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CPAs—The Most Trusted Business Advisors

by Rich Jones, CPA, CGMA, President & CEO | Jan 18, 2017
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Every three years for the past 25 years the AICPA has engaged an outside research firm to measure the perception of CPAs by business decision makers (BDMs) and then compare this result to the perception of these BDMs of other professionals, particularly finance professionals. The graph below shows the results of this research conducted in 2015.

As you can see, physicians continue to be the most trusted professionals of all professions. This has been true for many years. Also true for many years is that CPAs continue to hold the overall #1 position among finance professionals. The data shows that 58% of BDMs have a positive perception of CPAs and only 2% of them have a negative perception of CPAs. For example, when compared to attorneys, their positive perceptions are about half as much as CPAs (28% vs. 58%) and their negative perceptions are more than nine times as high as CPAs (19% vs. 2%). These results are impressive and caused me to pause and try to understand why CPAs would be so highly perceived by BDMs as compared to other financial professionals. Not only do CPAs have the highest percentage of positive perceptions among financial professionals at 58% (nearest financial professionals are at 46%), but the negative perception of CPAs is only 2% (the same as physicians), and only one-third of that of the nearest profession which is at 6% and 6.25% of the result for hedge fund managers (32% negative perception).

CPA Perception Graph_WSCPA_500x265

Click for a full-sized image of this graph.

There must be an explanation for these results, and I believe there is. In a recent presentation I gave to Dr. Rajib Doogar’s Masters in Accounting class at UW-Bothell entitled The Future of the CPA Profession, we discussed this graph and why the results are so promising for CPAs. The answer to the question can be summarized in one word—trust. Of all financial professionals, most do not have a mandatory Code of Professional Conduct that is incorporated into the requirements of their licensure (if they are licensed). CPAs, whether in public practice or private industry, must conform to the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct (the Code). Most states have adopted the Code, perhaps with minor differences, as a condition of state licensure. As you know, the Code provides guidance and rules to all members in the performance of their professional responsibilities. Here are some of the requirements of the Code:

  • Members should accept the obligation to act in a way that will serve the public interest, honor the public trust, and demonstrate a commitment to professionalism.
  • To maintain and broaden public confidence, members should perform all professional responsibilities with the highest sense of integrity.
  • A member should maintain objectivity and be free of conflicts of interest in discharging professional services.
  • A member in public practice should be independent in fact and appearance when providing auditing and other attestation services.

CPAs have an unusual situation where most services actually rendered by CPAs do not require a CPA license, such as tax work, consultation, valuation, management accountant, CFO, CEO, etc. A CPA license is generally only required to perform attest type services, e.g. audits, reviews, or compilation service; however, all CPAs are required to comply with the ethical and other requirements of the Code even when the professional services being performed do not require a CPA license.

These are lofty requirements that mandate that CPAs always look to do the right thing, only perform work for which they are competent and remain free of all conflicts of interest or manage them within professional guidelines as appropriate. I am not aware of any other profession that has such a tough and honorable set of rules of conduct, the violation of which can result in loss of licensure or other sanction. I believe this is why the general public and certainly BDMs have the highest perception of CPAs among all financial professionals. We are a substantially self-regulated profession that has earned this status by having the highest standards of professional conduct and by self-enforcing these standards.

As President & CEO of the Washington Society of CPAs, and a fellow CPA for over 40 years, I am proud to have had the privilege of representing our members in Washington State for the past almost dozen years. Personally, I know that the perceptions of CPAs by the public and BDMs is well-earned and will continue to be so in the years ahead. In the words of Tim Christen, the Immediate Past Chair of the AICPA: It is a great day to be a CPA!

Rich Jones, CPA, CGMA, President and CEO of the WSCPA

Rich Jones, CPA, CGMA, is the President and CEO of the WSCPA.

This article originally appeared in the winter 2017 issue of  WashingtonCPA Magazine. Read more here.

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