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Accounting: A Profession or an Industry? Part II

Mary-Jo Kranacher, MBA, CPA, CFE

Last month, public accounting lost an outspoken champion who many referred to as the “conscience of the profession:” Eli Mason died at the age of 88. He was a leader in the truest sense of the word—a former NYSSCPA president, FAE president, AICPA vice president, and New York State Board for Public Accountancy chairman, to mention a few—and was recognized repeatedly as among the 100 most influential accountants in the country.

As I read some of Mason's articles and interviews from past issues of The CPA Journal, I ran across one from July 1994, “Public Accounting—No Longer a Profession?” (www.nysscpa.org/cpajournal/old/15611645.htm). Because my August editorial focused on this topic, it immediately caught my attention. I was intrigued by the foresight demonstrated by its author. Mason knew then that profitability and business motives were inappropriately directing the focus of accounting professionals away from the public's interest. His writings stressed the importance of integrity and independence for maintaining the public trust in the services that accountants render. Some CPAs might contend that Mason was too critical of the accounting profession, but, like any good teacher, he forced us to think about the implications of our decisions and pushed us to live up to the public's lofty expectations.

Like Mason, many accounting professionals are striving to raise the bar and enhance the integrity and reputation of accounting. In fact, the intent of New York's recently enacted accounting reform law was to raise standards for all CPAs in the course of using their “professional skills or competencies.” Unfortunately, non-licensed accountants fall outside the scope of this legislation. In my August editorial, I discussed several issues that many believe are weighing down the accounting profession (or industry). Within the past month, The Journal‘s editors have received several responses to my editorial—which will be published in next month's issue—all of which expressed concern about permitting non-licensed accountants to provide nonattest accounting services without regulation. Is there a reasonable solution to this dilemma?


The legal profession often uses paraprofessionals to assist in the delivery of legal services. The American Bar Association defines a paralegal as “a person qualified by education, training or work experience who is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, corporation, governmental agency or other entity who performs specifically delegated substantive legal work for which a lawyer is responsible.” Paraprofessionals play an important role in the legal profession by offering services related to the practice of law at a lower cost to consumers than their lawyer counterparts. However, these services must be provided under the supervision of an attorney, who is entirely responsible for the paralegal's work.

Educational paraprofessionals, also known as teaching assistants, help to supplement the academic resources of many schools. The role of the paraprofessional in this instance is also carried out under the direction of a certified teacher.

Why then don't we require non-licensed accountants to work under the supervision of a CPA and call them accounting paraprofessionals? Individuals who have not met the requirements for licensure—the three Es of education, experience, and exam—nonetheless have an important role to play in our society. But, following the examples set by our colleagues in law and education, we need to put accountability into accounting if our future is to be that of a profession.

Accounting as a Profession

Like New York, many licensing jurisdictions are increasingly expanding the definition of the practice of public accountancy to include accounting, management advisory, financial advisory, and tax services. As such, employment in these areas counts toward the experience requirement for certification. Therefore, those whose experience has been in private industry, government, nonprofit, or academia, rather than public accounting (attest), no longer have any reason not to become licensed if they have the skills and motivation to do so.

If the leaders of the accounting profession, its regulators, and our legislators are serious about ensuring the public's protection, let's begin by regulating the entire profession, not just CPAs.

As always, I welcome your comments.

Mary-Jo Kranacher, MBA, CPA, CFE. Editor-in-Chief.

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