The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario has released a controversial, albeit humorous, YouTube video called "Vote Yes" that urges its members to vote in favour of creating a new class of affiliates among CPAs; those from other jurisdictions who are chartered accountants.
Despite humorous overtones, the jingle contains a serious message. At one point, it states: "Instead of being left behind and lonely, we are going to lead the way, which is why we’re having a vote to ratify the bylaws that created a new affiliate membership class, which sets us apart from other accountants who aren’t CAs."
"Clearly, that means ‘we’re better,’ and they want people to continue to know that, even after [the ICAO] merges," said Karim Jamal, a chartered accountant and chair of the accounting department at the University of Alberta. "I think that messaging is fairly clear; the whole thing is done to preserve and restrict the CA name to a certain set of people.
"I guess the [CA] profession is kind of conflicted. On the one hand, they have the provincial bodies talking about unification, and on the other, all the bodies are kind of off on their own track trying to reassure their members they’re the best, and they’re not going to be diluted by these other, ‘less good’ people," he said.
"I am surprised that the Ontario institute would go off track like that. My view had been that once the merger went in, all that legacy stuff about CPA … would get forgotten relatively quickly, and people would just kind of go forward and say they were CPA.
"But now it’s almost like [the ICAO] wants to promote that notion that you can keep your separate kind of signalling."
ICAO spokesman Perry Jensen said the video primarily seeks to clarify the complicated issue of "tagging," which would allow accountants of all stripes — CA, CMA and CGA — to retain those legacy designations with their new chartered professional accountant tag.
"As we know the members of the various accounting bodies have pride in all three of their respective legacy designations; we believe this is the best approach for all concerned."
The jingle also addressed interprovincial mobility agreements, stating that when other provincial CPAs come to Ontario they get instant membership in the ICAO even if they don’t have their CA: "How will our clients know who’s a CA? Our new bylaw is the way," the song goes.
But Jamal suggests the intent of the bylaw is one of labelling the various accounting groups, " ‘and our label is better.’
"On the one hand, they’re trying to say ‘we’re going to join the CPA, so everybody will be a CPA.’ So people who come in as a CPA will be allowed legally to be a CPA and practise in Ontario. All the fights they’ve had for decades with the CGAs over practice rights and things of that sort, they’re not going to have those fights anymore. But they still want to signal to employers that this person is from the CA stream," he said.
The video tells voters: "Want to become a CA in the new CPA so everyone will know you’re still a CA … you worked all those years to earn your CA; it’d be crazy if you just give it away. So vote yes."
Keith Doxsee, a chartered accountant based in Mississauga, believes the message is inconsistent — that "by voting for this bylaw, somehow we’re protecting our CA. I just don’t see that."
He doesn’t believe the video is targeting CGAs or CMAs per se. However, "the notion of protecting the CA is just a pipedream. The goal is to get rid of all the designations … and have one CPA."
Mihir Shah, a Toronto-based chartered accountant, believes the underlying message "has everything to do with opening up to CMAs and CGAs — that’s the problem."
Suggesting that unification is "the whole problem in the first place," Shah goes on to say the ICAO is talking out of both sides of its mouth. "They’re saying ‘vote for this amendment so you can protect your CA.’ But the larger piece they’re missing here in not communicating properly is ‘this is the first step in a larger unification where you’re actually going to lose your CA anyway.’ So you may win the battle, but you’re going to lose the war."
Jamal said organizations that join the unified CPA "should accept the partners they’re joining, and not try and insult them, taunt them, denigrate them or say ‘they’re not as good as us’ kind of thing. It doesn’t make for a good marriage to say ‘I’m better than my partner.’ If they truly feel that the other guys are beneath them or not as good, they shouldn’t join."
Meantime, CGAs can’t help but read between the lines.
"CGAs viewing the video are telling us that they think the video reveals the ICAO’s mindset and demonstrates the ICAO’s intention to continue to differentiate the CA designation — a view which our members see as inconsistent with the concept of a unified accounting profession," said Amy Mulhern, manager of communications at CGA Ontario.
As for artistic merit, the video is not winning rave reviews.
"I thought it was a bit childish, to be honest," said Shah. "It is pretty embarrassing, as a professional organization [with] thousands of members that has been around for 100 years. To come around with something that childish is pretty bad."
Doxsee agreed. "I don’t think it was very professionally done. It didn’t really give a good impression of the profession in my view. Personally, I just think it’s a waste of money."
Jensen disagreed. "Our music video is a humorous way to reach our members through social media and inform them about the importance of our upcoming bylaw amendment vote," he said. "It is one of many communications vehicles being used, and it’s aimed at those members who are not being reached by traditional — print and e-mail — communications.
"We’re surprised that anyone would take offence to such an obviously light-hearted message. While the video plays on the pride CAs have in their designation, there is absolutely no intent to insult any other designation."