B.C. accountants adopt unified front as CPA designation goes into effect

Accountants across B.C. no longer divided between CGA, CA, CMA designations after CPA Act given royal assent 

Richard Rees, CEO of Chartered Professional Accountants of BC

A glance at the different accounting designations in B.C. is likely to conjure up images of alphabet soup as letters and initials swirl together in seemingly random patterns – CGA, CA, CMA and now CPA.

“Many of the major countries around the world are represented by a single body,” said Richard Rees, CEO of Chartered Professional Accountants of BC (CPABC).

While Canada has certified general accountants (CGA), chartered accountants (CA) and certified management accountants (CMA), major economic partners like the U.S., the U.K. and Japan have, simply, certified public accountants (CPA).

“Whenever there was the United Nations of accounting and you have three Canadian groups showing up, not necessarily singing from the same song sheet, that diminishes Canada’s presence,” Rees said.

That’s about to change as all three bodies in B.C. prepare to unify under one designation: CPA.

The CPA Act was given royal assent March 25 and is expected to be enacted into law this summer once the government sets a date for proclamation.

Rees said it simply made more sense to adopt a unified designation than to carry on with multiple designations while most other countries had just one.

“It’s inevitable when you have three organizations, all with a very similar mandate, they’d all [function] similarly,” Rees said. “It’s not hard to imagine that there’s quite a bit of duplication.”

The unified designation will create opportunities “to do more and do better,” he said, adding that as accounting and financial regulations became more influenced by international standards, “the distinctiveness of the individual bodies [CGA, CA, CMA] was being eroded.”

In Canada, Quebec took the initiative in 2012 to unite all the accounting bodies in that province under a single designation.

After that new system had been in place for nearly three years in Quebec without any major problems, the B.C.-based bodies began collaborating with each other and the government on a plan to amalgamate.

There were a few ground rules the three bodies first had to agree on.

The first was ensuring that accountants’ rights under the new designation would not be affected.

What would change was the three educational systems, which Rees said underwent major updates to capitalize on the best parts of each designation.

Finally, the accounting bodies all agreed to use the internationally recognized CPA designation as opposed to making everyone adopt one of the existing designations.

“The trouble if you’re giving somebody’s designation to somebody else, that’s just emotionally difficult for some people to accept,” Rees said, adding that everyone will keep their legacy designation as well as get a new one.

For instance, an accountant can hand out business cards that say “Jane Doe, CPA, CGA.”

The next crop of certified accountants, who are set to be the first in B.C. to graduate with the CPA designation later this summer, will have the single designation.

“By having a globally recognized designation with a very strong body, I think that’s going to help every CPA in the country do their job and serve their clients and their employers,” Rees said.