Experts shed light on CPA Exams CPAs serve demands of changing business environment

KUWAIT CITY, Sept 7: Craig Mills, Vice President, Examinations at American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and Colleen Conrad, CPA, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at National Association of State Boards of Accountancy answer queries on the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination, a premier accounting credential, which is set by the AICPA and administered by the NASBA.
In addition, Ali M Nehme, Assistant Manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Kuwait and US Certified Public Accountant, shares his experience of obtaining the license and its many benefits.

Question: Can you provide us with a brief overview of the AICPA and NASBA, describing the operations and the scope of its reach and appeal?
Mills: The AICPA is the world’s largest member association representing the accounting profession, with more than 394,000 members in 128 countries and a 126-year heritage of serving the public interest. AICPA members represent many areas of practice, including business and industry, public practice, government, education and consulting. The AICPA sets ethical standards for the profession and US auditing standards for audits of private companies, nonprofit organizations, federal, state and local governments. It develops and grades the Uniform CPA Examination.
Conrad: Celebrating more than 100 years of service, the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) serves as a forum for the nation’s Boards of Accountancy, which administer the Uniform CPA Examination, license more than 700,000 certified public accountants and regulate the practice of public accountancy in the United States.

NASBA’s mission is to enhance the effectiveness and advance the common interests of the Boards of Accountancy in meeting their regulatory responsibilities. The Association promotes the exchange of information among accountancy boards, serving the needs of the 55 US jurisdictions.
In addition, NASBA hosts the National Candidate Database, a database of CPA candidate information created to help NASBA, Boards of Accountancy, the AICPA and the testing centers protect the personal data provided by candidates during application and examination processes. As a central repository for all CPA Examination candidate information, the National Candidate Database is a global tracking system for CPA Examination candidates. With the ability to track a candidate’s history, from initial application to grading of the examination, the National Candidate Database is a powerful tool for managing testing information.

Q: How does the CPA license contribute in the bigger picture of economic growth? Are there any lapses in the industry that the CPA training will help overcome?
Mills: The US CPA license is the premier accounting credential in the United States, backed by a rigorous exam, strict licensing requirements and a code of ethics, and is very highly regarded throughout the world as a leading credential. In the US, CPAs serve the complex demands of a rapidly changing business environment. Capital markets rely on the work of CPAs to ensure that investors have access to reliable and transparent financial statements.
According to AICPA research, the US CPA is the most highly regarded and trusted financial professional, and both investors and business decision makers ranked the CPA first among financial and business professionals. The CPA pathway prepares professionals for today’s global business environment and expands career opportunities.

Q: Who is the CPA exam best suited for and how relevant is it in the Kuwaiti job market? Is it mostly recommended to solely a fresh graduates and young professionals or can it also be advantageous to veterans in the field?
Mills: The US CPA is attractive to current students of accounting who wish to join a thriving global profession and wish to convey their dedication and expertise to potential employers.
Additionally, the US CPA is a valuable credential for those currently employed as accountants, both in Kuwait and throughout the world, who wish to advance their careers and demonstrate their commitment to their chosen profession. For those currently employed by US companies operating in Kuwait, competency in US GAAP would be helpful to their organization.
The average age of a candidate taking the CPA exam in the US is 29 years old and there is a mix of both recent graduates and those who are mid-career who take the exam. Since every licensing jurisdiction in the US except Puerto Rico has an experience requirement in place for initial licensure — it is crucial that those who wish to become CPAs have a plan in place to gain some work experience before they can become licensed.
Additionally, in the US research shows that employers prefer to hire a CPA over a non-CPA accountant and that CPAs tend to earn a higher salary.

Q: How many US Certified Public Accountants work in Kuwait and/or the Middle East?  Do you see this number increasing in the future?
Mills: The number of US CPAs working in Kuwait is unknown at this point. We anticipate that the number will increase due to the rise in number of CPA candidates from Kuwait and the Middle East.

Q: How is the international administration of the CPA carried out?  What is the AICPA’s expansion plan in Kuwait and the Middle East?
Conrad: The US CPA Exam is administered internationally as a service to foreign nationals, as well as, in response to escalating international demand for the US CPA license.
The international administration of the Exam in Kuwait and the Middle East, which is offered in English, is the same as the US Exam administered by the AICPA, NASBA and Prometric in the United States.
The AICPA, NASBA and Prometric are providing the same services as they do for the domestic program, so that the Exam and the licensure process will be the same for international examinees as it is for examinees within US jurisdictions.
Since the launch of the exam, we have seen growth in both the number of candidates taking the exam internationally, as well as the level of international interest in the CPA, as more accounting professionals look to the US CPA as a way to verify their skills and knowledge to the international business community.  In addition, CPA Exam testing in all international locations, including Kuwait, has recently been expanded to the first two months of the testing window: January and February, April and May, July and August and October and November, the same as in the US.

Q: Describe the process of obtaining the certification. Where are the examinations held?
Mills: In order to qualify to take the CPA Examination in international locations, candidates will have to establish their eligibility through a state board participating in the International CPA Examination Administration program. The list of participating state boards is posted on the NASBA website. Upon completion of the Exam, candidates must complete one year of experience under a licensed CPA or have a licensed CPA sign-off on their professional experience. The Examination is given at Prometric Test Centers.

Q: How does one prepare for the exams, are there any qualifying pre-requisites? What is the minimum time in which a candidate can obtain a license and the average time period of completion?
Conrad: According to Board of Examiner (BOE) policy, Content and Skill Specification Outlines (CSOs/SSOs) document the content that is covered in all four sections of the Examination. Candidates can look to these documents to understand what material they need to understand at these links: CSO/SSO effective Jan 1, 2013 and CSO/SSO effective Jan 1, 2014.
There are a number of review course providers who have materials which will help candidates prepare for the exam, however AICPA and NASBA do not endorse any specific review course providers.
The AICPA website has a tutorial and sample test which serves as a guided tour of the CPA Examination. It demonstrates the functionality of question types, tools, resources and navigation found in the Uniform CPA Examination.

Licensure requirements for international candidates are the same as for US CPA candidates. Along with passing the Uniform CPA Examination, international candidates must meet educational and experience requirements as mandated by US state boards of accountancy.
In order to qualify to take the CPA Exam outside the US, candidates will have to first establish their eligibility through application to a state board participating in the International CPA Examination Administration Program. For specific instructions on how to apply to take the CPA Examination, please visit the CPA Exam section of the NASBA website — http://nasba. org/exams/internationalexam/international-process-to-apply/.

Q: What is the passing score? How would you qualify the level of the difficulty in comparison to other certifications?
Mills: The passing score is 75 on a scale that runs from 0 to100 for each section of the Exam.
The CPA Examination protects the public interest by helping to ensure that only qualified individuals become licensed as US CPAs — so you need to have a great deal of knowledge in order to pass. Although a challenging process, it is worth the effort.
Candidates must pass all four sections: Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG). These four sections represent a total of 14 hours of testing and must all be completed within a 18 month testing window. The 2012 pass rates are available online at: http://www.aicpa. org/BecomeACPA/CPAExam/PsychometricsandScoring/PassingRates/DownloadableDocuments/passrates2012.pdf

Q: What is the percentage of people who pass the exam? How many times can a candidate re-appear for the exam if they fail?
Mills: The approximate pass rate for Middle East candidates is 40% depending on section taken.  Pass rates for FAR and REG are over 40% (data taken from 2011 Q3 to 2012 Q3).
Candidates have 18 months to complete all sections of the Examination after passing their first part.

Q: Can you give us an estimate of the cost involved in obtaining a license? Are there any scholarship opportunities for accounting students?
Conrad: The total cost includes application and administration fees, in addition to the examination fees. The cost varies for each jurisdiction.  Refer to your jurisdiction’s application materials for additional information.  The majority of candidates from the Middle East apply to the states of New Hampshire and Colorado.  Regardless of which Board of Accountancy has declared you eligible for the examination, in addition to paying any domestic testing fees, you must pay additional fees for each examination section you plan to take internationally.

Q: Can you give us a brief overview of your career and share the reason why opted to obtain the CPA license? What added advantage did it give you?
Nehme:  I am currently an Assistant Manager in Pricewaterhouse Coopers Kuwait and have over 5 years of experience in the market. Prior to joining PWC, I worked as an engagement auditor in one of the Big Four firms.  I have been involved in performing services to companies in various industries including banking, investments, airways, telecommunications, trading, real estate and others.  I have also instructed and attended several raining courses related to the International Financial Reporting Standards, Financial Services Industry and others on Audit Methodologies.

I obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from the American University of Beirut and I’m licensed as a CPA from the State of New Hampshire, US.  As part of working in professional services firms, mainly the big four, earning a qualification is considered essential for career development. I personally sought this qualification for the value it adds to my professional status as well as the opportunities it opens up in terms of promotions as CPA is considered a prerequisite to acquire the position of Assistant Manager. As for seeking my license, the CPA qualification would not be complete without it. Being able to use my CPA is contingent to getting licensed. Thus, going for the license was something spontaneous upon passing the exam.

Q: Where did you take your exams? How long did it take for you to obtain the license? How would you describe the experience?
Nehme:  I sat for 3 parts in Kuwait while for the 4th in Abu Dhabi due to unavailability in Kuwait due to work commitments. I cleared the 4 parts between November 2011 and May 2012. I started on my license in November 2012 and got licensed in January 2013. According to the state board’s regulations through which I licensed, I have also already gone through the license renewal process, as my initial license expired on 30th June 2013. The process was easy and uncomplicated with required help and assistance available at all times. More importantly, any query was responded to with no delay making it an effective procedure and experience.

By Cinatra Fernandes
Arab Times Staff

By: Cinatra Fernandes

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