Changes to the CPA licensure model are coming

The CPA Evolution initiative will transform the CPA licensure model.

Changes are coming to the CPA licensure model in January 2024.

Aspiring CPAs who are college freshmen in 2020 are expected to be the first to take the overhauled version of the Uniform CPA Examination, which will focus on the evolving skills and competencies required in today’s marketplace.

CPA Evolution, a joint effort by the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) and the AICPA, is transforming the CPA licensure model to better reflect the developing complexity in the marketplace, according to Julia Woislaw, lead manager–CPA Evolution for the AICPA.

“The licensure model overhaul reflects the realities of practice today and aims to produce candidates that have the deep knowledge necessary to perform high-quality work,” she added.

Areas requiring deeper skills and knowledge include critical thinking; professional judgment; problem-solving; understanding systems, controls, and risk; data management and analysis; and performance of System and Organization Controls (SOC) engagements.

Significant subject matter changes. CPA Evolution marks the profession’s most comprehensive changes to CPA licensure in recent memory, according to Daniel J. Dustin, CPA, NASBA vice president, state board relations.

Three areas driving licensure change are growth in the required body of knowledge for newly licensed CPAs, changes to CPAs’ responsibilities, and the need for different skill sets, including the use of technology.

Typically, both the educational components of licensure and the CPA Exam shift organically as the profession evolves, but technology is driving a more rapid progression, Dustin said. 

“We’ve seen more significant changes due to technology in the past four or five years than we’ve seen in a long time,” he continued.

The new licensure model will continue to factor in the traditional foundations of licensure — experience, education, and examination — but it will be based on a core and disciplines approach.

Under this model, all candidates must complete a robust core composed of accounting, auditing, tax, and technology.

In addition, they will be required to choose one of three disciplines in which to demonstrate deeper skills and knowledge. These disciplines are expected to be business analysis and reporting; information systems and controls; and tax compliance and planning.

New skills for new CPAs. The new licensure model will reflect the changing roles of entry-level CPAs.

Newly licensed CPAs traditionally have entered the profession at the ground level, performing such duties as creating schedules, setting up accounts, performing accounting reconciliations, sending audit confirmations, and other entry-level tasks.

Some basic tasks now are being automated, performed by paraprofessionals, or outsourced, Woislaw said. Organizations expect newly licensed CPAs to step into the profession with deeper skill sets in certain areas, such as critical thinking and data analysis.

“Today’s entry-level CPAs are expected to perform procedures that require deeper critical thinking, problem-solving skills, professional judgment, and other responsibilities traditionally assigned to more experienced professionals,” Woislaw said.

To build the new model, NASBA and the AICPA consulted with more than 3,000 stakeholders across the CPA profession, including representatives from state CPA societies, state boards of accountancy, academia, students, and firms of all sizes.

“It has been great to have that level of feedback, which has been very positive so far,” Dustin said.

Familiar format. Despite the overhaul, the number of sections in the exam is not expected to change and the length of the exam is not expected to increase.

“The changes to the exam will be determined through a CPA Exam Practice Analysis, but we expect right now that the exam will continue to be four sections and continue to be no longer than a 16-hour exam,” Woislaw said.

“At the same time, we’ll be working with various education task forces the AICPA will be assembling,” Dustin said.

“The CPA Evolution initiative is a major update that will ensure the profession can continue to meet the needs of organizations, CPAs, and those who use professional services,” he said.

Teri Saylor is a freelance writer based in North Carolina. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, an associate director on the Association’s Magazines and Newsletters team, at

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