Aug 23, 2019

CPA Exam, Licensing Among Factors Affected by Emerging Technology

William HayesBy William J. Hayes, managing editor, Pennsylvania CPA Journal

Developing technologies such as blockchain, data analytics, and artificial intelligence are having a major impact on the accounting workplace, but for individuals just entering the profession, the rising technologies will affect more than their work assignments. For instance, these advancements will bring changes to CPA licensing as well as alterations to the CPA Exam. To go into detail on these changes, we sat down with PICPA members Amanda Marcy and Ashley Stampone of the University of Scranton. Marcy and Stampone are the authors of “Emerging Technologies Will Impact More Than Office Duties,” which will appear in the upcoming fall 2019 Pennsylvania CPA Journal.

The CPA Evolution Working Group is a major focus of your piece. Can you give a bit of background on this group and what it is looking to accomplish?

Ashley StamponeStampone: The CPA Evolution Working Group is a joint task force between the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy and the AICPA. What they are trying to do is explore potential changes to CPA licensure requirements that incorporate skills and competencies in the areas of technology and data analytics. Since November 2018, this group – which also has representatives from public accounting firms, state CPA societies, and academia – has been examining current licensure requirements and discussing ways to integrate technology into this model.

What does the CPA Evolution Working Group believe needs to be done with the CPA Exam to better prepare emerging CPAs for the future of the profession?

Amanda MarcyMarcy: The group has not actually proposed any exam changes, but it has released three concepts about the exam supporting its guiding principles. First and foremost, it calls for an exam that tests the common core related to both accounting and technology. This will allow exam candidates to demonstrate their skills in this area. Second, while still using the same exam structure, it wants to modify the breadth and depth of some concepts based on future-looking practice analysis. And third, it acknowledges that certain accounting and auditing techniques might only be applicable for some CPAs, but the knowledge of some technological components – such as system controls and emerging technologies – is important for all practicing accountants.

The CPA Evolution Working Group has a set of five principles to meet a new model for ensuring technical expertise in the profession. Do any of the principles jump out to you as having the potential to deeply affect the profession?

Stampone: The principle that stands out the most to us is that the profession, and therefore entry into the profession, must be redesigned to attract individuals with technological and analytical expertise. Going forward, we are going to see a shift to attract non-CPA professionals who have competencies in technology and analytics to perform assurance and other services. I also think that we are going to see more efforts to attract nonaccounting majors. For us at the academic level, we are going to see accounting programs include more technologically based classes, either in the curricula through electives or directly in the accounting core, if they haven't done so already.

Marcy: The profession, specifically public accounting firms, is actually requesting that schools provide degrees specializing in data analytics. For example, KPMG has collaborated with nine colleges across the nation (one being Villanova University in the Philadelphia region) in developing its KPMG master of accounting with data analytics program. This program is entering its third year this fall. After participants have gone through this program, for which KPMG provides a full scholarship, they receive an internship in a KPMG audit or tax program and will receive a full-time position upon graduation. If that doesn't show you the importance of attaining these skills, I don't know what will.

At the University of Scranton, you both come into contact with a lot of accounting students. Do they worry about the growth of technology in the profession, or do they welcome it? And what do you say to them to keep them working toward their goal of becoming a CPA despite all the technological growth?

Stampone: Incoming students are really comfortable with technology. Because of this, I feel that it is welcomed. We were receiving a ton of questions about data analytics and how a student can be more prepared. At Scranton, we have a new minor in business analytics, so we recommend that students pursue this minor to gain exposure to these areas. But we also stress that students need to be proficient in core accounting courses to have success in passing the CPA Exam. They should also focus on their communication, teamwork, and critical-thinking skills to have success in the profession.

Marcy: Our students coming back from their internships are very eager to learn more in this area based on what they have experienced in the field. They are coming to us and asking, "Can we have more advanced Excel classes? Can we have more topics related to data analytics?" These are the things they are being asked to do when they are working.

Ashley L. Stampone, CPA, is a faculty specialist in accounting at the University of Scranton in Scranton, Pa. She can be contacted at ashley.stampone@scranton.edu.

Amanda S. Marcy, CPA, an assistant professor of accounting at the University of Scranton, can be contacted at amanda.marcy@scranton.edu.

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