Why the CPA is (really) Losing Relevance

Ben Wann
12 min readDec 11, 2021

The Truth Hurts

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

In its recently released annual report, NASBA (National Association of State Boards of Accountancy) reported total revenue decreased by 12.4% from 2019. Most of the decrease is attributable to a 13.8% decline in revenue from CPA examination and licensing, including services such as application processing, credential evaluations, and score reporting.

The number of CPA exam sections taken has steadily dropped, from 310,000 in 2016 to 248,000 in 2019. In fiscal 2020 NASBA reported that 204,000 examination sections were processed through the national candidate database, down 18% from 2019, which the association blames the pandemic in the latter half of the year.

Plainly speaking, interest in the CPA credential has been down significantly since at least 2016.

Part of the old guard of CPAs and the politicians who run these accounting organizations remain committed as ever to maintaining the status quo and emphasizing that the CPA is relevant as ever. But behind the scenes, there is a good deal of consternation and handwringing going on right now.

ICPA’s President and CEO Todd Shapiro recently shared his thoughts on why people might choose not to pursue the CPA credential these days based on feedback they’ve received researching this problem:

  • They feel they can take off in their anticipated or chosen careers without it.
  • They believe that any value the CPA credential holds is outweighed by its lack of relevance to their personal endeavors and the time commitment necessary to obtain it.
  • They don’t see the personal or financial return on investment.
  • Their employers or prospective employers aren’t supporting or requiring it.
  • They see other experiences as being more valuable.

These points are all valid and even still incomplete. A quick glance at the available articles still doesn’t answer the question, and most writers try and keep their opinions “above board.”

  1. https://www.micpa.org/stay-informed/news/2021/06/21/the-pipeline-decline-demystified
  2. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/282807735_Decrease_in_the_Number_of_People_Taking_the_CPA_Not_Du
Ben Wann

Strategy-Execution & Expert Practitioner Insights | The Alexander Hamilton of Management Accounting | 10x Author | Strategy-Execution | https://amzn.to/3wxTCUH