CPAs Fight to Protect Part of Their Turf | Wall Street Journal
Some CPAs are up in arms about a move by their industry’s main trade group to allow people from outside their ranks to be credentialed to help companies value complex assets.
Caught in the crossfire: companies that more than ever need specialists to help assess hard-to-value assets, like brand names and customer relationships. The demand for such services has grown dramatically in recent years into an industry that generates more than $4 billion in annual revenue, as those assets have grown more prominent on companies’ balance sheets.
That growing demand is what kicked off the fight in the first place. The American Institute of CPAs, the body that represents certified public accountants, decided to meet that demand by expanding the eligibility for its Accredited in Business Valuation credential.
The AICPA said in May that it would offer this designation—an ABV—to those who aren’t CPAs. The three-letter abbreviation is a denotation that financial professionals tack after their names, just like “CPA” itself.
But a group of prominent CPAs has objected fiercely. They contend making the ABV credential available more broadly will water down its significance and confuse businesses. They also say the AICPA acted behind closed doors, without consulting members who would be affected.
“It’s going to reduce the value of that brand in the marketplace,” said Harold G. Martin Jr., a Virginia CPA and ABV holder and a former chair of the AICPA’s conference on business valuation. He likens it to being allowed to become a medical specialist without first obtaining an M.D. degree.
The AICPA disagrees. “We actually think this is going to enhance the value of the ABV credential,” said Susan Coffey, the group’s executive vice president of public practice. “We’re not going to offer it to anyone who’s not qualified.”
About 3,000 CPAs in the U.S. are ABVs as well, Ms. Coffey said. The AICPA governing council’s May vote deemed that “qualified finance professionals,” and not just CPAs, can become ABVs. They have to meet many of the same requirements as CPAs to get the ABV credential—75 hours of valuation-related education, plus passing an exam—and they have to have 1,500 hours of valuation experience, compared with 150 for CPAs.
The move will make valuation services more available to clients who need them, Ms. Coffey said.
But the change triggered a backlash. Thirty-two CPAs wrote the AICPA an open letter in June, saying that if the change stands, “the AICPA will have effectively diluted its original message to the public and lowered the standards for its valuation certification.” The group said its own survey of the AICPA’s membership found overwhelming opposition to the change.
The critics also contend the AICPA acted only through its committees, without asking the broader membership whether expanding ABV eligibility was a good idea. “Frankly, it was a secretive process, not disclosed,” said Michael Crain, who teaches accounting at Florida Atlantic University.
Ms. Coffey said, “I think communication with our members is always something we can do more of and do better.”
Some critics, including Mr. Crain, think the AICPA acted to bring in more members. Mr. Crain called it “an underhanded way” to create additional revenue.
Ms. Coffey denies that. “That is not what this is about,” she said.
The critics want to see the AICPA suspend the change and revisit the issue, this time giving members more input. Ms. Coffey said the AICPA has already begun the process of providing the ABV credential to non-CPAs, but “I’m happy to talk with any of our members about their ideas and thoughts.”
Write to Michael Rapoport at Michael.Rapoport@wsj.com
Corrections & Amplifications
The American Institute of CPAs represents certified public accountants, while licensing of CPAs is done by individual state boards of accountancy. An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the AICPA also accredits CPAs. (Aug. 20)