The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) is the premier national professional organization for the certified public accountant (CPA) profession in the United States. Its founding in 1887 was a milestone in establishing accountancy as a profession distinguished by rigorous educational requirements, high professional standards, a strict code of professional ethics, and a commitment to serving the public interest.
As of 2000, its membership numbers more than 336,000 certified public accountants from around the country employed in various types of environments. Approximately 45 percent work in business and industry, nearly 40 percent work in public accounting firms, and still others are on the staffs of government bodies and agencies or are employed by educational institutions. In addition, some members work in the legal profession, offer consulting services, or have retired. Along with these membership segments, the AICPA has associates (those who have passed the Uniform CPA Exam and are in the midst of fulfilling the other requirements to become CPAs), as well as student and international affiliates. All together, the AICPA represents more than 350,000 people.
The AICPA's primary mission is to provide the resources, information, and leadership necessary to enable CPAs to perform services in the best professional manner to benefit the public as well as employers and clients. Activities include advocacy, certification and licensing, communications, recruiting and education, standards development, and performance monitoring. In carrying out its mission, the Institute works with local CPA societies in fifty-four accountancy jurisdictions (the fifty states plus Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam), giving priority to those areas where public reliance on CPA skills is greatest.
In light of its scope and resources, the AICPA is the national representative of CPAs before governments, regulatory bodies, and other organizations in protecting and promoting members' interests while preserving public confidence in the financial reporting system. It also promotes public awareness of and confidence in the integrity, objectivity, competence, and professionalism of CPAs. Most notably, to enhance key business decision makers' understanding of the skills and knowledge of CPAs, the AICPA launched the nation's first advertising campaign conducted on behalf of a profession. Having completed five consecutive successful years, the comprehensive ad campaign included television, radio, print, and Web site advertisements nationwide.
Through its volunteer member committees and professional staff, the AICPA also establishes, monitors, and enforces professional standards, as well as assisting members in continually improving their professional conduct, performance, and expertise. It also promotes and protects the CPA designation and encourages, among the states that license CPAs, the highest possible level of uniform certification and licensing standards. In fact, the AICPA develops the Uniform CPA Examination, which is administered to all candidates for the CPA designation in all states and U.S. licensing jurisdictions.
As the largest association for the accounting profession, the AICPA is also the primary information resource for CPAs and on the CPA profession. As such, the AICPA, as of 2000, is developing an Internet-based vertical portal that will provide CPAs with resources to better service small to medium-sized business clients and organizations. It will deliver information and services to the CPA more quickly, efficiently, and cost-effectively than is readily available today. The goal of the portal is to become the ultimate e-business destination for both the professional and business needs of CPAs, their clients, and employers. AICPA Online, the Institute's Web site (www.aicpa.org), offers the public the most comprehensive single source of information that exists on the CPA profession. For its members, the Institute houses the nation's most extensive accounting library and publishes numerous volumes of technical standards and topical publications.
Another mission of the AICPA is to encourage highly qualified individuals to become CPAs. Through member educators, recommendations for accounting curriculum, targeted recruitment, and promotional materials, the AICPA helps to ensure the continuous flow of qualified CPAs into the profession. Besides supporting the development of outstanding academic programs for students, the AICPA also is a major provider of educational courses and materials for continuing professional education, which is required by most jurisdictions for the continued licensing of CPAs and membership in the AICPA.
The AICPA's initiatives carried out on behalf of the CPA profession are numerous and always evolving to keep in step with the changing needs of a very diverse membership in a volatile business environment. As a major component of this goal, the AICPA in 1998 launched the ongoing CPA Vision Project (www.cpavision.org). Through this nationwide grassroots initiative, the CPA profession defined its own future, culling the views of CPAs in all segments of the profession throughout the nation. By consensus, the profession crafted a Core Purpose and Vision Statement and identified a new set of core values, services, and competencies that will characterize the work of CPAs in the future. The CPA Vision, a collective term for these findings, will extend the CPA's unique skills, expertise, and training to new services and products that bring unique added value on an ongoing basis to an ever-changing marketplace.
In an effort to identify areas where CPAs can market new services built on their special expertise and to drive markets to members, the Institute developed "assurance services," which are designed to improve the quality of information, or its context, for decision makers. Decision makers can be management, users of financial and nonfinancial information, or even consumers. The AICPA trains and licenses CPAs to offer an exclusive assurance service and seal for Web sites of companies engaging in electronic commerce over the Internet. Known as CPA Web Trust, the service indicates by means of a special WebTrust seal that appears on a company's Web site that a CPA has verified the company's business practices, transaction integrity, and privacy and security measures. The seal is intended to give consumers assurance in conducting e-commerce transactions on that Web site. Other assurance services include CPA ElderCare Services (providing financial and nonfinancial services to assist older clients), CPA SysTrust (increasing confidence in systems that support a business or activity), and CPA Performance View (facilitating an entity's development of a performance measurement system tailored to its unique mission and strategic plan).
For the increasing number of CPAs who are members of management in corporations of all sizeseferred to as members in "business and industry"he AICPA established the Center for Excellence in Financial Management (CEFM). The CEFM is a virtual resource for the many AICPA programs, products, services, internal resources, and external partnerships that support the work of business and industry members. Those offerings include a broad benchmarking program, special conferences, group and self-study professional education courses, research on leading-edge management accounting topics, and new publications. The CEFM also aims to keep members current on the skills, knowledge, technologies, and management techniques required by CPAs to fill decision-making roles as key members of their companies' management teams.
Embracing the talent and multiple perspectives offered by America's many demographic groups, the AICPA has adopted a diversity statement that it hopes will serve as a model for the CPA profession as well as other professional organizations. In that statement, the AICPA vows to take the lead in encouraging, valuing, and fostering diversity in its membership and the work force by identifying, recognizing, and supporting strategies and efforts within the organization and the profession dedicated to achieving those diversity objectives.
In all its wide-ranging efforts on behalf of the CPA profession, the AICPA maintains the goal of becoming the best professional association in existence. In June 1998, it became the first professional membership organization in the United States to earn the ISO 9001 certification, awarded by the International Organization of Standards using a certification system based on a series of international standards for quality management and assurance.
Organizationally, the AICPA is member-driven and -managed. It carries out its mission and objectives through the volunteer work of approximately 2,000 members who serve on a governing council, board of directors, boards, committees, subcommittees, and task forces. The governing council, the nearly 300-member governing body of the AICPA, meets twice a year and is responsible for establishing general policy. To ensure representation from all fifty-four accountancy jurisdictions, one AICPA member is designated by each CPA state society for a one-year term, and members from state societies with vacancies on the council are elected each year for a three-year term. In addition, the board of directors, past chairs, and twenty-one members-at-large serve on the council.
The board of directors, the executive committee of the council, advances the Institute's continuing objectives through leadership and management. Its twenty-three members consist of sixteen directors and three public (non-CPA) members who serve for three-year terms, as well as the chair, vice chair, immediate past chair, and the president, who is a member of the Institute staff.
With a staff of approximately seven hundred, the AICPA has four office locations. Its headquarters is located at 1211 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036-8775. The other sites are in Washington, D.C.; Jersey City, New Jersey; and Lewisville, Texas.
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