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Time to Get Engaged: National Debate Brews on Licensing & CPA Exam Requirements

May 08, 2023

by Sara Bailey, CPA

As I sat down to write this column, I planned to write about our return to in-person events and encourage our members to look at the WSCPA’s conferences and other in-person CPE events. We also have a very exciting Membership Summit and annual meeting in June (and it’s free!), with great topics and speakers teed up. These in-person events will provide you with a great opportunity to see old friends in person, share stories with students and new professionals, and network.

As I began to write about being back in person, though, I realized that the message I really want to communicate is to encourage you to be engaged in our profession.

When I started my career, I didn’t have a full understanding of things impacting our profession, the value of a CPA license, the role of the State Board, state society, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA) and National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA). I didn’t have an appreciation of the history of substantial equivalency, reciprocity, and mobility. As I got more involved with the WSCPA, I was quickly able to see how much work goes on behind the scenes to protect and uphold the CPA license, address issues facing the profession, and provide resources to all CPAs. Years later, I recognize the importance of these various bodies and the impact they have on our profession.

In my last column, I wrote about the top five priorities the WSCPA is tackling: pipeline and STEM, fifth-year support; expanding CPA resources; mentorship—especially focused on women and underrepresented groups; and our Membership Summit. The most significant theme identified was pipeline and staffing issues, and the WSCPA is not alone in identifying those issues. Other state societies across the U.S. are hearing similar messages from their membership. As members in the profession have voiced concerns during the last several years, there have been some responses from states, AICPA and NASBA.

I want to point out two issues that are heating up on the national stage. Why? Because we are all a part of this profession and many of us belong to two key membership associations that work to protect the CPA license—the WSCPA and AICPA. As dues-paying members of these societies, our voices matter. Those of us with boots on the ground have a pulse on the critical issues impacting our profession and we all should feel empowered to have our voices heard. While there are many other topics bubbling up, these two pipeline-related topics have created more attention than some others.

Time to Pass All CPA Exam Sections - On February 15, NASBA released an exposure draft of the Uniform Accountancy Act Rule 5-7. The draft proposes multiple changes, but notably increases the amount of time that a CPA candidate has to pass all required CPA exam sections from a rolling 18-month period to a rolling 24-month period. This is an improvement, but it doesn’t move the needle far enough. Keep in mind that while NASBA provides a framework for state boards to follow, Washington State Board of Accountancy (WBOA) ultimately makes the decision on the testing window for candidates in Washington. At the WBOA January board meeting, Kimberly Scott, WSCPA President & CEO, provided public comment requesting WBOA review expanding the exam window to 36 months or longer.

[Editor's Note: See NASBA Amends CPA Exam Model Window to 30 Months (April 24, 2023) for the latest developments on this issue.]

Credit and Experience Requirement - In February, Minnesota introduced two bills, HF 1749 and SF 1660, which would broaden the path to CPA licensure by creating an additional pathway to CPA licensure in Minnesota through a 120-hour education requirement and two years of experience. (You can read more about this here.) The AICPA and NASBA responded in letters to Minnesota members and through articles in Journal of Accountancy opposing this legislation.

Let’s all remember how licensing works. Each state or licensing jurisdiction is responsible for determining the requirements to qualify for sitting for the CPA exam and becoming licensed in the state. NASBA serves as a forum for the nation’s 55 State Boards of Accountancy to provide a framework that states can utilize in administering the exam and licensing candidates. They also administer the CPA exam, along with the AICPA and Prometric, and earn revenue for each time a candidate takes an exam. NASBA does not determine licensure requirements—states do. Either through the legislative process or through a rulemaking process. AICPA is a membership association which provides resources and advocacy for the CPA profession and protects the public interest. The AICPA also does not determine licensure requirements. However, the AICPA and NASBA collaboratively created and update the Uniform Accountancy Act.

There are relevant and important arguments on both sides of these issues—far too many to cover in this column. Regardless of which side you are on, I encourage you to feel empowered to have your voice heard and engage with the associations to which you belong. As a member of the WSCPA, we want to hear from you, and will be creating opportunities for you to engage. With conversations heating up at the national level, it is more important than ever to have an engaged membership group.

As we get back to in-person events, consider taking some time to engage with the WSCPA and have your voice heard. If there are topics you or your organization are passionate about, we want to hear from you. If you have questions about what is happening at the national level, stay plugged in and learn how you can make a difference through volunteer opportunities. There are many opportunities to engage and have conversations with others in the profession at the WSCPA’s upcoming in-person conferences and our Membership Summit in June. I hope to see you soon and can’t wait to hear what’s on your mind about the profession.

Sara Bailey, CPA, is a partner at Moss Adams LLP and WSCPA Chair. You can contact Sara via email.

This article appears in the spring 2023 issue of the Washington CPA magazine. Read this article and others here.