Overview of the CPA Profession

Prepare to develop a taste for alphabet soup

To an outsider, or even a relative newcomer, the marketplace and regulatory framework in which CPAs operate can seem impossibly complicated and confusing, with its multiple regulatory bodies, overlapping organizations and alphabet soup of acronyms.

Once you learn your way around, it’s not so bad. And trust us; you’re going to want to learn your way around. Whether you’re in tax, audit or corporate finance, you’re most likely going to have dealings with several of these groups over the course of your career, and they can be really good sources of information and assistance.

Here’s a quick cheat sheet to all the major players.

  • AAA
    The American Accounting Association promotes worldwide excellence in accounting education, research and practice. Founded in 1916 as the American Association of University Instructors in Accounting, it’s a voluntary organization with a mission of being the premier forum for scholarly interchange in accounting.

    The Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting is dedicated to enhancing opportunities for Latinos in the accounting, finance and related professions and expanding opportunities in the global market.

    A membership organization open to all that is dedicated to enabling its members, business partners and the community to leverage the leadership and global business potential of Pan-Asians.

    The American Woman's Society of Certified Public Accountants (AWSCPA) is a national organization dedicated to serving all women CPAs. The AWSCPA provides valuable resources for members to achieve their personal and professional goals through various opportunities including leadership, networking and education.

  • Beta Alpha Psi
    This is the international honorary society for accounting students and professionals, with more than 280 chapters and 300,000 members worldwide.

  • FASB
    The Financial Accounting Standards Board is the independent, non-profit, private sector, organization responsible for establishing financial accounting standards for non-governmental entities in the United States, under the authority of the SEC.

  • GAA
    The Global Accounting Alliance is made up of 11 of the world's leading accounting bodies, brought together to promote quality services, information sharing and collaboration on important international issues, while operating in the interest of a quality accounting profession and the public interest. The GAA also helps support the brands of each of its member organizations (including AICPA).

    The International Auditing and Assurance Standards Board is the independent body that sets global standards dealing with auditing, review, other assurance, quality control and related services. Basically, the PCAOB on an international scale.

  • IASB
    The International Accounting Standards Board is the independent agency that establishes international standards, and the worldwide counterpart of the FASB—they’re the people behind the International Financial Reporting Standards.

  • IFAC
    The International Federation of Accountants is a global organization for accountants, responsible for developing high-quality international standards—in areas such as auditing and assurance, education and public sector accounting—as well as promoting strong ethical values, encouraging quality practice and supporting the development of all sectors of the profession around the world.

  • NABA
    The National Association of Black Accountants, a professional group with more than 100,000 members and 200 chapters nationwide, is a leader in expanding the influence of minority professionals in the fields of accounting and finance.

    The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy is the umbrella group for the state boards that regulate accountants in each U.S. state and territory (55 in total).

    The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board is a private, non-profit corporation with members appointed by the SEC, tasked with overseeing the auditors of public companies to protect the interests of investors and the public.

  • SEC
    The Securities and Exchange Commission is the independent agency tasked with overseeing the securities industry and stock exchanges, in order to protect investors, maintain fair markets and facilitate capital formation. The SEC works with and oversees many other agencies.

  • State Boards
    These are the individual bodies in each state and territory with the authority to and set the education and experience standards necessary to sit for the CPA exam and obtain licensure.

  • State Societies 
    Each U.S. state and territory has an organization dedicated to supporting its constituent CPA population and providing a forum for its members to network and pool their collective resources for the good to the profession.

    Nothing wrong with a little shameless self-promotion, right?