Independent Research Affirms CPA Brand, Points to Opportunity

Published on May 19, 2016

CPAs inspire confidence and remain the most highly regarded and trusted business professionals among business decision-makers and investors, the 2015 independent brand research commissioned by the AICPA shows. Still, clients and CPAs alike acknowledge the growing demand for specializations within the profession and growing competition for those services outside of it, the research reveals.

“The study results offer a resounding affirmation of the CPA while pointing to an opportunity for the profession to continue to address the specialized needs of clients in addition to their leadership in the core areas of tax, accounting and audit,” said Janice Maiman, senior vice president of communications, media, news and professional pathways, who oversees the research.

The AICPA commissioned Applied Research & Consulting (ARC) in 2015 to conduct its multi-constituency biennial research study to understand perceptions of the CPA brand, update insights into the perceptions of key constituencies from its 2013 brand study, measure progress against key brand metrics set at that time and guide strategy and plans for enhancing the CPA image and reputation in the future.

ARC conducted focus groups, in-depth interviews and four nationally distributed online surveys to assess the perceptions of business decision-makers, individual investors, CPAs and young accounting professionals who are not CPAs.

Among the study’s key findings:

  • Both business decision-makers and investors ranked the CPA first among financial and business professionals and second only to physicians among all professionals. Investor rankings increased by 12 percent over the 2013 study results.
  • Business decision-makers’ satisfaction (very satisfied and somewhat satisfied) ranks very high among both internal (93 percent) and external CPAs (90 percent). Investors who work with CPAs are 97 percent satisfied (very satisfied and somewhat satisfied) with their performance.
  • Investors and business decision-makers are more confident — 79 percent and 84 percent respectively — in a job done by a CPA than if it were done by an accountant who is not a CPA. The rating by business decision-makers increased by nine percent from the 2013 study.
  • Business decision-makers and investors continue to rate integrity and competency as the top two CPA attributes.
  • Sixty-eight percent of business decision-makers agree that becoming certified as a CPA requires more rigorous training and testing than any other financial credential.
  • Eighty-eight percent of business decision-makers value the CPA credential (very/somewhat valuable) within their organizations.
  • CPAs find compensation value in their credential, saying they feel they are paid more than accountants who are not CPAs.

 The brand research finds that most clients continue to perceive CPAs as preeminent professionals in the core areas of tax, accounting and audit. Still, they face growing competition from professionals outside the profession, such as management consultants, information technology consultants, lawyers and other professionals who offer specialized skills. Among those specialized areas are strategic planning, performance management, risk management, sustainability assurance and business integration systems.

Meanwhile, research shows, the increasingly global nature of the accounting profession is shifting demand for professionals in the United States. Thirty-three percent of business decision-makers say they work with or use the services of designated accountants trained in other countries, up from 23 percent four years ago.

This presents a key opportunity for the profession to continue to define, evolve and modernize its core services in a range of areas,” Maiman said. “Doing so can increase relevancy for today and for the future.” That includes attestation around compliance with laws and regulations; assurance on sustainability reports; and assurance on information security and privacy, including cybersecurity.

“These research findings are encouraging and affirm the strength of the CPA brand,” Maiman said. “I want to acknowledge the many AICPA and state society initiatives that have contributed to such strong results. We remain committed to protecting and promoting the profession — from the pipeline, #CPAPOWERED and