Certified Public Accountants

The accounting profession is highly respected in the business world. In fact, accountants are considered the most trusted professional group in America (What Financial Problems? p.54). Given the amount of education and experience required to receive certification this is an understandable designation. Perhaps so many trust accountants’ expertise because people outside the accounting profession may feel ill-equipped to handle the detailed responsibilities as accountants do.

The certified public accountant (CPA) is the best-known and prominent accounting certification. To become a CPA, a four-part exam is administered nationwide by the AICPA. Although other certification requirements vary from state to state. All four parts must be passed. However, this can be done over time.

Four-part Exam Includes

  • business law and professional responsibilities
  • auditing
  • accounting and reporting-taxation, managerial, governmental, and nonprofit
  • financial accountant and reporting for business enterprises
In addition to the exam, accountants must also work for a certain amount of time in public accounting. However, general accounting experience is sometimes an acceptable substitute. Like other professions, to maintain certification, continuing education is necessary.

The Big Four

CPAs work in both the private and public practice. The largest public accounting firms are known as the “Big Four.” These are international firms offering a wide variety of services. In addition to accounting, they provide consulting services as well. They handled the majority of audits for publicly traded companies.
  • PricewaterhouseCoopers
  • Deloitte & Touche
  • Ernst & Young
  • KPMG
The big four are the giants of the accounting industry. Their annual revenue ranged from $22-29 billion in 2011. Each firm employed between 140,000 and 182,000 employees.  Deloitte & Touche has their headquarters in the United States. Whereas, the other three have their headquarters based in Europe. Even though they may be internationally based, all four have a presence in most major U.S. cities.