Chartered Public Accountant (CPA) program


Introduction to the Chartered Public Accountant (CPA) program :

Just like the CA qualification in India, the CPA is the highest professional qualification related to accounting in the U.S. One can move towards becoming a practicing CPA by taking the Uniform CPA exam conducted by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). Different states in the U.S. have a different set of requirements for accountants to be licensed to practice, however, passing the CPA exam is a common (hence called uniform) requirement across all states. Apart from the U.S., a CPA qualification is highly regarded and accepted globally, including India. With a CPA under your belt, not only can you practice Chartered Accountancy in the U.S., you can also be considered for roles involving international accounting policies in other countries. E.g: an MNC with operations in diverse geographies would definitely be interested in hiring a CPA so that the employee is knowledgeable about global accounting policies.

So how does one sitting in India apply for a CPA exam conducted in the U.S.? Luckily, from October 2014, the exam is now being conducted in the Middle East as well and Indians are welcome to take the test there. So now there is no need to make that trip to America just for the exam.

Who should do a CPA?

The CPA is undoubtedly globally revered, however it is expensive (please see the fees below) and not everyone’s cup of tea. If you are sure of pursuing a career in global accounting, and also have a fair idea of your own abilities to crack the exam, you should give this exam a try. If you are unsure, you could take up CPA coaching / mock exams being offered by several training institutes to judge if the exam is something you will be able to crack and if the subject matter makes sense for your general situation.
A CPA is apt for you if:

1) You already have an accounting / M.Com / CA background
It is intuitively the next step for a candidate looking for a global accounting career. The concepts learnt in CA or M.Com courses will naturally make it easier for you to assimilate and appear for the CPA exam.

2) You are looking at a global career or are planning to shift to the U.S.
If you are moving to the U.S., either being sent by your firm or as the result of a personal decision, finding an accounting job there or doing your existing accounting job well there will be easier with a CPA under your belt.

3) You want to deepen your knowledge in accounting
If you are already in the public accounting domain, especially working in a global firm, a CPA will broaden your horizons as well as career progression prospects. At the same time, it will upgrade and supplement your current accounting knowledge.

4) You want to improve your resume and role
CPA has a huge signaling factor about your proficiency in accounting related subjects. Whether you actually pursue the license or not, clearing the exams will definitely improve your market value.
1) Flair for accounting, laws and regulations: 
It goes without saying that the candidate would need to be comfortable with accounting. There will also be numerous laws, regulations and accounting standards to memorize. Not only do you need this for the exam, pursuing this course would mean you end up with an accounting career for good, so it is best that you have a keen interest in it

2) Quantitative and analytical ability:
Number crunching will be an essential component of the exam as well as this career. CPAs are largely involved in auditing, forensics and other financial analytics, so analytical ability is a necessity

3) Good written communication:
The written communication sections in the exam are designed to assess a candidate’s verbal skills because they have increasingly become an important skill in a good public accountant’s repertoire

4) Perseverance, diligence: 
The exam requires dedication and a lot of hard work. Perseverance is hence a key factor.
A lot of candidates have benefited from enrolling in coaching institutes to help them understand tough concepts, manage their study time and practice mock tests. Having regular discussions with a peer group also greatly helps in understanding complex topics

Career opportunities after CPA:

CPAs or candidates pursuing CPA can work in a plethora of roles across different industries and types of firms. Who doesn't need an accountant? Some of the areas where CPAs can be expected to be gainfully employed are:
•  Accounting roles including:
   o  Regular Accounting and Reporting
   o  Accounting Forensics
   o  Business Valuation
   o  Personal Financial Planning
   o  Tax Consulting
•  Management Accounting
•  Financial Analysis
•  Treasury or Cash Management

Details of the program:

Subjects:
Each subject is tested with a separate exam
The subjects are:
•  Auditing and Attestation
•  Business Environment and Concepts
•  Financial Accounting and Reporting
•  Regulation

Exam format: 
•  The exam is computer based
•  Questions are a combination of multiple choice, cases and subjective type

Exam difficulty level: The CPA exam is seen as a tough exam and the passing percentage is usually around 40-50%
•  The test by itself is not considered overly tough, however the sheer amount of concepts to master and learn makes it a daunting task
•  There are 4 exams and one needs to score 75% in each exam to clear

Exam dates:
•  In order to appear for the exam, the candidate first needs to obtain a “Notice to Schedule” from the state they apply to, confirming their eligibility to sit for the exams. This NTS is valid only for a particular period hence scheduling exams soon after getting the NTS is important
•  All 4 exams (1 for each subject) are offered for the first 2 months of every quarter. Each set of 2 months is a ‘testing window’, so there are 4 testing windows in a year
   o  Testing windows:
      • January & February
      • April & May
      • July & August
      • October & November
•  You can appear for one subject only once per testing window. So effectively, you can take all 4 subjects in one testing window, but usually people tend to focus on 1 or 2 subjects per window because of the vast amount of syllabus
•  You can attempt the subjects in any order
•  All the four exams should be cleared within a time period of 18 months (for most states), so you must schedule all exams accordingly

Exam Duration: The 4 exams together add up to 14 hours
•  Auditing and Attestation – 4 hours
•  Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) – 3 hours
•  Financial Accounting and Reporting – 4 hours
•  Regulation – 3 hours

CPA Licensure requirements: 
•  A CPA license gives the individual a right to practice public accounting
•  The requirements to obtain a CPA licensure differ depending on which U.S. state you decide to apply through
   o  Education: Most states require that the candidate has at least 150 semester credits (often includes a graduate degree)
      • There are a set number of accounting hours included in the above 150 credits which varies from state to state
   o  Examination: All states require that the candidate appear for and clear the Uniform CPA exam
   o  Experience: Work experience requirements again vary by state
      • Several states need 1-2 years of experience under a CPA, preferably in in a public accounting firm
   o  Some states require undergoing an Ethics exam as well
•  The license once obtained, needs to be renewed on expiry
•  The licensure also demands a ~40 hours of continuing education every year (again depends on the state)
•  A licensee can join the AICPA or respective State Society to reap benefits like access to career resources, knowledge resources, networking, discounts as well as affinity programs

Fees:
•  Exam costs vary from state to state
•  Typical application and exam fees are in the range of $800 to $1000
•  Ethics exam fees (if needed) and licensing fees would be additional