The CPA and the Public Accountant
By RALPH S. JOHNS Partner, Chicago Office
Presented before the Annual Meeting of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, San Francisco — October 1959
THE more we study state accountancy laws the more we realize that many of the legislative problems of our profession center on the use of titles. We CPAs regard ourselves as "accountants," but since this is a generic term used by many others in government and private industry, we have no exclusive right to its use. We also regard ourselves
as "auditors." In fact, auditing and particularly the expression of opinions on financial statements are those functions most clearly identified with the public interest. These activities form the basis of our claim to professional status and justify the use of the state's regulatory
authority. But we do not have exclusive claim even to the title "auditor," which may also be assumed by others.
We tend to regard ourselves as "public accountants." But we do not even have an exclusive right to that title. In many states anyone at all may assume the title "public accountant" and may offer to perform any accounting services, including opinion audits, for anyone willing to engage him. These are the so called "permissive" states. In such states accountancy boards exercise no disciplinary control over non-certified public accountants. In the other states "regulatory" laws are in force which restrict the use of the title "public
accountant" to those licensed under the law and which in most cases limit certain accounting activities to licensees. I am told that even in some regulatory states many unlicensed accountants, who art not bound by the board's rules of conduct, tend to hold themselves out as members of organizations of public accountants, thus implying that they are licensed.
The only title that we can really call our own is "certified public accountant." But this is so similar to the other titles that the public is undoubtedly confused over who has demonstrated professional competence
and who has not. We are often confused ourselves by this bewildering array of titles and many of the disagreements and tensions
we have experienced over this knotty problem are basically semantic in origin.
Even the work we do does not have a name which unmistakably marks it as the field of the CPA. I suppose we could call it "certified