CPA Canada: Public response to a few questions

I had a blog reader, and recent CGA graduate, send me the following questions about the CA/CMA/CGA unification discussions.  I figured that other people may have similar questions, so here are my public responses:

Question

  • Although the current CPA Canada project is initiated by the CICA and CMA Canada, why is it insisted upon that the degree requirement be a program entry requirement and not a certification requirement?  One of the points you made under Reasonable Points pertains to the growth of CGA students.  I think it also ties to immigrants wanting to become professional accountants here but whose degree credentials aren’t recognized here, and they need incentives to get recognized degrees but not too quickly.

Response

Not everyone may be aware that virtually every CA and CMA student is required to have a university degree before starting the professional education program.  This will also be a feature of the new CPA program.  CGA education requires their students to have a university degree by the time they complete the professional education program.  That may seem like a small difference but actually has huge impact for students and for our international agreements.

The International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) sets the minimum standards expected of member bodies.  Those International Education Standards must be adhered to in order for the bodies to be a member of IFAC.  Being a member of IFAC is necessary to have any global recognition.  IES 1 is the standard that deals with entrance requirements and in a recent revision stated (emphasis mine),

Professional accounting education varies in level, type and content. IFAC member bodies are advised to consider their own program(s) of professional accounting education to establish the abilities, ethics and knowledge that individuals will need in order to complete that education successfully. This will include consideration of the level of the education; for example, there will be a difference in the level of abilities and knowledge required for a programme for accounting technicians and a program for auditors of financial statements. Those undertaking a lower level education are likely to have a good chance of succeeding with a lower level of qualifications on entry: for example, some accounting technician education has no entry requirements other than a good level of numeracy and literacy. Conversely, high level education for Chartered Accountants or Certified Professional Accountants may specify that an entrant should normally hold a university degree, as the member body considers this level of education and qualification necessary for individuals to have a reasonable chance of completion. (Proposed IES 1, May 2011)

Further, both the national CA body (CICA) and national CMA body have Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRA) with other countries that increase the global transferability of their designations.  I have seen a few of these and in all cases maintaining the university degree as an entrance requirement were required by the MRA.  For people immigrating to Canada with a professional designation, those MRAs are vital.  To give up the university degree as a requirement on entrance would result in throwing out virtually all the existing MRAs which makes no sense.

Questions (I’ve grouped these together)

  • On the Red Flag Deals forum, there’s an interesting poster there going by the username “Magnus” who seems to hold both the CA and CGA designations.  He has issues with the way the UFE and UFE prep materials are structured, in that while they’re integrative, they’re not as technical as the non-PA PACE level courses at CGA.  For example, BCIT, where I got my degree, is the only institute in the province that has courses qualifying for the AU2 and TX2 challenge exams.  Only a select few institutes nationwide have similar courses.  Do you think that a unified CPA program’s public accounting stream would benefit from incorporating all the technical material covered in these and the various mandatory seminars for CGAs heading into public practice?
  • Maybe it’s just the wannabe academic in me, but how many integrative yet technical electives on offer will there be in the CPA modules?  For example, right now only CGA and university partners have formal courses in internal auditing and public sector financial management, only Vancouver Island University has formal courses in forensic accounting (dunno why CAs aren’t exempt from FORE 310 like CGAs are), and only BCIT has a formal course in business valuation.
  • I’m sure the CMA Case Exam encompassing management accounting, corporate finance, and various items on strategic management, information technology, taxation, and financial accounting will be incorporated into the unified program somehow.  I had the pleasure of having a CMA teach BCIT’s capstone course, and of writing a less time-crunching version of the CMA Case Exam.

Response

The first question about the technical content versus (?) integration is a good one, and one that academics struggle with on a daily basis.  The UFE was definitely more technical when I wrote in 1997 than it is now, but I personally think the current exam which does require integration skills is far better.  If you look at the work that professional accountants (not bookkeepers) are doing, the technical knowledge required is actually very low.  Sure there are some people involved in public company audits getting into the nitty-gritty details, but in general professional accountants are solving or managing real business problems rather than figuring out the application of IAS 39 (for example).  That doesn’t mean that I’m a technical-phobe but more so that I appreciate the big picture.  As an educator I feel that we underemphasize those integrative, critical thinking, creative thinking, problem-solving skills.  Obviously a balance is required but in my opinion we’ve swung too far to the technical side and need to come back.  Forest for the trees.

Good on VIU and BCIT for having interesting technical courses and I’m interested in finding out more about them.  My understanding of the CPA program is that Module 3 and Module 4 will allow some choice for students to focus on.  Currently four electives are discussed (choose two of these): assurance, performance management, tax and finance.  These electives will build off the core required modules (C1 & C2) and definitely introduce new technical knowledge as well as requiring more integration from candidates.

Yes, the CMAs are bringing a lot of horsepower to the table as the new education process gets designed.  Their program has some definite strengths that the CAs have looked at for ages and the CAs would probably have adopted in some format even if there was no unification.  As you can imagine, when you bring together two (or three) top notch pools of educators, you will get an excellent product.  The plan is to build on the strengths of each program and as you suggest, the CMA Case Exam is an excellent example of a strength.

Question

  • According to the CGA-Canada leadership, CGA-BC removed itself from the talks because of the Ontario situation.  If the CGAs and CMAs there were still in talks, CGA-BC would still be in.  I suspect that my first point above on degree requirements was one of the legitimate “real reasons, not the hand waving ones,” though.  Thoughts?

Response

Hmmm, technically each regulatory body in each province is independent so saying the CGA BC walked out because CGA Ontario walked out suggests less independence than there is.  Nonetheless, everyone has their eyes on Ontario since the numbers are so large there.  

My understanding of CGA BC’s rationale for leaving the table (likely consistent across the country) were that some parts of the post-unification picture were unclear including the so called “certificate program” and the overall rigour of the professional education program.  The certificate program has been discussed for quite awhile and is a less rigourous, faster version of the yet-to-be-developed professional education program (PEP).  The PEP leads to the CPA designation, the certificate program leads to something different (and as yet unnamed) that would be appropriate for many individuals who choose an accounting career but don’t desire or require the full CPA.  I don’t know a ton about the certificate program but I do know that there is a team working on its development.  I suspect that it is less of a priority than (a) getting the unification done and (b) developing the PEP.  All things in good time.

Conclusion

Well thanks to my readers for submitting interesting and challenging questions!  I quite enjoy reading your emails and I thank you for paying attention to this unification – it is a significant change that should not get swept under the rug.  I hope that my responses were clear, fair, and helpful.

Accounting unification: Full steam ahead

I had a fantastic week!  The CICA annual general meeting was in Kelowna at the beginning of the week and I was able to connect with some wonderful people.  The picture below is from that meeting.  Notice the CPA Canada signs that are more prominent than the CICA signs?

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Then I woke up this morning to read a BC CGA blog on unification.  I know the two authors well and respect them.  They raise some reasonable points and in my opinion some unreasonable points.  My music choice while I write this?  The truly Canadian Tragically Hip singing “Scared” (lyrics here).

 Reasonable points

  • Ultimately the CPA designation hinges on government legislation: Yep, that’s absolutely true.  Given Premier Clark’s decision this week for BC legislature to NOT sit in the house this fall, its virtually impossible for the necessary legislation to be passed before the provincial government election in May 2013.  Obviously no one can predict when the legislation will pass given the possibility of a new government.  All current cabinet members and their opposition counterparts are aware of the CPA unification issue.  In my opinion the only uncertainty is when, not if.
  • “In B.C. nearly two-thirds of the province’s professional accounting students are taking CGA.”  While I don’t have the exact figures in front of me, I suspect that’s true.  Of course what is less clear is the average period to complete (or not) the CGA designation.  For instance, currently UBC Okanagan has roughly 8,300 students who complete their degree more less on the traditional 4-5 year plan.  I can double my number of student registrations by dragging out their education eight or ten years.  I’m not sure that would be a selling point though.

Unreasonable (or incorrect) points

  • “In Ontario, home to 50 per cent of Canada’s professional accountants, the merger is not happening.”  This is incorrect.  The latest position of the Ontario CAs states clearly that they are committed to national unification.  As I’ve said before, CMA Ontario and CGA Ontario are not at the table currently.  That’s too bad but unification can still happen nationally.  Yes, Ontario has a lot of accountants and Canada’s only professional major league baseball team but no, they’re not the centre of the universe.  If the Leafs ever become contenders I’ll revise my view.
  • There is great uncertainty around transition for students.  This is also incorrect.  Certainly the transition timeframes may need to be adjusted while legislation is pending, but there is some excellent, accurate, detailed transition information available here: http://cpaone.ca/candidates/transition.html
  • “Frankly, we feel the other programs are adapting to become more like us.”  Really?  If that was true why did you remove yourselves from the provincial unification discussions?  That makes no sense.  Now on that topic, I think you should clarify why you withdrew from the unification talks.  And the real reasons, not the hand waving ones.
  • The monopoly/anti-competiton line … “benefits of competition and the advantages inherent to choice”.  This falls flat on its face and any commerce/business/management student will see the holes.  Virtually every profession in Canada has ONE oversight body nationally or provincially: physicians, lawyers, veterinarians etc.  There’s no monopoly or lack of competition.  This is VERY different from the Bell/Astral controversy but I suspect that most readers already see that.

Conclusion

If you’re a current university student graduating in the near future, concentrate on your studies.  Don’t waste a ton of energy thinking about the unification.  You’ve chosen a great career and whether you end up with a CPA, a CPA.CA, a CPA.CMA or something else, accounting is a wonderful profession.  You will have plenty of opportunity to help people make great decisions using accounting information.  Uncertainty is embedded in accounting, it shouldn’t frighten us.  Trust me when I say that there are great people sinking tons of time into making sure the CPA unification is successful.  There are individuals who live and breathe this; who don’t sleep until the merger is closer to fruition than it was yesterday.

I have two closing thoughts.  The first from the Great One (#99), “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”  I’m excited that we’re taking this shot and I wish the BC CGAs were willing to shoot the puck around with us.  Second, as Gord Downie sings,

Okay, you made me scared, you did what you set out to do
I’m not prepared, you really had me going there for a minute or two

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Queens University – leading the way with on-campus mental health initiatives

Queens University has really led the charge in Canada to address mental health and mental illness on campus and this story is just one more small initiative they are trying.  I have long wondered how I or one of my colleagues would handle a dire situation.  In my 10+ years as a university professor I have had conversations with students and suggested they take advantage of certain resources provided to students.  I know that even taking the time to listen to students talk about their lives outside of the classroom is important.  Sure its messy and lots of professors will avoid it, but let’s not forget that students are people and they have real problems, real issues, and a real life beyond the class.  Quite honestly those outside issues commonly trump anything we are discussing inside the class and really cannot be ignored.  I’m not suggesting that I have the answers but I do have the capacity to listen.  And honestly, every single professor and teacher out there should take the time to listen to our students.

That’s why I think this green folder idea is pretty cool.  A quick source to identify a number of resources to turn to when the conversation goes somewhere beyond what I can handle. Every campus has experts on campus, let’s get those advertised and widely known.  I’d be happy to point students the right direction.  Only after listening to them of course!

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What do you want to do before you die?

What a great question!  In this 6 minute TED Talk, Candy Chang shows some fantastic public art projects – no they’re more than that, they’re public connection projects.  In this video she takes a dilapidated house in New Orleans and turns it into a giant chalkboard for people to put down their dreams.  I’m sure the responses start off slow but its amazing to see the variety of responses.  You must watch to see the pirate guy – that’s worth the price of admission!

As many TED talks do, this one really made me think – what do I want to do before I die?  Here’s the best I could do on short notice.  Its a great exercise though and hopefully this helps keep me accountable and on track:

  • Shoot under 80 on a regulation golf course
  • Cycle around Australia, all the way around
  • Have people think and talk about mental health just as we talk and think about cancer or broken legs
  • Write a book
  • Help my kids crack the time travel problem (likely by paying for education, lots of graduate-level physics education)
  • Share a beer and a long laugh with my Mom and Dad on their deck at least once a year while we’re all here
I’m sure there are more, but that list is a good starting spot.  Join in the conversation by entering your “Before I die” goals below as a comment.

Higher education and mental health

Here’s an excellent article from Macleans Online today about the extent of mental health issues on university campuses.  Its actually frightening and scary and I wish I could do more to help.  Students, staff and faculty – please comment on your thoughts about this story.

 

Click the image below for the full article.

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