Two of Canada's three largest accounting groups are proposing a merger to create a combined new CPA designation for accountants, but members are complaining about the risk of losing their long-established identification.
The Chartered Accountants of Canada (CAs) and the Certified Management Accountants of Canada (CMAs) have asked their members for feedback on a proposal to merge the organizations and create a new Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) designation.
After decades of aggressively defending the distinctive accounting titles – and spending millions on advertising to promote the alternative designations – leaders of the organizations acknowledge they are facing a challenge persuading some members of the merits of a merger.
"Members on all sides are very proud of their existing designations," said Kevin Dancey, chief executive officer of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants. "They have competed against each other in the past. That raises significant issues, there's no doubt about it."
He said the organizations have learned from a failed attempt to merge in 2004, when members opposed a proposal to all become CAs. This time, accountants would keep their existing designation for a lengthy period of time – suggested at 10 years – and display it alongside a new CPA title.
Adding fuel to the debate, accountants in Quebec independently announced this week they intend to proceed to unify the profession under the CPA banner in that province, saying the historic distinctions between their groups have blurred, leaving amalgamation as "the way of the future."
As a further wrinkle, Certified General Accountants (CGAs) in Quebec have also agreed to join the merger with CAs and CMAs in that province. CGAs in Ontario, meanwhile, are in talks with their provincial counterparts about a possible merger. However, the CGA national body has decided not to join the merger talks at a national level.
This means the profession could end up with seeing all three main accounting designations unified in Quebec and Ontario while remaining separate in other provinces, or having only CAs and CMAs merge in some provinces.
The national CGA association says it met initially with the other two groups to discuss a merger, but decided not to pursue further talks because the terms were not acceptable. CGA chairman Joyce Evans said in a letter to members that her group was asked to drop its lobbying for national labour mobility among provinces, for example, and was told it would likely have to end one or more of its mutual recognition agreements for accountants from other countries.
About 46 per cent of Canada's professional accountants are CAs, 29 per cent are CGAs, and 25 per cent are CMAs.
The three organizations have long competed to win new recruits, aiming at different types of accountants depending on their career aspirations. CAs, for example, were historically focused on doing auditing work at outside accounting firms, while CMAs were more often in-house corporate accountants.
Mr. Dancey said one of the main reasons for exploring a merger is that those old distinctions have fallen away in the past 20 years. Among CAs, for example, 60 per cent now work as in-house accountants, while 40 per cent do so-called "public" accounting, such as auditing.
But some members remain unconvinced, and have been venting their concerns in online forums and in internal focus groups exploring the merger.
Toronto chartered accountant Mark Laing said he believes his CA designation gives him a competitive edge in the job market and is well-regarded worldwide, while the CPA designation would add more confusion and is not as universally admired.
"I have had a number of interactions with other CAs over the last while, and I have not heard from one professional who supports this merger," he said.
Janine Moir, of Calgary, said she participated in a focus group asking CAs about a possible merger, and few participants supported the plan. She believes the training and course work is more arduous for CAs, and the combination would erode the CA qualification. "Why would I make it easier for someone to not be able to distinguish my skills and worth, and pay me less?" she asked.
But Toronto tax accountant Pratima Singh, also a CA, argued that the profession needs a "common denominator" and said employers will still examine accountants' experience and backgrounds to distinguish their qualifications.
Chartered Accountants are licensed by individual provincial CA institutes, and are represented nationally by the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants, a non-profit organization incorporated in 1902. CAs account for 46 per cent of Canada's accountants.
Certified Management Accountants trace their roots back to the Canadian Society of Cost Accountants in the 1920s, and have historically been in-house accountants at companies, while CAs more often worked outside companies as auditors. Those lines are now blurring. CMAs account for 25 per cent of Canada's accountants.
Certified General Accountants began in 1908 with a goal of providing extended accounting education to business professionals. The organization promotes its flexibility, allowing trainees to study part time while working or while completing a university degree. CGAs now account for 29 per cent of Canada's accountants.
Chartered Professional Accountants would be a new designation given to CA, CMA or CGA members whose provincial organizations participate in a merger under the new name. While the designation has the same initials as the U.S. Certified Public Accountant title, it is not a duplicate designation.