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Why should I pursue accreditation?

Have you ever found yourself wondering or asking yourself the following questions . . .

. . . "Will accreditation help me get a better job than someone who is not accredited?"

. . . "How will accreditation help me become a better practitioner?"

. . . "How is an Accredited Business Accountant (ABA) different from a Certified Public Accountant (CPA)?"

If the answer is "YES" to any of the above questions, read on . . .

Overview

Today's business climate is competitive and demanding. Prospective clients want reassurance that the accounting and tax professionals they select are competent specialists who are prepared to meet the challenges of our complex world of business. Accreditation not only demonstrates proven knowledge and expertise, but also a commitment to continuing professional development with adherence to a high level of technical proficiency and conduct. Your commitment to educating yourself to meet these challenges can be demonstrated through pursuit and subsequent maintenance of credentials earned through the accreditation process.

Currently, the only nationally recognized accounting credential for accountants, other than the CPA designation, is the Accreditation in Accountancy designation (Accredited Business Accountant). Since 1973, thousands of individuals have obtained accreditation by examination through the Accreditation Council for Accountancy and Taxation (ACAT). Likewise, many more tax professionals have earned the Accredited Tax Advisor (ATA) and/or the Accredited Tax Preparer (ATP) designation either through coursework and examination or during a limited "grandfathering" process for those professionals who have already had their tax education and skills tested.

The ACAT accountancy credential should be an educational goal of all non-certified accountants in public practice. In using the Accredited Business Accountant (ABA) credential, accountants need to be aware of their state's restrictions, if any, in the use of this credential. When using the credentials, it should be noted that only individuals earn accreditation, not companies, partnerships or corporations, as only individuals can be tested.

How Is an Accredited Business Accountant (ABA) Different from a Certified Public Accountant (CPA)?

An Accredited Business Accountant (ABA) has demonstrated his or her professional specialization in accounting services for local-to-regional-sized businesses. Most accredited individuals do not perform audits. Generally, they are small business owners themselves. CPAs, in addition to general accounting work, are also heavily schooled in performing audits; however, only a small fraction of America's businesses require an audit. In general a CPA has majored in accounting, passed the CPA examination and is licensed to perform audits. An ABA has majored in accounting, passed the ABA comprehensive examination and in most states is not licensed to perform audits.

Now, let's take a closer look at ACAT and the accreditation credentials the Council offers.

What Is ACAT?

ACAT is a non-profit independent testing, credentialing, and monitoring organization. The Council confers credentials to qualified professionals who provide financial, accounting and taxation services to individuals and small to mid-size businesses. Professionals receive accreditation in accountancy and/or taxation through examination and/or coursework, and maintain their accreditation through commitment to a significant program of continuing professional education and adherence to the Council's Code of Ethics and Rules of Professional Conduct.

ACAT and its affiliated organizations promote and maintain the integrity of its accreditation programs for the benefit of professionals who have invested the time, resources and commitment to continuing professional development. Further, the Council seeks to assure clients that accredited professionals will provide the highest degree of specialized technical proficiency in small business and individual accounting and taxation services.

Affiliated with the National Society of Accountants, headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, and the College for Financial Planning, located in Denver, CO., ACAT is governed by a Board of Directors that supervises, reviews and approves the work of two subsidiary boards - the Tax Standards Board and the Accountancy Standards Board. The Board is responsible for enforcement of the ACAT Code of Ethics and Rules of Professional Conduct, review and investigation of complaints and conduct of disciplinary proceedings. It is composed of professionals in accountancy and taxation, educators and representatives of the federal government and independent business.

What Is Accreditation?

Accreditation is a voluntary credentialing program for accountants and tax practitioners that recognizes individuals who have demonstrated a specific level of professional knowledge and competency. It is a national testing and credentialing program, administered by ACAT.

ACAT identifies and accredits specialists in accountancy and federal taxation who serve the financial needs of individuals and small-to-medium business entities. The Council is dedicated to the highest professional standards. Business, government and the public rely on the public accounting profession for the complete and accurate presentation of financial information, schedules and reports, as well as judgment in business matters. Each individual accredited by the Council accepts this responsibility and pledges to abide by the ACAT Code of Ethics and Rules of Professional Conduct. In the event of a formal, written complaint filed with the Director, that complaint will be brought before the Committee on Ethics and Grievances to be dealt with according to the Bylaws.

What Credentials Does ACAT Offer? How Do I Become Accredited?

ACAT confers three professional designations:

* Accredited in Accountancy/Accredited Business Accountant (ABA)

* Accredited Tax Preparer (ATP)

* Accredited Tax Advisory (ATA)

Accredited in Accountancy/Accredited Business Accountant (ABA)

The credential, Accreditation in Accountancy, was established in 1973 to identify an additional class of professional accountant other than certified public accountant. In states where permitted by law, individuals who hold Accreditation in Accountancy may used the registered designation, Accredited Business Accountant (ABA), a title now registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for protection of the name. Designed to support the financial needs of the small-to-medium businesses, and individual or family enterprises, accountancy accreditation is obtained through examination. To earn this designation, an individual must pass a rigorous, all-day examination offered twice yearly, in May and December, in testing locations nationwide. This year, a third offering of the exam will be presented in Scottsdale, Arizona, after conclusion of the 1999 NSA Annual Conference. A passing grade demonstrates a comprehensive understanding of accounting skills imperative to the small business owner. For those in independent, local or regional public practice, ACAT's accountancy accreditation, leading to the credential Accredited Business Accountant, is the standard for excellence.

The ACAT Comprehensive Examination for Accreditation in Accountancy tests the technical proficiency of candidates in Financial Accounting and Financial Statement Preparation, Presentation, Report, Business Consulting Services, Taxation, Business Law, and Ethics. Emphasis is on a practical approach to public accounting. A number of preparatory or review courses are available for the ACAT Accountancy Exam, ranging from 12-month correspondence courses to six-week review courses. A new, two-day review course will be conducted on August 23-24, after the conclusion of the NSA 1999 Annual Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. This will be followed by the Comprehensive Examination for Accreditation in Accountancy, to be given on August 25. ACAT's affiliated membership society, the National Society of Accountants (NSA), also offers a workbook and textbook review course for the exam and many state affiliated organizations of the National Society of Accountants offer group review courses.

Examination: The Comprehensive Examination for Accreditation in Accountancy, is a one-day, eight-hour exam that is structured in two parts. Part I consists of 100 multiple choice questions and is given in the morning from 8:00 am-12:00 pm. It covers Financial Accounting and Financial Statement Preparation, Presentation and Reporting. Part II consists of 100 multiple choice questions and is given in the afternoon from 1:00 pm-5:00 pm. It covers Business Consulting Services, Taxation, Business Law, and Ethics. A passing score of 70% is required on each part of the examination before an individual can qualify for the ABA designation. If you pass either Part I or Part II of the comprehensive exam, you then have two years to pass the other Part, or you will be required to retake the entire exam.

Registration Fees: The fee is $75 to sit for both sessions of the exam. For retake purposes, an individual session fee for Part I or Part II is $40 per session. This year, a special fee of $25 will be charged to take the exam in August, after the NSA Annual Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona.

* The ACAT Board of Directors recommends that a candidate have a minimum educational background of two years of college-level accounting or four years of work experience in accounting.

* A review course, designed to cover topics of the comprehensive exam is available through ACAT's affiliated membership society, the National Society of Accountants.

Accreditation in Federal Taxation

To support the public's need for a wide range of professional tax services, two levels of technical proficiency are available through the Accredited Tax Preparer (ATP) and the Accredited Tax Advisor (ATA) credentials. These designations represent specific levels of knowledge in federal taxation.

Accredited Tax Preparer (ATP)

The ATP credential is received through successful completion of a one-course program, offered by the College for Financial Planning, covering concepts behind the existing tax code and preparation of individual tax returns, followed by subsequent registration with ACAT.

Through comprehensive, practical course work, enrollees are exposed to critical compliance issues, as well as the mechanics of preparing a variety of tax returns. The Accredited Tax Preparer program provides the flexibility and confidence needed to prepare individual tax returns. This one-course, basic tax preparation program, provides information on concepts behind the existing tax code and how these concepts apply to a wide range of client situations. After completing the course, and verifying one-year of experience, a candidate is eligible to register with the Council to use the ATP designation and receive the certificate.

Accredited Tax Advisor (ATA)

The ATA credential is received through successful completion of an in-depth program offered by the College for Financial Planning. This is a six-course, advanced program which focuses on the areas essential to an advisor's practice. It prepares individuals to handle complex, sophisticated tax planning issues, including planning for owners of closely-held businesses, planning for the highly compensated, choosing qualified retirement plans and performing estate planning. Tax practice procedures and case studies are also covered. This rigorous program of study provides the scope of knowledge necessary to meet the needs of today's sophisticated clientele. After completing the coursework and verifying experience, a candidate is eligible to register with ACAT to use the ATA designation and receive the certificate.

How Do I Maintain My Accreditation?

Renewal of the credential is not automatic. Professionals maintain accreditation through compliance with ACAT's mandatory Continuing Professional Education (CPE) requirements and adherence to ACAT's Code of Ethics and Rules of Professional Conduct.

ACAT's Code of Ethics and Rules of Professional Conduct are among the highest standards of practice in the financial and taxation professions. Compliance with this standard of professional integrity is required of all those with accreditation.

Continuing Professional Education Requirements

Once you have earned accreditation, ACAT requires that you maintain your status by adhering to the Council's continuing professional education requirements. ACAT's reporting cycle is on a three-year basis. The current cycle is from July 1, 1996 to June 30, 1999. Individuals holding Accreditation in Accountancy must earn 120 hours of continuing professional education every three years. This meets or exceeds the recommended educational requirements of all state boards of accountancy. Individuals holding the Accredited Tax Advisor or Accredited Tax Preparer designation must earn 90 hours every three years. This exceeds the educational requirements for those enrolled to practice before the Internal Revenue Service. More than 8,000 professionals are making this commitment to excellence on behalf of their clients.
TABLE 1

RENEWAL DEADLINE 3 Year Period Ending June 30,
 1999

REPORTING CYCLE July 1, 1996 through June 30,
 1999 (Carry-over April, 1996
 through June, 1996, if hours
 not claimed in the last renewal
 period)

MINIMUM HOURS PER YEAR 20 CPE Hours Per Year

ACCOUNTANCY REQUIREMENT 120 CPE Hours every 3 Years:

 * Accreditation in Accountancy/ 40 Hours must be in accounting
Accredited Business Accountant and related subjects other than
(ABA) taxation (i.e. finance, business
 management, computer science,
 business law)

TAXATION REQUIREMENT 90 CPE Hours every 3 Years:

 * Accredited Tax Advisor (ATA) Hours must be in taxation,
 and/or related subjects (i.e.
 * Accredited Tax Preparer (ATP) financial management, computer
 science, business law, and
 accounting)

BOTH ACCOUNTANCY AND TAXATION 120 CPE Hours every 3 Years:

(for individuals earning the ABA, 40 Hours in accounting and
plus either the ATA and/or the related subjects & 80 hours in
ATP designation) taxation and/or related subjects


These requirements are summarized in the table below (see Table 1).

Let's close this article, as we began, with a response to two of our opening questions:

Will accreditation help me get a better job than someone who is not accredited?

Holding an accounting credential could be the deciding factor in a prospective employer's mind between two otherwise equal candidates. Accredited status tells an employer that you have made an extra effort to gain a work-related credential, a plus in any job market.

How will accreditation help me become a better practitioner?

After you have demonstrated your proficiency by passing the exam, you have an obligation to continue your learning process. CPE can be earned in many ways; courses, seminars, self-study programs, to name a few. The Council will give you more guidance once you become accredited.

For additional information or questions, contact the ACAT office at (703) 549-ACAT or their toll free number at 888-289-7763.

Article written by Otto M. Kolar, EdD, CAE; Director of Professional Development at the National Society of Accountants.
COPYRIGHT 1999 National Society of Public Accountants
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:accountants
Author:Kolar, Otto M.
Publication:The National Public Accountant
Date:Mar 1, 1999
Words:2222
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