CPA vs. Non-CPA

Many people do not know how a CPA is different from a bookkeeper or tax preparer. The CPA designation is one of the most widely recognized and highly trusted professional designations in the business world. CPAs are distinguished from other finance professionals by stringent qualification and licensing requirements.

Individuals have worked hard to obtain the CPA designation, and they are committed to working even harder to deliver the value that it conveys.

Not All Accountants Are Certified Public Accountants

Most people use the terms "accountant" and "CPA" interchangeably, but there is a big difference. The CPA credential carries enormous weight in business and financial circles. CPAs are considered some of the business world's most trusted advisers, according to a recent survey conducted by the AICPA. Specifically, when small business owners were asked how often they rely on outside business counsel, half said that they rely on their CPA "always" or "often," ranking slightly behind one's spouse or family member.

This trust is not surprising considering the strict requirements to enter and stay in the profession. Achieving CPA status takes intelligence, ethics, integrity and lifelong commitment. First, candidates must make it through 150 hours of college course work, including specific hours in upper level accounting, auditing and business core classes. After graduation and a year of experience under the supervision of a CPA, candidates must pass a grueling test of business, auditing and general accounting skills.

The CPA exam was developed in the early 1900s to ensure the competence of CPAs entering the field, much as the bar exam evaluates lawyers and the medical boards test doctors. It maintains that goal to this day and it is continually revised to meet the changing demands of the profession. For example, candidates are now being tested on their writing skills. The significant change was made because the marketplace is demanding much more of CPAs. Almost every state in the country has passed legislation that requires accounting graduates to complete 150 hours of course credits before taking the exam.

The CPA exam is not the only requirement to be a CPA. CPAs are also required to follow a strict code of ethics and perform within the high standards of the profession. CPAs are also required to complete continuing professional education (CPE) courses to keep up with the current rules and regulations in the financial, accounting and business world.

As the profession has evolved, so have the services CPAs provide. CPAs are no longer just number crunchers and tax preparers, but also business and financial strategists who help chart the paths of individuals and businesses. People turn to their CPAs for tax and financial planning services, investment advice, estate planning and more. Businesses are tapping CPAs to not only manage finances and taxes, but also to determine profitable new product lines, seek creative financing opportunities, help diversify investments and provide a variety of other consulting and business services. As technology advances, globalization, new laws and regulations and marketplace competition continue to complicate financial and business decisions, CPAs will be called upon to analyze information, determine effective financial and business strategies and help individuals and businesses achieve profitability.