Many CPAs find field unprofitable

Five years ago, accountants were so excited about the prospects for personal financial planning that the Journal of Accountancy, the monthly magazine for the accounting profession, ran a cover showing a luxury liner named "Financial Planning" pulling into port.

Today, "for a lot of accountants that luxury liner has sunk," Lyle Benson, an accountant with Coyne & McClean, Chartered, in Towson, says.


Though accountants by and large have not been involved in the abuses that have plagued other financial planners, neither have they found the instant success that the backers of financial planning once predicted.

When the 300,000-member American Institute of Certified Public Accountants began a division of personal financial planning in 1986, 9,000 accountants signed up. Today, the division has 7,800 members.


There has been no decrease in membership in the Personal Financial Planning Committee of the Maryland Association of Certified Public Accountants, but Mr. Benson, the committee's chairman, estimates that no more than six of the top 25 accounting firms in Baltimore do financial planning these days.

Many accountants found financial planning "too time-consuming. There was a general feeling that it was not cost-efficient," Mr. Benson said. Others refused to devote their time to obtaining specific planning credentials or to marketing their services when they did.

The most controversy, however, centers on efforts to regulate CPAs who, as financial planners, give investment advice.

Last year, for example, a bill was introduced in Congress that would have required financial planners who advise clients on the purchase of stocks, bonds and mutual funds to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The national CPA group vigorously opposed the bill, arguing that CPAs should not be lumped in with other financial advisers because they are already licensed. Accountants also argued that the SEC's requirements that investment advisers submit to unannounced audits, pay a $150 annual fee and make annual reports of their activities would cause a hardship.

The measure died in committee.

The Maryland General Assembly passed a similar measure two years ago. A provision, however, exempts from state regulation financial-planning professionals who don't manage client funds, don't accept commissions and are regulated by another state licensing agency.