• Some Accounting Firms Going Out of Their Way to Discourage Employees From Becoming CPAs

    By | October 24, 2016

    You'd think with all the worrying going on in the accounting profession about talent and succession, that firms would be making it easy on the employees they do have to become CPAs. And I think, for the most part, many firms do encourage prospective CPAs with exam prep and exam fee reimbursement, time off to study and sit for exams, etc. etc.

    Oddly enough, Dan Hood mentioned a recent survey from the Illinois Society of CPAs found that not all firms are eager to be helpful:

    The Illinois society did a survey of the top 25 firms in the Chicago area, and found some disturbing results: 92 percent of them require staff to earn their license to progress beyond a certain level, and 76 percent will provide financial assistance for one attempt at each section of the exam — but the average exam-taker will make 6.5 attempts at different sections to pass all four, meaning they’re on the hook for those extra 2.5 tries. What’s more, 12 percent of firms only provide financial assistance for review courses, not the exam itself, and another 12 percent provide no assistance at all. Finally, a fifth of the firms don’t give employees any time off or schedule flexibility for exam prep and test-taking. And this is at top-level firms that are complaining about how hard it is to find CPAs!

    Twenty percent of those firms don't allow for time-off to study or take an exam? Cue Mugatu:


    AICPA President, CEO and Stranger Things superfan Barry Melancon can give all the speeches he likes; he can announce a nation-wide stadium tour that includes the Benjamin Bankes dancers, groupies and a bus with a stupid name ("THE CPA EXPRESS") but the requirements to become a CPA (namely, the 150-credit hour rule) has become a barrier for a lot of people. I have no idea why a firm wouldn't make it as easy as possible — including reimbursement and time-off — for anyone that is CPA eligible to pursue it.



    • dumpus

      Because CPAs demand more salary than a client is willing to pay in fees, and the Firm doesn’t necessarily want to eat any of the cost without enjoying all of the benefit.

      Hell, every client I ever had pretty much expected by default that we were *all* CPAs; you should have seen their expressions when our team admitted that only maybe 1/3 of us on staff were CPAs, and the rest of us were CISA or CIA or some other certification and that the only reason we got that was to get promoted. They were floored. A more “constructive” discussion regarding fees was had the next year, for sure.

      • cpanum31


    • Basis Adjustment

      I believe that utilization metrics are driving some of the results mentioned by the IL CPA Society. If a given staff member is taking time off to study for the CPA exam the staff member’s impact on the bottom line is arguably similar to other non-chargeable activities. In IL, the firms use a rather clever strategy to provide employees with “time off” to study for the CPA exams without compromising utilization. The key to the strategy is the timing of graduation dates and the first day of work with the firm. In IL it is quite common for the larger firms to offer fall start dates to spring graduates while strongly suggesting that the “free summer” between graduation and the fall start date be used to complete the CPA exams because “it is very difficult to study for exams while working full time”. The graduate can utilize the CPA benefits for exams taken in the summer but salary is obviously not
      paid until employment officially begins in the fall. As it turns out, the aspiring
      CPA and newly minted graduate isn’t the only party to the employment contract who is getting a “free summer” because the firm does not begin to compensate this person until the “start date” in the fall. The firm’s strategy is quite simple in that the goal is to reduce expenses and maximize utilization but this is conveyed to the aspiring CPA as “a great opportunity to complete the CPA exams before starting a demanding public accounting job”. I guess I’m a bit cynical here but I think the “complaining about how hard it is to find CPAs” is really a ploy to motivate non-CPAs to bear the financial and non-financial costs of the CPA exam. Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?

      • Nuhammad Irfan

        Altough that strategy may work in the US where CPA exam is “only” 4 exams.

        Things may be different countries which has adopted new test structure, like CPA Australia. In my country, CPA Exam means 11 total exams, 4 years of public experience, and 1 public interview with Big4 partners and accountant regulator.

    • ellensue100

      I am an E.A. and the IRS examination was three parts which I had to study for on my own time and with no reimbursements offered for the review course. I passed all three parts on the first go which is not easy. However, I will say that I feel it is far more “do-able” than passing the four-part CPA exam which my husband was studying for and passing during the same time I took the EA exam. He passed with 5 exams (1 part he had to take twice). I can tell you that many colleges do NOT adequately prepare students for this exam and people who somewhat skated by in college find themselves in real difficulty trying to pass. I have seen a number of young accountants pass through our offices and on to a career in “private” because they cannot further advance without a CPA. Kids are told – you want a job when you graduate? Go into accounting. Without a real desire and passion for the profession, many will balk at the difficult exams … and do as they should … go elsewhere.

      • Smack That

        “Kids are told – you want a job when you graduate? Go into accounting. Without a real desire and passion for the profession, many will balk at the difficult exams … and do as they should … go elsewhere.”

        I assume that they are still working as accountants in corp/industry, right? So, the having-a-job with an accounting degree still rings true. Just because they are not in public accounting (as if it’s some kind of holy grail), doesn’t mean they aren’t still using their degree, or not in the profession.

      • Nuhammad Irfan

        “Without a real desire and passion for the profession”

        Does overyone ever have any in the first place?

    • Nuhammad Irfan

      After graduating quite some time and in the process of becoming CPA. I can say that graduate materials is not preparing me for passing CPA exam.

      “have I heard that during the class?”, “this term is new”, or “are things this complicated?” what I think for now

    • SouthernCPA

      This happens more than we wish to admit.

      Firms want CPAs but don’t want to invest in CPAs.

      And we wonder why we have succession problems.

      Someone needs to smack these people over the head, and remind them about all the support they got when they were 23.

      Just another example of the boomers screwing the world.