Updated: Accounting’s designation consolidation debate

The remnants of Canada’s legacy accounting professional designations are being taken out of commission in Ontario this year.

Since January 1, Ontario accounting firms have not been allowed to use chartered accountant (CA), certified management accountant (CMA) and certified general accountant (CGA) designations in their titles, and in November new guidelines will govern how accountants use their legacy designations.

The requirement to include legacy designations expires for B.C. CPAs in 2025 as well as in some other western Canadian jurisdictions, including Alberta and Yukon.

In 2015, Canada’s main accounting designations unified under a single banner: chartered professional accountants (CPA). But the profession’s designation consolidation has not been without controversy.

Prior to the designation unification, Canada had a different system for accountants. CAs wrote a more rigorous exam and usually articled with a major accounting firm, which would provide them with the skillsets required to enter public practice or work as external auditors.

CMAs and CGAs were often employed as corporate or managerial accountants.

CGAs and CMAs considered the new consolidated designation to be a fair representation of the profession; many CAs did not.

Since the 2015 accounting designation unification, new students have gone through the same exam process and have been designated as CPAs. That might mean that accountants who received their designations before 2015 will likely use their legacy designations less after 2025 as regulations mandating their use become optional.

Designation unification was suggested for several reasons.

First, there was some overlap in the jobs performed by the three designations, particularly in the western provinces, which were more in favour of unification than Ontario, which is home to 50 per cent of Canada’s accountants.

Second, proponents argued that unification would strengthen Canadian international influence and reputation by creating a larger accounting organization and eliminating confusion for customers, aspiring accountants and their international counterparts.

Designation unification has increased interprovincial and international mobility of accounting designations and eliminated confusion over the previous trio of acronyms.The Chartered Professional Accountants of British Columbia (CPABC) notes that chartered professional accountants in this province are required by law to include their legacy designations. The CPABC adds that the CPA program is designed with the same rigour as the three legacy accounting bodies and has continued to evolve to meet the changing needs of the public and businesses. 

However, Joanne Elek, an executive recruiter, said she believes the standard designation has eliminated some precision elsewhere in the accounting profession, because there used to be a consistency in the quality of accountants that graduated from the CA program. She said it’s now harder to predict the knowledge and skills individual accountants will have. 

A variety of careers can fall under the umbrella term accountant, and Charles Bélanger, business professor at Laurentian University, said the previous designations helped employers find the right person for the right job.