Master Accountants

Master Accountants

Contributed by the Indiana CPA Society and the CPA Center of Excellence®


If your company needed to contract an expert – for any kind of project – would you rather partner with someone who has spent a great deal of time in the classroom or someone who has demonstrated mastery of their skill? Most of us would probably want to work with the true expert, regardless of how many times their name has been marked as “present” on attendance rosters.

Fortunately, for those of us in need of a good accountant, the state of Indiana has recently taken some unprecedented steps toward granting license renewal permits to certified public accountants (CPAs) based purely on their knowledge of the subject matter at hand. The Indiana Board of Accountancy made history when it approved competency-based education to count toward CPA license renewal.

This marks the first time in U.S. CPA profession history that competency-based, and not hours-based, education has been permanently approved.

“This is a watershed occasion for the CPA profession not only in Indiana, but nationally as well,” said Indiana CPA Society President & CEO Gary Bolinger, CAE. “While this is a significant first step in reforming the CPA license renewal process, we still have a lot to learn as we go forward to ensure relevant education options for CPAs and protection of the public, and make that education more useful, valuable and relevant not only for the CPAs themselves, but in serving their clients and employers.”

As the Indiana CPA Society explained, “Competency-based learning is a method of education in which participants receive credit by demonstrating the mastery of subject material, instead of by counting hours spent in a classroom. This method also offers other benefits such as flexibility, ability to work at one’s own pace, and personalization. It is learner-focused and viewed as a more effective means of skill development. Continuing professional education in the CPA profession nationwide has been hours-based since becoming required nearly 50 years ago, meaning that education is measured by the number of hours spent in a classroom or webinar.”

Will this Benefit Hoosier Businesses?

Bolinger explained that the increase in mastery of accounting subjects will enable CPAs to better serve companies, and remain current on the specific topics they need to know for their particular role. Given that financial trends change constantly, the new process should keep CPAs up-to-date.

“CPAs have long been highly proficient in many subject areas, both technical and non-technical,” Bolinger said. “But the continuing education model for CPAs is outdated and ineffective in terms of helping CPAs keep up with the ever-changing business environments of their clients and employers. The transformation to a competency-based learning model for CPAs, which will include an emphasis on flexible, on-demand, interactive and collaborative learning methods, will enable CPAs to learn more effectively and efficiently. As a result, CPAs will be even better prepared to provide the valuable business advice they have traditionally been known for.”

What Changes will the New Rules Bring?

Perhaps the most valuable change that the new rules will implement is the broadening of skills and experience that gets evaluated in the licensing process. Before the new rules passed, things like hands-on work, on-the-job training and mentoring were never really encompassed into the approval process – but are nevertheless important elements that make up proficiency. Until recently, experience of this nature has never counted as credit toward CPA license renewal in Indiana.

“In competency-based courses, you must be engaged and participating, which is a higher order of skills than listening to an instructor,” said Jess Halverson Bowyer, Strategist with the INCPAS CPA Center of Excellence. “With these changes, instead of selecting whatever live course fits into their schedule, CPAs will have more flexibility to learn what they need to know when they need to know it.”

The rule proposal adds two new options for obtaining the required ethics education that all CPAs licensed in Indiana must get every three years. The first new option is to take a competency-based course, with completion measured by participation, not the length of time it takes to complete. The second new option is to earn credit for experience serving in a non-compensated ethics capacity for a professional or trade organization. The traditional, four hour classroom course will remain as the third option.

Officials within Indiana’s accounting industry have also expressed a desire to see these changes become implemented on a national level.

“The Indiana Board of Accountancy is proud to be a leader in accepting competency-based education for CPA license renewal, and helping to lay the foundation for what we hope becomes a national movement in the profession,” said John Kane, CPA, CGMA, the chair of the Indiana Board of Accountancy. “The transformation to a competency-based approach is being seen more frequently at the secondary and higher education levels, and now is the time to introduce it to the professional level as well.”

“Using a competency-based approach to ethics education, CPAs will demonstrate that they have both acquired and applied the knowledge they have learned,” Kane added. “This is an important step to ensure that CPAs are prepared to meet the challenges of today and the future that exist due to complexity and specialization, and will enable CPAs to both better serve clients and employers while expanding their roles to help make Indiana businesses more successful.”