Credentials, Designations and Accreditations: Are They Still Needed?

Credentials, Designations and Accreditations: Are They Still Needed?

When asked to write this article, I thought it was an interesting topic … and it certainly was with all the back-and-forth discussion created by the questions raised on the issue.

What transpired divided itself rather nicely into four areas of thought:

  1. Most feel that credentialing is important, but only certain ones: CPA, MBA and QuickBooks ProAdvisor® being the top ones mentioned.
  2. Those who feel credentialing is not as important believe that your reputation, experience and knowledge are the most important.
  3. It seems that most of those who care about credentialing are the credentialed individuals, themselves, who strive to be the best they can be in whatever role they’re performing for their clients.
  4. Changes in internal and external environments make it necessary to review current credentialing vs. experience/knowledge benchmarks, and perhaps create, update, or retire existing credentials or experience/knowledge benchmarks on an ongoing basis.

Let’s explore each area separately.

Only Certain Credentials are Considered Important

Most everyone who responded felt credentialing is important if you happen to be a CPA, MBA or a Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor. I, myself, am an MBA, Advanced Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor in Desktop and Online, and a member of the Intuit® Trainer/Writer Network (TWN). All of these credentials helped me with exposure through the Find-a-ProAdvisor listing and opportunities to write for the Firm of the Future blog.

Rolette Warren with RG Bookkeeping Services from Binghamton, N.Y. – and also basic certified in QuickBooks® Desktop and Online – feels she loses potential clients because she is not a CPA, but possesses years of experience as a controller and senior accountant, along with holding an associate degree in accounting. Her interactions with potential clients reinforce her perceptions that “they need to pay a CPA because they’re more accredited.”

Veronica Wasek – CEO/Founder of VM Wasek, Blogger-in-Chief of the 5MinuteBookkeeping.com blog from Stafford, Texas, and a fellow member of the TWN – shares this perspective: “Your credentials absolutely matter if you position yourself as an expert. Clients looking to work with experts are interested in your credentials and will also pay a premium to work with you.”

Phyllis Robinson, CEO of Accounting & Tax Paladin in North Georgia – and also Advanced Certified in QuickBooks Online – believes that “as more businesses become AI-based, I think credentials could be one of the ways you stand apart from the machines.”

When asked if clients understand what credentials mean, Mariette Martinez – an EA, professional speaker, national trainer, community leader, Intuit ProConnect℠ Tax Pro Center author blogger and a fellow member of the Intuit TWN – answered “Usually not,” but stresses that “it’s our responsibility to educate them on their importance, so they can engage with the best fit professionals.”

Not as many people feel that bookkeeping credentials, such as the Certified Bookkeeper (CB) designation from the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers (AIPB), are viewed by clients to be of equal importance, but perhaps it has to do with them being not as well known to the general public. For example, even though I possess a National Association for Certified Professional Bookkeepers (NACPB) credential, most everyone I come in contact with seems to care more about my QuickBooks certification because it’s more widely known.

Laura Lincoln with Sound Bookkeeping Services LLC from Cape Cod, Mass., shares that she’s a CB through AIPB, as well as an Advanced Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor. “In the past 10+ years, only one client – a CPA – even commented on my CB. Most were interested in my QuickBooks’ skills. I think credentials are important when first starting out, but lose their importance as time goes on. My CB is up this month and I don’t plan on renewing it.”

Brent Blackburn with Biz Books Cloud LLC in Ogden, Utah, feels that, for him, “The software certifications have helped a lot to attract new clients, but I don’t think the bookkeeping certification would have.”

Reputation and Experience are Considered More Important

It appears that most respondents feel experience trumps all credentials, except perhaps the CPA and QuickBooks ProAdvisor certification. This is definitely true in my case, as many prospects reach out to me via the Find-a-ProAdvisor portal and see my articles on the Firm of the Future blog – but it’s my reputation and experience that sells them.

Mariette Martinez feels that “your title, licenses and/or certifications are secondary to values, work ethic and reputation.”

When asked if credentials are still needed, Phyllis Robinson answered, “Quality credentials can get you in front of the pack, but experience, knowledge and continuing education in your field will be what keeps you in the running.”

Tammy McCartney, founder of Beyond Bookkeeping LLC, in Cadott, Wis., – and basic certified in both QuickBooks Desktop and Online – shares her experience: “For most small businesses, hiring (an accounting professional) still comes down to integrity and continuing education. I think people need to be educated on the different areas of accounting and that certifications do not mean that person performs those services.”

Credentials are Most Important for the Holder

As they strive to be the best they can be in their field and be taken seriously, there were many respondents who feel credentialing is important to themselves. For myself, continuous learning and certifications help grow my confidence as a trainer in Bookkeeping Basics and using QuickBooks.

Jaime Campbell, co-founder and CFO of Tier One Services from Naples, Fla., explains why she obtained the CPA, MBA, CGMA, CTT and MCT designations: “I needed to overcome the perception that a young-looking woman isn’t qualified to help business owners, charge a lot for it, and be treated with dignity and respect.” As a result, she is now a published author of an expert-level book on QuickBooks Enterprise Solutions, has racked up published articles in CPA journals, been quoted in numerous articles and presented CPE for thousands of CPAs.

Megan Genest Tarnow with The Mobius Group in St. Paul, Minn., is a fellow Advanced Certified ProAdvisor on Desktop and QuickBooks Online, a fellow member of the TWN, and also runs the increasingly popular QuickBooks for Nonprofits Facebook group. She discloses that as a “life-long learner,” she seeks certifications “to increase my knowledge, not as ornamentation. I don’t know that clients know to value it, but they benefit from it all the same.” Megan initially held off on acquiring the QuickBooks ProAdvisor advanced certification, but is now glad she went through the process. “I gained a deeper appreciation for what I already knew, while learning new things that would benefit my clients. It increased my respect for all the other ProAdvisors who passed that test – because it’s a bear. It also increased my ties to the ProAdvisor community, which means my clients don’t just have access to what I know; they have access to what all of you know, because I can, and do, reach out when I’m stumped.”

Valerie Gonyea, CPA, an independent controller from Marin County, Calif., as well as an Advanced Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor in Desktop and QuickBooks Online, said, “It helps the person to get the credential with confidence to be able to rely on their training to figure stuff out. Yes, you can still feel this way about your work by all the learning you collect in the daily trenches, but going through the process of achieving the credential is an awesome confidence booster.”

Changes in Our Profession Force Periodic Review and Modification of Credentialing vs. Experience

Many have seen targets shifting with the passage of time, along with technology advances affecting the internal and external environments affecting our profession. This has never been more true than with today’s QuickBooks ProAdvisor program.

Christine Galli, M.Ed. – A fellow Advanced Certified ProAdvisor in Desktop and QuickBooks Online with TrainingInABox.net from Plymouth, Mich., and a fellow member of the Intuit TWN, who provides a history of the ProAdvisor Program, and its evolution with the passage of time and changes in our landscape. “Back in the ‘90s when the ProAdvisor credential first came out, it did not start with a certification. It started out as a ‘sign up and be visible to our users,’” she said. “A few years later, we saw the need to start asking Intuit for a certification to prove credibility. It was a rare and unique position for me to be on that original team of authors. Credentials were born, but later, as is always the case, more advanced players still wanted higher credentials and rightly so.” Christine goes on to drive home the point, “Standing out from a crowd is important. There will always be aspirations within a group to define their skillsets. As you can see, however, the definition and rules change. No longer is the number of years certified an element of rising higher in the ranks. The target changed and these cannot be anticipated. We must pioneer our own way, find our target and be the best at what we do – and that will speak for itself.”

Final Thoughts

Here are some takeaways I came away with from this experience:

  1. The satisfaction we gain in our knowledge as individual practitioners seems to be more important than what the clients ultimately think about credentialing. Even if certification may not be as important to our clients, it is important to many of us in the field to uphold us to a higher standard within ourselves in our community. As practitioners, we should seek to continue our education and learning – especially considering the ever-changing landscape of automation and technology occurring at an increasing rate within our industry.
  2. I love Megan’s story … on many levels, this is my story, too. I didn’t understand the benefits of being certified at all, much less at the advanced levels! But, now that I get it, I realize three important points. First, the process has helped me learn so much. Second, the process has helped me realize how much I still don’t Third, I realize how much I appreciate our professional community in how we help each other succeed and support one other.
  3. Certifications don’t necessarily convey knowledge of bookkeeping principles. Further, the handful of organizations seeking to standardize the bookkeeping profession with providing credentials seem to be failing to communicate the importance of these credentials to the general business community. I feel the most success that’s come from the CPA credential and the QuickBooks ProAdvisor credential is in the marketing and communication that these credentials are important.

P.S.: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that this credentialing vs. non-credentialing topic is quite controversial, having a tendency to push many buttons and offend some individuals. I noticed this truth with some of the interactions from those who responded.

One of our respondents, Valerie Gonyea, was quite diplomatic, so I want to share her comments here: “One thing to be careful of is that those who don’t have a formal education or a credential can be a little sensitive about this. I know because I’ve seen it. As a result, I’m always very careful to acknowledge that there are definitely those who do not have a formal education or credential, but who have learned the ropes very well. You might even recall that there was a comment on your post who said something like “20 years in business and no one has ever asked me about my credentials.”  I try to be very careful not to minimize the accomplishments of my peers.”