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CPA Brand Research: The Good, the Challenge and the Opportunity

Brand infographicWhen most people think about a strong brand, Disney or Apple come to mind.  But when we at the AICPA think of a strong brand, we think of the CPA.  And we are pleased again to report that independent research confirms that CPA stands stronger than ever.

We are always pleased to hear from business decision-makers and investors that CPAs remain the most highly regarded and trusted business professionals, and we look forward to sharing that news with you.

The 2015 independent research commissioned by the AICPA again reveals a long list of affirming statistics about the value that the CPA brings to clients and the value the CPA credential offers the profession. The study also provides insight into global forces at play that both challenge the profession and point to areas of opportunity.

First, the good news: CPAs continue to inspire confidence across our key constituencies. Results of our focus groups, in-depth interviews and four nationally distributed online surveys, conducted by Applied Research & Consulting, show:

  • Both business decision-makers and investors rank 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 in a job done by a CPA – 79 percent and 84 percent respectively – than if it were done by an accountant who is not a CPA. The rating by business decision-makers increased by 9 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.

As for areas of opportunity, clients continue to acknowledge the CPA’s lead in the core areas of tax, accounting and audit, while both clients and CPAs alike acknowledge a growing demand for specializations within the profession and growing competition for those services outside of it.

The research points to opportunities for CPAs to broaden their scope and embrace areas of specialization that enhance the core services typically offered by CPAs. These include such areas as strategic planning, performance management, risk management, sustainability assurance and business integration systems – areas that could benefit from the added knowledge and expertise a CPA can bring to those services.

While professionals from outside the profession – management consultants, information technology consultants, lawyers and other professionals – are usually associated with these specialized services, CPAs, the research shows, can step in to provide them. 

Meanwhile, 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. Doing so can increase our relevancy for today and for the future. Among them are attestation around compliance with laws and regulations; assurance on sustainability reports; and assurance on information security and privacy, including cybersecurity.

The 2015 brand research once again offers a resounding affirmation of the CPA, the strength of the CPA brand and the value of the many initiatives undertaken by the AICPA that protect and promote the profession – from the pipeline, #CPAPOWERED and enhancing audit quality to the future of practice monitoring and future of learning.

These findings also provide a solid foundation on which we, as a Communications Team, can work to further strengthen the brand and that you in the profession can build upon to increase your value to clients and your organization, and extend your reach and impact.  

Cheryl Reynolds, Vice President, Communications, Advertising and Brand Management, American Institute of CPAs

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