CPA Associates International
celebrates 50 years

CPA Associates International, which has more than 150 firms in
70 countries, is celebrating its 50th anniversary. In 1957 three
accounting firms from Los Angeles, Minneapolis and San Francisco
joined together to form the first association of independent firms
in the US. Their objective was to develop an assembly of certified
public accountant firms that had the capacity to offer services
across a broader geographic area, allowing its members to refer
work to fellow members and to exchange ideas that would enable more
efficient operation. The group initially called itself CPA
Affiliates.

After ten years the organisation had grown considerably and had
been renamed CPA Associates (CPAA). The three firms had developed
to 20, including three from outside the US.

Jim Flynn, president of CPA Associates, explained: “It was really
an evolutionary thing. We built a strong committee organisation
over a number of years, which kept us close to our members. This
led to a good decision-making process, which definitely allowed the
organisation to develop and grow in to the association that it is
today.”

Membership benefits

During the first ten years, a number of activities were introduced
for the benefit of the US membership. Volunteers from a series of
member firms assisted the association in handling its affairs and
serving its members, which ultimately led to a decision that
full-time staff would need to be hired.

Flynn commented: “This was a very significant turning point for the
association. Every successful association needs full-time staff and
that is what we needed to truly be effective.”

The initial committees, which included the executive director, soon
developed into the board of directors and committees for
accounting, auditing, taxation, management services, practice
management, personnel and member recruitment.

A decision was made to move the central office from Philadelphia to
an independent office in New York City. “This was a particularly
good move,” Flynn said. “Being the first of its kind in the US, the
association received some considerable attention from the American
Institute of CPAs (AICPA). We were seen as something new and
something different… A group of local firms that wanted to band
together and help compete against other firms, particularly larger
ones that may have had a greater breadth of services.

“The association was also aware of the AICPA and wanted to maintain
a good relationship with it, or even just to have a voice close to
it on behalf of local firms.”

International reach

As more firms join the CPAA, both nationally and internationally,
the association needed to provide additional critical services to
its members. Industry groups were formed, creating bodies of
specialists in various fields. By the end of the 1990s, the
association had grown extensively and had a worldwide membership of
more than 53 firms. This led to another change in name – CPA
Associates became CPA Associates International (CPAAI).

“Our expansion was very unique,” Flynn said. “We expanded by one
firm at a time. Year by year, we’ve grown internally and this has
allowed us to introduce new members, thus get to know them all.
This is very important. The personal relationships that our members
have with each other is also an important component. Being market
exclusive, our members open up with each other on a global level
and help each other out. We are a very close-knit group.”

Half a century since its inception, the CPAAI has achieved more
success than it believed possible. It now provides members with a
full complement of services and resources including educational
programmes, member networking tools, management and marketing
support, practice consultants and firm assistance programmes. Its
biggest achievement is membership: the 151 member firms span
Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and
North America.

Flynn is adamant that the future holds even more for the CPAAI. He
said: “As we celebrate this special anniversary year, we realise
that although great progress has been made, we can never be
complacent and must always strive to make sure we are all doing
what we can do to meet the ever-changing practice needs of our
members. We will continue to grow using the same concept as we
always have done – one firm at a time. And we will continue to
strengthen all our regions’ activities as we try and meet changing
needs.”

Melanie White