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The evolution of the accounting industry in Cambridge and beyond: The rise of the RPA

Registered Professional Accountant (RPA) designations reflect industry inclusivity and adaptability

The Cambridge area, like many across Canada, has experienced significant shifts in the accounting industry over the past several years. With the landscape of financial services ever-changing, new local firms have begun to emerge, many of which are leveraging the Registered Professional Accountant (RPA) designation to distinguish themselves in a competitive market.

This marks a notable shift in accounting practices and reflects broader trends in the industry towards specialization and the integration of technology in accounting services.

To understand these trends and how the RPA designation has developed in recent years, it is important to understand how the industry has changed over the past decade, starting back in 2014.  It was at this time when three accounting bodies in Canada, the Chartered Accountants (CA), Certified Management Accountants (CMA), and Certified General Accountants (CGA) merged into a single body, the Chartered Professional Accountants (CPA). 

The fourth body at the time was The Society of Professional Accountants of Canada (SPAC), with its Registered Professional Accountant (RPA) and Accredited Professional Accountant (APA) designations. During unification, the SPAC opted not to be involved in merger talks and continued operating as it had been since its inception in 1938.

Following the merger, a unified educational program and entrance regime were implemented for the CPA program.

While the intention was to create a unified designation, unification meant winding down existing programs offered by the legacy bodies, which had been substantially different from one another. This inadvertently led to a reduction in the flexibility of programs available to become an accountant, leaving an apparent gap in the market. Before unification, each designation held a distinct purpose, catering to specific needs. Chartered Accountants were renowned for their expertise in auditing, Certified Management Accountants focused on internal business processes, while Certified General Accountants were capable of handling various accounting domains catering to small to medium-sized businesses.

The creation of the new designation brought about a degree of uniformity. However, the organization recognized the need for a specialized credential for students that did not fit within its rigid educational pathway. To address this gap, the CPA introduced the Advanced Certificate in Accounting and Finance (ACAF) program. The credential stood as an alternative, but ACAF was not itself a designation, and was not widely accepted. The program was abandoned shortly after launch, highlighting the challenge of providing a comprehensive solution for students to whom the old pathways to designation, particularly the flexibility of the CGA program, may have appealed.

In 2019, a renewed player emerged – the Society of Professional Accountants of Canada. The SPAC had been offering its accounting designations APA and RPA since 1938 and 1978 respectively. However, starting in 2019, the RPA designation gained newfound relevance under the leadership of newly elected President and CEO, Mr. Zubair Choudhry, CMA (Australia), RPA, APA. The RPA designation was completely reformed to meet current industry needs and re-focused on small to medium-sized enterprise (SME) accounting.

During reformation, which included broad consultations with industry leaders, the academic community, and employment recruiters, RPA positioned itself as an across-the-board solution to meet the needs of small to medium-sized businesses and provide an alternative to students seeking to become an accountant in Canada. This included both college and university pathways, which was a unique innovation aimed at inclusivity. A modernized, technology-first training and certification program followed, launching in 2020, which has been well received by students and industry alike.

The success of the renewed RPA designation lies in its adaptability and commitment to meeting market demands. RPA professionals operate as management accountants, corporate controllers, or in public practice performing compilation engagement reports on financial statements and related services like tax and advisory. Evolving with industry changes, the SPAC believes its RPA designation complements other market offerings. Notably placing a strong emphasis on technology through digital learning partnerships with McGraw Hill for Mandatory Professional Exam (MPE) preparatory sessions, McMaster University, Sheridan College, and others for prerequisite course delivery, or Continuing Professional Development (CPD) to ensure members are up to date in knowledge.   

In a local context, Cambridge and surrounding areas have witnessed the emergence of several RPA firms, including Green & Company (RPA), Atum Financial Services (RPA), and Renna & Associates (RPA). These firms operate as key players in the local market, embodying the achievement of the model in addressing the diverse needs of clients and professionals alike. 

Green & Company is an example of a prominent RPA firm based in Cambridge that stands at the forefront of this transformation. The firm is technology-forward, a Xero cloud accounting partner and certified advisor, and has embraced the RPA designation, leveraging its unique strengths to offer unparalleled services to its clients. 

Green & Company has become synonymous with innovation, adapting to the changing landscape of accounting with agility and foresight. "The RPA designation has allowed us to tailor our services more closely to the needs of small and medium-sized enterprises, which along with tax services to individuals and trusts comprise our core practice areas," says Jim Green, owner of Green & Company. "Our firm's growth and success are testaments to the value that the RPA designation brings to the profession. It's about understanding the nuances of our clients' businesses and providing solutions that make a real difference."

As the accounting profession in Canada continues to evolve, the success of the modernized RPA program underscores the importance of maintaining diverse pathways to becoming an accountant. This ensures that the profession remains accessible and relevant to a wide range of stakeholders, contributing to the overall health and vibrancy of the Canadian economy.

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This article was sponsored by Green & Company Professional Accountants, a 2023 CambridgeToday Reader Favourite.