Established by Chapter 93-12 of the North Carolina General Statutes, the North Carolina State Board of Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Examiners is an independent, self-funded, occupational licensing board that grants certificates of qualification as certified public accountants (CPAs) to those individuals who meet the statutory requirements. The reliance of the public and the business community on sound financial reporting and advice on business affairs imposes on the accounting profession an obligation to maintain a high standard of technical competence, morality, and integrity. To this end, the Board enforces the rules of professional ethics and conduct to be observed by CPAs in this State.
Use of CPA Title
North Carolina accountancy law allows that anyone can practice public accountancy by paying a minimal privilege license fee to the NC Department of Revenue. However, anyone not licensed by the NC State Board of CPA Examiners or not granted a practice privilege by NCGS 93-10 is restricted to using the title “accountant” while in this State. The exception to this restriction is when an individual residing in this State who is licensed by another jurisdiction wishes to provide a résumé to a prospective employer that individual may use “CPA” or “certified public accountant” on his or her résumé. However, the individual must clearly indicate the jurisdiction in which he or she holds a CPA certificate as well as the status of that certificate if other than active (inactive, lapsed, retired, etc.). Therefore:
- it is unlawful for any person who has not received a certificate of qualification or who has not been granted a practice privilege under GS 93-10 admitting the person to practice as a certified public accountant to assume or use such a title, or to use any words, letters, abbreviations, symbols or other means of identification to indicate that the person using same has been admitted to practice as a certified public accountant.[NCGS 93-3].
- it is unlawful for any firm, copartnership, or association to assume or use the title of certified public accountant, or to use any words, letters, abbreviations, symbols, or other means of identification that the members of the firm, co-partnership, or association have been admitted to practice as CPAs, unless each of the members of the firm, co-partnership, or association have indeed received a certificate of qualification from the Board admitting him or her to practice as a CPA. However, the Board may exempt those persons who do not actually practice or reside in the State of North Carolina from registering and receiving certificates of qualification [NCGS 93-4].
- it is unlawful for any corporation to assume or use the title of certified public accountant, or to use any words, letters, abbreviations, symbols, or other means of identification that such corporation has received a certificate of qualification from the Board admitting it to practice as a CPA [NCGS 93-5].
Selecting a CPA
Because the Board cannot endorse or recommend a specific CPA or CPA firm to consumers, word-of-mouth referrals from individuals who have used the services of a particular CPA or CPA firm may be a good way to select a CPA. However, there are certain steps you should take when selecting a CPA to perform services for you or your company or organization.
- Check the license status in the Board’s database. Specifically, make sure the license is current and active. Note the date the CPA was licensed and the date his or her license expires. Check the date the firm was registered with the Board and if the registration is current and active. The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) operates CPAVerify, a database that provides licensing information on about 97% of licensees in the US and its territories.
- Check whether there have been any enforcement actions against the licensee or CPA firm. If there has been an enforcement action against a CPA or CPA firm by this Board, that information is available under the “public documents” section of the licensee/firm “detail” page. NOTE: You must turn off all pop-up blockers in order to see the full record. CPAVerify may show if enforcement action has been taken by a board of accountancy in another jurisdiction.
- Interview the prospective CPA either by telephone or in person. A common inquiry is, “What type of accounting work do you typically perform?” Compare the CPA’s experience to your service needs.
- Ask about the office hours of the CPA. Is the office open year-round or only during tax season? Inquire if the CPA is available to take telephone inquiries. Ask what type of continuing education the licensee has taken recently.
- If the services you require include either reviewed or audited financial statements, ask the CPA if he or she participates in a peer review or quality review program. Ask for the most recent date a peer review was completed and the result of that peer review. You can check the peer review status of many CPA firms through a database managed by the American Institute of CPAs.
- Consult the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to determine if the CPA or CPA firm is listed with the BBB or if the BBB has a file on the CPA or CPA firm.
After selecting a CPA or CPA firm to perform services for you, but before any work is done by the CPA or CPA firm, make sure you receive a written engagement letter detailing the work to be performed for you, naming the specific employee(s) who will be performing the work (if the work is outsourced, confirming that all private and personal information is secure), and specifying the cost of the services.
Practice of Accounting via the Internet
Although purchasing public accounting services on the Internet is a convenient way to access a broad range of services, it is important to do your research before selecting a practitioner. Because Internet practice involves no face-to-face client contact, it is easy for an unqualified person to masquerade as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). In addition, a practitioner offering public accounting services on the Internet may be physically located anywhere in the world.
The following information should not be construed as an endorsement or recommendation to purchase public accounting services on the Internet. Instead, these tips are offered as consumer protection suggestions for consumers contemplating the selection of an Internet practitioner.
- A practitioner must be licensed as a CPA by the North Carolina State Board of CPA Examiners or have been granted the practice privilege under NCGS 93-10 to provide public accounting services to consumers in North Carolina.
- The Board offers access to its licensee and CPA firm database. The licensee’s name, preferred address, certificate number, certificate status, certificate issuance date, and certificate expiration date are available from the database.
- Disciplinary actions against a CPA or CPA firm are not considered public information unless there is formal action, such as a Notice of Hearing, Consent Order, or Board Order issued by the Board. If an individual or firm has any public record disciplinary action on file with the Board, this information is available through the Board’s database.
- Keep in mind that if you encounter a problem with a CPA who is not licensed by the North Carolina State Board of CPA Examiners or who has not been granted the practice privilege by the Board, the Board may not be able to assist you with a complaint against that practitioner. However, the Board will attempt to provide you with contact information for the appropriate regulatory body. The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) operates CPAVerify, a database that provides licensing information on about 97% of licensees in the US and its territories.
- If you are using the Internet to obtain a directory of CPAs, be aware that a directory listing does not ensure that the practitioner is well-qualified or licensed. You still need to ask the appropriate questions and check the status of the practitioner’s license. Verify that the information about the practitioner or firm is accurate on its website. Is the individual or firm currently licensed? Has the individual or firm ever had its license disciplined in any way? Does the firm provide the same information by telephone as on the Internet? Does the physical address on the Internet match the address you received from the Board? Interview the practitioner by email or by telephone to ensure that he or she can provide the services you need. Inquire about procedures for providing and receiving information. Is the practitioner concerned about timeliness, accuracy, and confidentiality? If you are interested in income tax preparation services, ask if the practitioner can be reached later in the year if you need assistance with an audit. It is of primary importance to make certain that before any work is done by the CPA that you receive an engagement letter or other written documentation that details the work to be performed for you, who will be performing the services, and the cost of the services.
Public Record Disciplinary Action
As a service to the public, the Board has made its public disciplinary action files available to the public. To determine if an individual is, or has been, licensed by the Board as a CPA, or if a firm is, or has been registered with the Board, you may search the Board’s database. If an individual or firm has any public disciplinary action on file with the Board, a link, “Public Documents” will display on the Details page of the individual’s record or the firm’s record. You may view and print the document(s). NOTE: You must turn off all pop-up blockers in order to see the full record.
Filing a Complaint
If you have reason to believe that a CPA or CPA firm has violated a statute or rule governing CPAs including, but not limited to, conviction of a felony; conviction of a crime in which deceit, dishonesty, or fraud is an essential element; fraud or deceit in obtaining a certificate as a CPA; or dishonesty, fraud, or gross negligence in the public practice of accountancy, you may wish to file a complaint with the Board. All persons wishing to file a complaint with the Board (“Complainants”) must file a complaint online or by mail on the Record of Complaint form. The complaint must center on a violation of North Carolina General Statute 93 or the North Carolina Administrative Code, Title 21, including the Rules of Professional Ethics and Conduct. The Board does not intervene in private disputes regarding the amount of a fee charged by a CPA. The Record of Complaint should provide a specific and detailed summary of the complaint, including all evidence in support of the allegations. Please redact all social security numbers, bank account numbers, etc., from supporting documentation.
Once a Complainant files a complaint with the Board, he or she may not later withdraw the complaint; the Board retains the authority and discretion to determine whether the matter may proceed. If the complaint does not center on a violation that is within the Board’s jurisdiction, the Board may close the case without taking further action. In matters where there is a criminal or civil proceeding regarding the same issues, the Board will generally wait until the criminal or civil matter has been resolved before making a final determination regarding the complaint.
Upon receipt, the complaint and evidence are reviewed by the Staff Attorney and the Professional Standards staff to make an initial determination of whether the complaint allegations fall within the Board’s jurisdiction. If the allegations contain issues that are arguably within the Board’s jurisdiction, an initial letter, along with a copy of the complaint in its entirety, is sent to the Respondent (the licensee against whom the complaint is filed) requesting a response to the allegations. Once the reply from the Respondent is received and reviewed, it may be sent back to the Complainant for a response. This investigative process may require additional information and/or evidence from the Complainant, the Respondent, and any related parties.
The parties should not attempt to discuss the case with any member of the Board, either directly or in hypothetical terms. Improper communications with Board members could disqualify them from hearing the case. The parties may communicate with each other after a complaint has been filed in order to attempt to resolve the issues in the complaint. Otherwise, the Board discourages contact between the Complainant and Respondent once a complaint has been filed. If contact occurs and a settlement is reached, be aware that the Board’s investigation will continue until the Board determines that its disciplinary interests have been resolved regarding the alleged violations of the Board’s statutes and rules.
After the Staff Attorney and the Professional Standards staff have gathered information, the matter is referred to the Professional Standards Committee of the Board. The Professional Standards Committee (three members of the Board appointed by the Board president) reviews the complaint and may recommend that additional information be gathered, recommend to the full Board that the case be closed, or recommend that the case continue forward. The Committee does not determine guilt or innocence; it simply reviews the complaint to determine whether the allegations, if supported by competent evidence, would warrant a contested case proceeding. After receiving guidance from the Committee, the Staff Attorney and the Professional Standards staff may approach the Respondent to negotiate a Consent Order for settlement prior to a Hearing. The majority of disciplinary actions are achieved by Consent Order because this allows the Board more options in achieving a balanced resolution. If a settlement cannot be reached, a Public Hearing will be held. The Complainant and other related parties may be requested to appear and testify at the Hearing. Mileage expense will be paid by the Board to witnesses upon their request for reimbursement. After the Hearing, the Board may issue an Order. The Respondent has the option of appealing the Board’s Order to Superior Court.