The Pipeline Decline Demystified?



The contraction of the CPA pipeline has been a concern on the minds of many within the profession for years now. From college recruiting to jobs in the field, finding CPAs to fill crucial roles is becoming more and more difficult. The CPA Practice Advisor reports that in the U.S., accounting roles rank fifth (sixth globally) as the hardest to fill1. The reasons for this are numerous, but a recent study released by the Illinois CPA Society (ICPAS) appears to cut to the heart of the CPA shortage: relevance.

The report in question, “A CPA Pipeline Report: Decoding the Decline,” points not to the cost of acquiring and maintaining the credential, an intense area of focus within the profession, but to time and personal relevance instead.

“We…found it notable that the common assumptions that the costs associated either with obtaining the additional credit hours to meet the educational/licensing requirements or preparing for and taking the CPA exam are top barriers were proven to be misconceptions—these were not the top barriers cited among any respondent category,” the report states. “In fact, these factors were ranked lower than we anticipated, which was interesting given how much emphasis we often place on them and how many resources we create to help deal with these expenses2.”

That is not to say that financing the pursuit of the CPA credential does not play a role for some. It is worth pointing out, especially as the industry continues to focus on driving diversity, equity and inclusion, that greater percentages of African American respondents reported to have paid or would need to pay 100% of their CPA exam fees, while the overall majority of respondents (62%) reportedly found ways to have all or some of their expenses covered. This indicates, the report states, the presence of additional barriers for disadvantaged students and young professionals2.

Overall, however, the decision for not pursuing the CPA Exam among the 3,102 respondents were more personal than financial, with 32% not seeing the value or relevance of the credential to their careers, 28% citing a perceived lack of return on investment, another 28% stating that other credentials and specialties are more likely to add value to their careers and another 28% stating their employers or prospective employers do not require it or support it2.

According to Accounting Today, ICPAS senior director of planning and governance Kari Natale, CAE, addressed the sentiments revealed in the study with a statement. “From this initial survey, we learned that individuals — who we believe should be future CPAs — are not pursuing the CPA credential because they feel they can succeed in their anticipated or chosen careers without it.” She explains, “They believe any value the CPA credential holds is outweighed by its lack of relevance to their personal and professional endeavors and the time commitment necessary to obtain it.”

For those respondents in the process of becoming credentialed, the major obstacles were workload (62%) and personal time commitments (54%). Only 23% of this demographic cited financial constraints as a major challenge to attaining their credential. Among accounting students, fear also played a role with 51% stating they were afraid of failing the exam3.

So, what does it all mean? At the very least, the report reveals that the profession could stand to improve their messaging on relevance. This perspective that the CPA credential is irrelevant in regard to career opportunity stands at odds with the current reality of a CPA shortage and statistics regarding salary comparisons between those in accounting who hold a CPA and those that do not.  

While the CPA Evolution will continue to play an important role in making testing more attainable, a reversal of the typical accounting stereotype couldn’t hurt. In a recent report by the Journal of Accountancy, new AICPA board chair Bill Pirolli, CPA, CFF, PFS CGA at DiSanto, Priest & Co., recounted what drew him to the profession, and it had nothing to do with a divine love of numbers.

Instead, Pirolli was inspired to pursue accounting after he and a friend witnessed Jack Renza, CPA, and accounting instructor at Rhode Island Junior College, driving his Mercedes around campus, dressing in nice suits and, most importantly, knowing how to connect with people. “This wasn’t a spreadsheet guy,” Pirolli explained. “Jack cultivated relationships with his clients and relationships with the students, and we just got drawn into that4.”

Pirolli’s origin story should not be the exception, but the rule. Among MICPA members and active CPAs within the community, opportunity is a recurring sentiment as to why the CPA credential is so important. But there is a huge difference between telling and showing.

In a recent blog article, MICPA CEO Bob Doyle said of the opportunities inherent to the profession, “…the CPA career is a wealth of opportunity for so much more than a job. We make connections through our work, gain experiences and opportunities to travel that other professionals in other industries simply do not.” He added, “Actions speak louder than words and I encourage our members to get out there and get your hands dirty making a difference in your community and in the lives of young people uncertain about their future or their options.”

Do you have ideas on how to change the narrative surrounding the perception of the CPA credential? Join the conversation on MICPA Connect or reach out to MICPA member services to find out how you can support our efforts to build the CPA pipeline.

  1. Goosen, Mike. “Why Are Accounting Jobs So Hard to Fill?...CPA Practice Advisor. 27 May 2021. Accessed on 18 Jun 2021.
  2. A CPA Pipeline Report: Decoding the Decline.ICPAS. Jun 2021. Accessed on 18 Jun 2021.
  3. McCabe, Sean. “Time Commitment, Relevance Push People Away From CPA Exam.Accounting Today. 15 Jun 2021. Accessed on 18 Jun 2021.
  4. Tysiac, Ken. “A Leader Laser-Focused on Filling the Pipeline.Journal of Accountancy. 1 Jun 2021. Accessed on 18 Jun 2021.

Source: MICPA

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