Ethical challenges facing accounting firms hiring non-CPAs

Ethical challenges facing accounting firms hiring non-CPAs

A decision to supplement your accounting firm with non-certified accountants typically results from the combined effects of a small labor pool and increasing opportunities for growing your business. While adding non-CPAs keeps payroll expenses low and allows you to service more clients, its downside is increasing ethical challenges.

Knowledge and training

State licensing requirements underscore the difference between CPA and non-CPA employees. Most states have a 150-credit requirement to sit for the CPA exam, and credits must come from a state-certified college or university and include a specific number of business and accounting courses. Although some colleges offer a 150-credit program, some students choose a college offering a 120-credit program and then get a master’s degree. The CPA exam is extremely difficult, and only those candidates with a solid accounting background can achieve the CPA designation.

Scope of responsibilities

When meeting long-term growth goals means hiring more staff, it’s important to understand that non-CPAs aren’t qualified to act as primary financial services providers. Although you might start out with good intentions, the larger your business grows, the more tempting it often becomes to add responsibilities for which non-CPAs aren’t qualified. For example, while a non-CPA might be proficient at preparing end-of-month financial statements, allowing a non-CPA to design or set up an accounting system or give financial advice to a startup business — even with direct supervision – can violate business ethics 

Expanded ethics training

Although ethics training doesn’t guarantee a CPA won’t behave improperly, CPAs are held to an ethical standard that doesn’t apply to non-CPA employees. Ethics training starts after a candidate passes the CPA exam; depending on state requirements, it often is part of CPA continuing education requirements. In addition, bylaws in organizations such as the Institute of Management Accountants and the American Institute of CPAs require members to adhere to a code of ethics. At the very least, this eliminates the unintentional ethics violations that non-CPA employees may commit.

Client perceptions

Managing client perceptions about your business is one of the most important ethical challenges you face. Differences between CPA and non-CPA employees virtually guarantee that you can’t provide the same service levels by allowing non-CPAs to work with your clients. In addition, turning customers into long-term clients often depends on the personal relationship they develop with their CPA. It is difficult to know the extent to which clients are willing to also work with and trust a non-CPA.

Source: Chron – By Jackie Lohrey

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