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.

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