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.”