How the CPA certification process helps to protect the public

How the CPA certification process helps to protect the public

CPA Alberta understands protecting the public begins well before CPA candidates become designated. The organization works closely with the CPA Western School of Business, which delivers the education program in western Canada, to ensure the structure and curriculum of the CPA Professional Education Program (CPA PEP) sets the bar high for candidates. In doing so, the program ensures that only the most dedicated and competent individuals complete the education program, enter the CPA profession, and provide expertise to various clients and organizations.

The CPA PEP is a two-year graduate-level program with very specific entry requirements, including an undergraduate degree and required prerequisite courses. Delivered on a part-time basis, CPA PEP consists of six modules that are offered using a blended learning model consisting of online, self-study, and classroom learning. It is designed to meet the needs of industry, government, and public practice, and provide candidates with the knowledge and skills to succeed in whatever role or position they take on.

“The CPA Professional Education Program exposes candidates to many business situations that emulate the kind of circumstances they may encounter in their careers, working in any sector,” says Steve Vieweg, CEO of the CPA Western School of Business. “The program provides a space where they can develop their skills and test their knowledge, with experienced professionals to support and guide them along the way.”

In addition to formal education, mandatory mentorship by a CPA, and the three-day Common Final Examination (CFE), CPA candidates must also complete a term of 30 months of relevant practical experience which must be verified or pre-approved by CPA Alberta. The knowledge and competencies gained through practical experience complement those developed through education.

Take Maxim Beaulieu and his CPA mentor, Tyler Bertamini CPA, CMA. Maxim was recently working on his final module, Capstone Two, in preparation for the September 2017 CFE. From the first to the final module in CPA PEP, there is an incremental progression in which the program’s examinations get more and more intense as the competency of candidates increases. The first two core module examinations are only multiple choice, but by the time candidates get to elective modules, multiple choice is dropped and candidates must perform written responses to the cases.

Maxim has enjoyed how the cases have allowed him to practice stepping outside of his comfort zone and beyond his base competence, ultimately preparing him to advise at a more advanced level once he is designated. “University teaches you technical knowledge, but you don’t get much practice understanding how to apply it. In CPA PEP, you learn how to apply technical knowledge because the cases are real-life situations you would encounter,” says Maxim.

“Instead of looking for the one right answer, the one path, and the one calculation you need for the right answer, you learn to consider that a business solution is contingent on many factors, such as what the user really needs and values,” he adds.

The CPA PEP program has also helped Maxim expand on other skills: “The program has pushed my work ethic to the next level. The biggest challenge with CPA PEP is that I’m working full-time while completing the modules. The people I’ve seen who succeed through this program are the ones who adopt methods that will improve their work ethic and time management.”

But even with effective time management and a strong work ethic, Maxim knows he can’t succeed all on his own. When he needs support, Maxim reaches out to his CPA mentor. “Tyler is a great sounding board for me. He provides a lot of strategic coaching and career guidance. I haven’t been down this path before, and so it’s hard to even grasp the potential pitfalls and challenges. Having Tyler to guide me through this process has been invaluable.”

A large part of what has carried Maxim through this demanding program is his resilience and his passion for accounting. “I really enjoy accounting and I know I’m in the right place,” says Maxim. “It’s hard to have a work-life balance while in the CPA PEP program because my main focus outside of work is getting my CPA designation. To get through this, I just have to sacrifice the balance for a bit and realize that it’s temporary, required, and worth it. I’m on the cusp of an exciting time in my career.”

Tyler has seen this amazing passion and work ethic from Maxim and the many other students he’s mentored. “There’s a wide range of students in the program. A lot of them are really impressive individuals who go above and beyond,” says Tyler. “From what I have seen, the standard of the program is really high and the bar is raised. It’s really challenging to pass the exams. They are making candidates earn it.”

Tyler acknowledges he gets a lot out of the mentorship sessions, and, as a bonus, it’s a way for him to keep a pulse on the growth and direction of the accounting profession. “The high standard the profession is holding these candidates to pushes me to keep my game sharp, too,” says Tyler. “It’s a privilege to have this designation and to be a trusted advisor—it’s not supposed to be an easy designation to get. I think CPA members and the general public would agree that this is the kind of expectation for future CPAs that we want to see.”

At qualification, CPA candidates are required to demonstrate:

  • Technical competencies: advanced financial reporting; strategy and governance; management accounting; audit and assurance; finance; and taxation.
  • Enabling competencies: professionalism, ethical behavior, written and oral communication, leadership, problem-solving, and decision making.

The three main things Tyler covers during his mentorship sessions with CPA PEP candidates are:

Professional experience: “Candidates struggle with trying to figure out how they can meet all the competencies for the practical experience requirements. I start out by reviewing the competency map with them to determine which of the competencies are currently being obtained. Then we brainstorm ways to expand their existing job duties so they can meet the competencies they are missing.”

General career guidance: “It’s a chance for them to talk about anything they want. They can ask any question, like ‘how do I resolve this challenge at work? What should I expect as a CPA? How much money will I make? What kind of job opportunities do I have?’ Sometimes they want to discuss things like long-term career planning, which they can’t necessarily talk to their current employer about.”

Choosing an accounting focus: “In the program, students get to pick two electives between assurance, finance, performance management, and taxation. This choice can determine their career path. I offer advice and insight about the electives and discuss what kind of roles they would be best suited for. I make an effort to get to know them individually to understand their values and what motivates them.”


This article appeared in the Fall 2017 Issue of Dividends Magazine by Natasha Constantin 

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