Bean-counters qualified to assist US companies and expatriates are something of a rare breed in the region, but that could change as the US accounting exam will soon be offered here.
For the first time in its nearly 100-year history, the test to become a certified public accountant (CPA) in the US will be administered outside the country. From August it will be offered in the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Lebanon in response to rising demand from professionals in the region. Japan is the only other country that will be allowed to host the exam.
Previously, people hoping to earn CPA certification were required to fly to the US.
"It's very true that it's more difficult for some people to travel to the US [to take the test], whether it's for cultural reasons or financial reasons," says Ken Bishop, the chief operating officer for the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, which helps oversee the exam. "Bringing the test here [to the UAE] is going to give employment opportunities. It's also going to mean that some of the work that may be done out of the country will be done inside the country."
More than 10,000 candidates travelled to the US last year to sit for the exam - up 22 per cent from 2009. The number of test takers from the UAE has also grown, although an exact figure was not available. "We are seeing a ramping up in the number of applications" from the UAE, says Mr Bishop.
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US companies in the region often want certified accountants to prepare audited financial statements, and individuals seek them out for help with their personal income taxes.
The Abu Dhabi Accountability Authority was one of the first organisations to initiatetalks a few years ago to get the test offered internationally, says Mr Bishop. The discussions resulted in a committee being formed in the US to determine whether to expand the test.
"Bringing the exam to the UAE and the region will contribute tremendously to the improvement and development of this profession," says Riyad al Mubarak, the chairman of the authority. It will also help "develop human capital and train Emirati graduates, specifically our female graduates, who can now sit for the exam here in the UAE", he says.
Citizens and long-term residents of the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Lebanon, as well as Americans living abroad, will now be eligible to take the CPA exam in any of the new locations. Those from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Jordan and Egypt will also be eligible to take the test in one of the Middle Eastern centres.
In the past, companies in the Mena region had access to a limited pool of accountants licensed to file US taxes, and many ended up hiring workers from elsewhere.
"This will help them with their selection of candidates. A lot used to bring expats from abroad," says Ahmed al Salmi, the executive director of the Mena region for Prometric, the testing services company that will provide the exam.
Sitting for the four-part exam in the Mena region is expected to cost between US$1,200 (Dh4,410) and $2,000.