Would a New Name Help Enrolled Agents?

At one time, the National Association of Enrolled Agents thought about changing the name of the “enrolled agent” designation  to something else. After a survey of the general public and of enrolled agents, NAEA ultimately decided to keep the enrolled agent name.

I have some opinions on this topic, and here they are….

As I was writing, I had thought that I could squeeze all of my comments into one blog post. But as regular readers know, I have a tendency to get long-winded and travel down side roads on the way to my main point. So this will be a two- three-part commentary.

Now to my thoughts….

I have written before that

 EAs are saddled with a designation that includes the word “agent” (automatic code word for “Works for the IRS, flee for your lives!”).

(From my article, “Why Are Enrolled Agents So Crabby?”

I have also written that enrolled agents are the “Lichstenstein of the tax world.”

So you would think that I would be in favor of a name change.

But actually, I’m on the fence.

In early 2011, NAEA conducted a member survey in which it asked what alternative names members would find acceptable. I honestly can’t remember what I chose. I think I chose “certified tax practitioner” but I don’t remember for sure.

With the passage of time, I have come to believe that, while the EA designation is not necessarily consumer-friendly (because of the word “agent”), I’m not sure the name is really the problem.

The problem is, no one has heard of us!

I’ll dive into that more deeply in parts 2 and 3. (Part 2 will appear on October 17th 10th.*)

*-I had originally had a different post scheduled for October 10th, with Part 2 set to appear on the 17th. But since this post has proven so popular and gotten so much response, I am moving Part 2 up to October 10th and bumping the “other story” to some other time.

Image courtesy of sixninepixels / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“This blog post, along with comments that may follow, should not be considered tax advice. Before you make final tax or financial decisions, please secure a professional tax advisor to give you advice about your unique situation. To secure Jason as your accountant, please click on the ‘Services’ link at the top of the page.”

6 Responses to “Would a New Name Help Enrolled Agents?”

  1. Dave Fazio October 3, 2012 at 10:21 am #

    I agree the name is “clunky” and somewhat nondescript but after being an EA for 10 years I didn’t like any of the name changes NAEA was proposing. NAEA has been making some headway with the IRS, challenging them to reword papers that read “…Certified Public Accountants, Attorneys and others” to make sure that EAs are not pushed to the sidelines.

    I don’t see RTPs as a threat, as my clients know that if they run into issues down the road that an EA can not only represent them in an audit, but represent them before Collections and Appeals.

    RTPs can’t negotiate payment plans, appeal audit results, attend a Collection Due Process Hearing, get a lien/levy released or put clients accounts in “currently not collectible” status. That privilige is reserved for the few…the proud…the Enrolled Agents (and others) :-)

    • Jason Dinesen October 3, 2012 at 10:55 am #

      I love that tagline!

      I agree that NAEA has made progress. I used to be critical of NAEA for not doing more to promote the EA “brand” but I think they have heard the complaints of members and are doing better lately about public awareness.

      I also agree about not seeing RTRPs as a threat. Maybe it’s different elsewhere, but I have heard ZERO buzz about the RTRP designation here in central Iowa.

  2. william October 4, 2012 at 4:05 pm #

    I agree that the professional credential “Enrolled Agent” ought to be re-named. I remember reading something awhile back, apparently Karen Hawkins of OPR asked the NAEA if we all wanted to change our name to something else, and if so now would be a good time since she was going to implement “registered tax return preparers” as a new credential. That’s when NAEA conducted their survey and decided just to keep the status quo. Only a few problems here. I never got the survey (I’m an EA but wasn’t a member of the NAEA at the time), and there’s a good chunk of EAs who aren’t members either, and so their voice was never represented in the survey. Hawkins could have asked EAs directly, but chose to go to NAEA instead. In any event, I will focus on the core issue. “Enrolled agent” is bland, uninformative, and non-descriptive. It does not communicate what the person’s skills and expertise is. The credential requires explaining what we do and how we’re different than CPAs. That communication effort is wasted time when we could be communicating instead about who the client is and getting to know them. I’m not a marketing guru, so I don’t have any clever suggestions for what name should replace “enrolled agent”. I suggest that OPR exercise its regulatory authority to change “enrolled agent” to a much more tax-specific name. I think OPR should do this quite apart from what NAEA headquarters thinks. In particular, I would call for OPR to ask EAs directly (perhaps when renewing our PTINs?) and additionally, I would call for NAEA to revisit this issue and come up with a plan (over time) to whittle down the list of possible names to two or three that we could all vote on. Failure to do this means NAEA isn’t being representing our interest effectively before the Feds. If we cannot represent ourselves before the IRS, what business do we have representing our clients?

    Some immediate web pages I found on the topic:

    http://www.taxalmanac.org/index.php/Discussion:New_designation_for_Enrolled_Agent%3F%3F%3F%3F
    http://www.csea.org/resources/news_events/May2011.pdf
    http://www.magnetmail.net/actions/email_web_version.cfm?recipient_id=665097415&message_id=1345956&user_id=NAEA

    • Jason Dinesen October 4, 2012 at 8:19 pm #

      William,

      Good to hear from you! I agree that something more descriptive than “Enrolled Agent” would be ideal. The problem is, unless we have a unified marketing and public education effort, a name change will only do so much. A more-descriptive name would save us the time on educating clients about what our designation means, but I fear we would still be woefully behind other designations if we don’t have NAEA (or whatever the “national organization” would be called after the name change) helping push the designation out to the public.

      Since this post has gotten so much attention and so many comments, I am moving up the publication of Parts 2 and 3. Part 2 will appear next Wednesday the 10th. So … more to come. :)

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