Among its comments were that, “so as to not dilute the value of the CPA designation, the need for additional skills, critical thinking, and competencies, such as but not limited to technological and analytical expertise, should be in addition to and not in lieu of the existing requirements for licensure.” The comment letter also suggested that new authoritative guidance would be needed to address the changing competencies and future services the CPA will offer. It also opined that existing CPAs should not be subject to any additional educational requirements, suggesting, instead, that they take advantage of optional continuing professional education in order to obtain competency in new areas. The comment letter is available at

The letter was signed by members of the CPA Evolution Task Force: Chair Renee Rampulla, a Society vice president; NYSSCPA President Ita M. Rahilly; NYSSCPA President-elect Edward L. Arcara and Barry, along with four members of the Leadership Institute: Robert J. HuetherWilliam C. HuetherVanessa A. McGovern and Tameka Walters.

In all, more than 2,000 stakeholders provided feedback on the project last year, including state CPA societies, state boards of accountancy, accounting firm leaders and young professionals. 

Walters, a tax supervisor at Citrin Cooperman, said that it’s important for the Society to be actively engaged in the CPA Evolution initiative because “part of the Society’s role is maintaining its relevancy to its members; it has to be on top of the things that are changing.”  

Her message to other young professionals is, “Don’t be afraid.” She explained, “As younger members of the profession, I think we are 100 percent suited for whatever is going to come. I am on the millennial cusp—I have grown up with a lot of technology. We don’t necessarily fear changes with technology. It’s a part of everyday life.”

Last fall, the AICPA and NASBA considered several different licensure models and selected a core-plus-disciplines model, based on the engineering model, as the most promising. In this model, CPAs would need to know a strong core of skills, specifically, accounting, auditing, tax and technology. Then they would have the opportunity to specialize in one of three primary disciplines: tax compliance and planning, business reporting and analysis, and information systems and controls. The AICPA and NASBA believe that this model would work best for the CPA of the future for several reasons. The model enhances public protection by producing candidates who have the deep knowledge necessary to perform high-quality work; it is responsive to feedback, as it builds accounting, auditing, tax and technology knowledge requirements into a robust common core; it reflects the realities of practice, requiring deeper proven knowledge in one of three disciplines that are pillars of the profession; and it is adaptive and flexible, helping to future-proof the CPA, as the profession continues to evolve. The AICPA and NASBA aim to gather feedback on this approach and build out more details in the next few months, and to finalize an approach for an updated CPA licensure model in the summer. After the approach is finalized, they plan to establish implementation plans for what is expected to be a multiyear effort. 

Members of the Society’s Future of Accounting Education Committee, chaired by Steven S. Mezzio, a faculty member in accounting at Pace University’s Lubin School of Business, consist of both academics and accounting firm leaders. They have been offering feedback to Barry at the past few committee meetings about how colleges and universities may need to change their curricula in order to adapt to the ultimate contours of the CPA Evolution initiative. During one recent meeting, members raised some questions and concerns about the proposed engineering model. For example, Mark Ulrich, a faculty member at Queensborough Community College, pointed out that one of the features of the accounting profession is that it is so open, and wondered whether the new specializations would be locking professionals into a more narrow focus. Some members expressed concern over whether schools would have the resources to offer the three specialization areas. Members have also discussed the pros and cons of changing the 150-hour requirement for CPA candidates back to 120, and the prospect of state accountancy boards being slow to adopt any model that the CPA Evolution initiative finalizes. 

Mezzio observed that, along with learning technological skills, CPAs will need to develop skills in “working collaboratively with highly diverse and geographically dispersed teams, and critical thinking skills, including strategically framing issues, expressing thoughts and positions clearly and persuasively, and solving complex, unstructured problems.”

Additional information about the CPA Evolution initiative is available at         




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