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The unlicensed accountants's search for recognition.

The Unlicensed Accountant's Search for Recognition

Unlicensed accountants have recognized for a long time that preoccupation with clients' affairs and the ability to understand the computer and the software are insufficient to maintain a sharp image as an accounting practitioner. More than computers and software is needed to convince unlicensed accountants' clients and colleagues that their expertise as accounting practitioners is up to date. Unlicensed accountants need recognition. If the state legislature is reluctant to enact laws to give them recognition, then it is up to the practitioners themselves to search for and achieve recognition.

The fundamental objective of recognition is to show that the practitioner -- even though not licensed or regulated by the state -- is qualified to perform required accounting tasks in a competent and professional manner. More importantly, the practitioner's qualifications must be maintained currently in much the same manner as those licensees.

The search for recognition involves more than attendance at an occasional seminar to update tax filing skills. Obviously, when 49 out of 52 jurisdictions mandate continuing professional education (CPE) for its accounting licensees, that says something about the significance of CPE for the accounting profession.

The unlicensed accountant is not required by state law to maintain a level of CPE. However, to the credit of many of NSPA's affiliated state organizations, CPE is mandated for their members. ASO members who are licensees, or who are accreditated by the Accreditation Council for Accountancy and Taxation, or who are enrolled to practice before the IRS (enrolled agents), have no difficulty in meeting the ASO's requirements. Those members who are not licensed, accredited or enrolled agents must satisfy CPE requirements to retain their membership in the association.

This is precisely as it should be. The practice of accountancy does not function in a vacuum. If the unlicensed practitioner is to maintain skills, continuing education is a necessity and not an onerous requirement imposed upon practitioners by empty-headed academicians. Accordingly, in the search for recognition, continuing professional education is the needle of the compass pointing in the direction of competency and credibility.

Individual recognition can be achieved through measures in addition to CPE. One of these is the Accreditation Council for Accountancy and Taxation (ACAT), formerly the Accreditation Council for Accountancy (ACA). ACAT offers qualifying examinations in both accountancy and taxation and the requirement of CPE to maintain the qualification. The examination in accountancy is at the intermediate and advanced accounting level taught at a college or university.

The achievement of ACAT's accreditation status establishes competency through preparation and examination at a level recognized at state colleges and universities. ACAT's accreditation also provides the accredited individual with a high degree of credibility and visibility within the profession. If an affiliated state organization does not have the political clout or the know-how to persuade the state legislature to mandate an additional class of accounting licensee besides the CPA, then accreditation by ACAT is the next best thing available.

Accreditation demonstrates that practitioners can do for themselves as individuals what they are realistically unable to persuade their state legislature to do immediately. Accordingly, accredited practitioners achieve recognition through their own voluntary efforts and assume the professional responsibilities that accompany accreditation. More importantly, when the legislature is receptive to enacting a classification of licensed accountants in addition to CPAs, it is quite likely that accredited accountants, having previously established their competency through the examination process, will be "waived in" without requirement of further examination.

A third means of achieving recognition is through a voluntary program of quality review. Whether unlicensed accountants should voluntarily subject their practice to a quality review program is highly controversial. Why should the unlicensed practitioner voluntarily submit to either a quality review program (QRP) or a peer review program (PRP)? The answer is obvious when you consider that 35 jurisdictions (two-thirds of the state and territorial licensing authorities) have a quality review or positive enforcement program or are working to develop one. In the unlicensed accountant's search for recognition, QRP or PRP looms on the horizon and may very well cast CPE and accreditation requirements into the shadows.

Licensees who are subject to board mandated quality review or positive enforcement programs as a prerequisite for licensure do not hesitate to inform their clients that the statutory assessment of their work products, quality control and procedures has received state board approval. It is nothing more than good marketing practice to tell clients that the licensee's work is viewed

as competent by the licensee's peers.

Unlicensed accountants who are not subject to QRP or PRP will realize all too soon that QRP or PRP can be considered another device of the licensees to put unlicensed accountants at a competitive disadvantage. In a very real sense, without QRP or PRP the unlicensed accountants lack the "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval."

Accordingly, a quality review program may be sponsored by the affiliated state organization either as a requirement of membership or on a voluntary basis. A quality review or peer review program sponsored by the affiliated state organization is the best way to show clients that the members of the ASO are concerned about doing something voluntarily to maintain and improve the quality of their financial statements and work products. Unlicensed accountants should be anxious to demonstrate their ability and competency and to show that their work products meet the identical quality and standards as the work of the board's licensees.

The unlicensed accountant's search for recognition thus proceeds along three broad avenues:

1. Continuing professional

education (CPE); 2. Accreditation in accountancy

and taxation (ACAT); and 3. Quality review program

(ORP) or peer review

program (PRP).

When an unlicensed accountant has no interest in achieving recognition, that practitioner will soon die on the vine. The prevailing competitive climate in our economic system demonstrates that the individual who does not seek professional recognition will experience substantial adverse economic effects on his/her practice.

It only makes good sense for the unlicensed accountant to seek out and achieve recognition establishing competency and credibility. At the same time, unlicensed accountants must recognize that they practice in a highly competitive professional arena, and unless advantage is taken of every favorable expression regarding one's practice environment, the independent unlicensed accounting practitioner will not exist very long.
COPYRIGHT 1990 National Society of Public Accountants
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Article Details
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Author:Sager, William H.
Publication:The National Public Accountant
Article Type:column
Date:Oct 1, 1990
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Next Article:NSPA's threshold concept - restoring a modicum of sanity to the tax code.

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