By Eva Lang - According to an AICPA press release dated May 19, 2008, AICPA Council has authorized the creation of a new CPA specialty credential in forensic accounting. The Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF) will be the fourth of the Institute’s specialty credentials. The others are Personal Financial Specialist (CPA/PFS), Accredited in Business Valuation (CPA/ABV) and Certified Information Technology Professional (CPA.CITP). It will be interesting to see if the AICPA has learned from its experience with prior credential programs and gives the CFF the necessary support to make it successful.
In 1997, the AICPA seemed to be jumping on the bandwagon of specialty credentials, introducing the Accredited in Business Valuation (CPA/ABV) and following that in 2000, with the Certified Information Technology Professional (CPA.CITP). These two credentials were approved after many years of having only a single specialty credential - Personal Financial Specialist (CPA/PFS). But in 2003, all three specialty credentials appeared to be on the block when the AICPA stopped to re-examine the viability of the specialty programs. At that time, AICPA President Barry Melancon questioned “whether the institute should be in a credential area if that credential isn’t gaining market acceptance” and the AICPA circulated a resolution that would have put in place “exit strategies” for all three credentials.
An AICPA memo published in early 2003 criticized the PFS credential program for not attracting enough members, and admitted that the competing CFP (Certified Financial Planner) credential has far surpassed it in popularity and respect. The Certified Information Technology Professional Credential was attacked for not attaining its membership goals, with just about 500 credential holders by the end of 2002 “regardless of the absence of direct competition.” The memo noted that the Institute’s failure to sufficiently market and brand the CITP (as well as the PFS and ABV credentials) “are key reasons behind unmet membership goals.”
Following aggressive lobbying by advocates, AICPA Council voted in November 2003 to retain the credentials provided they were able to achieve a minimum number of credential holders by a certain date. The break-even point for the CITP and ABV was set at 1,700 and 2,700 respectively by July 31, 2008 while the PFS, was given the date of July 31, 2006 to reach 3,600 members.
Over the next five years, all the credential programs struggled but eventually succeeded in adding new converts. The ABV faced criticism for changing the admission criteria. Many AICPA members saw this as weakling the value of the credential by offering a level of reciprocity with other business valuation organizations and relaxing the testing requirement.
So as AICPA council authorizes a fourth credential, what has changed? Just as in the case with the PFS competition with CFP, the new CFF will face a much better known fraud credential in the Certified Fraud Examiner designation administered by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. While the AICPA has done more to promote the credentials in recent years, there is still much to be done to make the PFS, CITP, ABV, and CFF as widely known and respected as the CPA designation itself. Let’s hope that AICPA had learned its lesson about effectively supporting, positioning, and promoting the new credential. The forensic area is growing rapidly and the CFF can position CPAs as experts in this emerging field if managed properly. I am sure that existing credential holders like myself will be watching closely.