AICPA Offers Members Professional and Commercial Benefits
The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA or the Institute), the premier accounting professional association in the US, with links to state societies, counts 345,000 CPAs as members. The AICPA offers its members educational opportunities, comprehensive accounting news coverage, information on technology and commercial opportunities through the AICPA-sponsored web site CPA2Biz., all benefits a trade association should provide, according to CareerBank. In addition, the prestige of the AICPA, as an advocacy group and standards setting board reflects on the entire profession.
AICPA.org,  the Institute’s web site, gives members access to AICPA statements, the Journal of Accountancy, CPA Newsletter and other specialized newsletters, and an array of links to management and financial services and tools developed by the Institute. The agility and depth of the site is evident in the speed with which the AICPA produced a web site in response to Hurricane Katrina, building on their award-winning publication from 2004, Disaster Recovery: A Guide to Financial Issues.
Some but not all, of the Institute’s web pages offer members the opportunity to provide feedback, an important issue to the Committee to Reform Our Profession (CROP), whose reports and position papers are published on their web site.  “Leveraging the intellectual capital of our members” is one of the steps CROP is calling upon the AICPA to incorporate into their business objectives. CROP has recommended that the AICPA poll members on new initiatives using existing technology.
The AICPA’s marketing and technology provider, CPA2Biz, offers client focused business services, according to the Journal of Accountancy, including payroll and 401(k) programs through Paychex, and small business banking through Chase. Members may offer theseservices to small business clients. The site also offers CPAs the Elite Values program, providing discount opportunities in shopping and travel. Members have access to numerous online resource centers including Information Technology and CPE self-study programs. Advertising in the Journal of Accountancy, CPA2BIZ recently promoted AICPA Practice Pro, a management tool designed for accountants in public practice, and AICPA Financial Pro, a similar tool designed for accountants in business and industry.
The AICPA’s commercial relationships with some of the companies recieving AICPA contracts, like Nationwide Financial Services (for retirement benefits) and Thomson (for the Uniform CPA exam), have troubled CROP. The group laments the prestige lost by the Institute during the accounting scandals as well as their role in setting standards for public companies.
Congress found that the AICPA did not properly balance its roles as advocate and professional standards monitor in the days of the accounting scandals. With the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002, the standards setting role for public companies became the responsibility of the Public Accounting Oversight Board. In March 2003, when the AICPA proposed new standards on how independent auditors should report on their public company clients’ internal financial controls, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) delivered a stunning rebuke, according to the Wall Street Journal. The SEC’s chef accountant, Jackson Day, wrote to the AICPA that their proposal created the “misleading impression” that it will set standards when Sarbanes-Oxley had clearly given that role to the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB).
Currently the AICPA has assumed a leadership role in setting standards for private companies. The Governing Council announced the AICPA’s intention to explore changes to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. (GAAP) for private companies, as recommended by an AICPA task force. James C. Castellano, former Chair of the AICPA, who headed the task force that surveyed 3,700 companies, said that while GAAP financial statements were generally rated highly by the companies surveyed, certain GAAP requirements provided low relevance and decision usefulness.
AICPA management will work with the Financial Accounting Foundation (FAF) and the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) to “identify and implement a process that would evaluate, where appropriate potential change . . . from current GAAP as applied by public companies,” the AICPA said.
Barry Melancon, AICPA President and CEO said, “It moves us on to the next phase and we look forward to working cooperatively with FAF and FASB on this initiative.”
Stressing the importance of communication with regulators as well as standard setters, Jay Rothberg, Vice President, office of CEO of the AICPA, told The Accountant, “I think the AICPA has very good communication with the SEC, the PCAOB, the General Accounting Office and the regulators of financial institutions. We are making sure that we are in closer contact than maybe we were ten years ago.
Admitting that the private company GAAP initiative is a huge task, Rothberg told The Accountant, “I think it’s a long term process . . . there are still possible road blocks. This is not an easy task and we’re just at the beginning.”
Another benefit that the AICPA has provided members is an outstanding opportunity to reach out to their communities through the award winning 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy. The site had received over 2,000,000 hits, the AICPA recently reported.