Alternate Credentials for CPA Firms

Clearly the CPA designation is the most recognized certification in Canada for taxation knowledge. What’s more our regulatory environment requires a CPA designation – as well as the appropriate registrations and reviews – for all assurance engagements.

However CPA Canada has failed in its attempt to develop an intermediate-level certification for accountants. Our partners believe that entry-level and intermediate-level certifications are necessary to adequately serve the small business community in this country.

Tying the certification of new CPAs to the exposure to assurance work may eventually make the CPA designation irrelevant or “overkill” for small firms. Ideally public accounting firms that service Canadian small businesses will be led by CPAs. However we believe that enhancing the capabilities of small firms in the various tax specialty fields makes more sense than tying certification to assurance work that is irrelevant to most of our smallest clients.

This aligns better with trends in public accounting revenue:

Assurance services are declining in importance. Tax services are increasing and compilations more or less flat. Any losses in revenue from compilations is most likely explained by the increasing importance of non-CPA competitors – at least in our view.

While larger CPA firms are attempting to capitalize on increases in management consulting, this is not relevant for small firms. We don’t believe that our CPA education prepares us to provide broadly-based management consulting services across many disciplines.

Too often management consulting services are provided to bureaucracies that wish to insulate themselves from the impact of making the wrong decision.


Their attempt to launch an intermediate qualification – ADVANCED CERTIFICATE in ACCOUNTING & FINANCE (“ACAF”) – has recently ended in failure.

Important: The ACAF program is being discontinued. The CPA profession is working with post-secondary institutions for a smooth winddown of ACAF that ensures students are enabled to finish the program before one of the final ACAF National Examinations in September 2019, January 2020, or February 2021 or transition to an alternative course of study. For more information, continue reading or contact your provincial body.

ACAF Program

Designed by the Canadian CPA profession and launched in 2015, the ACAF is the only recognized national standard developed by CPA Canada specifically created for those seeking intermediate-level accounting and finance skills.

In September 2017, the profession determined that post-secondary institutions were well-positioned to deliver the full suite of entry, technical, and applied courses for the ACAF program. This expanded delivery was intended to provide improved access and convenience for students, with CPA Canada administering the national exam.

While the CPA profession stands behind the quality of the ACAF program, it has not gained traction in the market, suggesting that other accounting diploma programs across the country are meeting the existing market needs.

This is particularly true for small firms that focus on income tax compliance and compilations.  For most small firms, assurance services are only required infrequently by clients. Given the overhead of keeping current with both different assurance standards (i.e. ASPE, IFRS and not-for-profits) and changes to tax legislation, many small firms let their licenses to provide assurance services lapse.

Given the commitment of time and resources to develop a qualified CPA – both for the student and their employer – it is difficult to justify the effort in a small firm. When practitioners are looking at retirement, this can be an impediment to developing a  workable succession plan.

For practitioners preparing to retire, the need for skilled staff trumps the desire for certification by CPA Canada (or at least the provincial regulatory body). One alternative is to look outside our own association for recruiting staff.


Within Canada PUBLIC BUSINESS ACCOUNTANTS or PROFESSIONAL BUSINESS ACCOUNTANTS (the designation varies by provincial association) are the only real alternative for firms that want a professional association that provides exposure to the local regulatory environment as well as a licencing framework that offers practice reviews.

It is my experience that PBAs typically have foreign accounting credentials and have difficulty meeting the certification standards of CPA Canada – or at least in justifying the investment in meeting those standards.

Small CPA firms could look to PBAs to fill senior-level positions, if the person possesses the appropriate interpersonal skills to deal effectively with clients.

It appears to our partners that PBA Canada’s ACCOUNTING TECHNOLOGIST CERTIFICATE is a better implementation of an intermediate-level certification.


In an increasingly global world, small CPA firms may want to consider personnel with other foreign designations, supplemented with local knowledge of relevant tax and regulatory regulations. It was for this reason that we developed the RMT and RMA certifications.

For outsourced controllers and staff accountants in industry, this combination will likely be adequate for most small businesses. This is particularly true if they are mentored by local CPAs in industry or public practice.



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