To receive the designation of Certified Public Accountant (CPA) a person is required to pass an exam and to satisfy the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants that they have the necessary relevant work experience.
Adherence to the level of professionalism required of the industry is regulated by the industry itself for the most part. The CPA designation helps insure public accountants provide the highest standards of service. While the United States uses the CPA designation to indicate an accountant has higher standards than his or her non-CPA counterparts, other countries also use equivalent certifications. In Canada for example, certified public accountants are referred to as chartered accountants (CA).
To qualify to become a Certified Public Accountant, a person must have gained a degree in either accounting, finance or business administration. Other requirements are the completion of at least 150 hours of education and a minimum of two years work experience as a public accountant. While the requirements for certification may vary from state to state all persons wishing to become certified must pass an exam. Once certified additional continuing education must be undertaken for a specified number of hours every year.
Once certified a public accountant has a wide variety of career choices within the industry. He or she may opt to work as a corporate accountant with potential for career advancement into executive positions such as that of a chief financial officer, chief executive officer or controller. Many CPA’s elect to specialize in one or more areas of accounting, with tax preparation being one of the more popular. In addition to taxes, CPA’s may choose forensic accounting, auditing, bookkeeping, information technology or managerial accounting as their field of expertise.
A strict code of ethics existed and Certified Public Accountants are expected to adhere to them. When CPA’s choose instead to operate unethically and engage in illegal practices scandals such as that caused by Enron occur. As a result of such illegal activity, a CPA is assured of facing criminal charges.
CPA’s, when undertaking audits and reviews, are required by both state and federal laws to maintain independence throughout the process. When the CPA’s at Enron were found guilty of providing both auditing and consultancy services they were in violation of the code of ethics all CPA’s are required to work by.