The Wirtschaftsprüferordnung [German Law Regulating the Profession of Wirtschaftsprüfer – WPO] sets forth different routes for admission to the profession of Wirtschaftsprüfer:
- Traditionally, candidates need to have a university degree in addition to professional work experience of at least three years, which is extended to four years when the prescribed degree course is shorter than eight semesters.
- Candidates without a university degree may sit the Professional Examination after having worked for at least 10 years in auditing or at least five years as a Steuerberater or vereidigter Buchprüfer. This route is no longer significant in practice.
- Citizens of an European Union Member State or a Treaty Nation in the European Economic Area or of Switzerland may sit an aptitude test, if they have already been approved in other Member States to carry out statutory audits of annual accounts and consolidated accounts.
The typical professional path route – requirements for admission for university graduates
As a prerequisite for admission to sit the examinations for Wirtschaftsprüfer, candidates must have undertaken a specific type of further education (§ [Article] 8 WPO [Wirtschaftsprüferordnung - German Law Regulating the Profession of Wirtschaftsprüfer]) and also have had sufficient practical experience for the exercise of the profession (§9 WPO).
The profession of Wirtschaftsprüfer is an academic profession. The typical educational route includes a course of university studies, preferably in business administration, as well as at least three years' professional experience, which is extended to four years when the prescribed degree course is shorter than eight semesters. The Wirtschaftsprüferordnung [German Law Regulating the Profession of Wirtschaftsprüfer – WPO] does not stipulate any focus on specific subjects. The so-called "faculty reservation" was revoked with the Wirtschaftsprüfungsexamens-Reformgesetz [Public Accountants Examinations (Reform) Act] of 1 January 2004. However, a degree in business administration is still the typical choice, because the profession demands a comprehensive and broad-based knowledge of business administration.
The subjects covered during the Professional Examination are derived from the occupation itself. Besides auditing, core competences include primarily tax advice and the representation of clients in tax proceedings, as well as services in the capacity of a technical expert and consultant in all areas of business management.
As part of their degree in business administration, numerous universities offer students the chance to specialize in particular areas relevant to the Wirtschaftsprüfer profession. In view of the broad range of work carried out by Wirtschaftsprüfer, different specializations can be helpful. Candidates should use the subject areas pursuant to § [Article] 4 Wirtschaftsprüferprüfungsverordnung [Professional Examination Regulations - WiPrPrüfV] as a means of orientation.
In its Study Guide „Wirtschaftliches Prüfungs- und Treuhandwesen“ [not available in the English language], the Wirtschaftsprüferkammer (WPK) provides an overview of the courses offered by German universities, universities of applied sciences and Berufsakademien [tertiary educational institutes providing non-academic vocational training] on auditing related subjects.
Practical work experience provides young Wirtschaftsprüfer with the occupational skills that cannot, or cannot yet, be taught as part of a degree course. For example, university degrees are only, to a limited extent, able to impart the knowledge required to carry out a statutory audit in a practical context.
After gaining their degrees, university graduates must provide documentary evidence of their practical experience (work as auditors) totalling at least three years. When the prescribed degree course is shorter than eight semesters this is extended to four years. The work experience must be gained with a person, firm or auditing institution specified in § [Article] 9(1) WPO [Wirtschaftsprüferordnung - German Law Regulating the Profession of Wirtschaftsprüfer].
Certain activities outside auditing can be credited for up to one year. These include, e.g., working for the WPK, IDW, Deutsches Rechnungslegungs-Standards Committee [Accounting Standards Committee of Germany – DRSC], the audit office for accounting or in a Prüfungsverband [Cooperative Audit Association] pursuant to § [Article] 26(2) 2 Kreditwesengesetz [German Banking Law - KWG], but also work as a Steuerberater [German tax advisor] or auditor in a major company. Work experience acquired abroad will also be credited if it was obtained working for a person authorized or appointed as a statutory auditor in the foreign country and if the preconditions for the authority or appointment are significantly equivalent to the relevant provisions of the WPO [Wirtschaftsprüferordnung - German Law Regulating the Profession of Wirtschaftsprüfer]
Each candidate must, for not less than two years, undertake audit work for a person, firm or institution authorized to carry out statutory audits (Wirtschaftsprüfer, Wirtschaftsprüfungsgesellschaften, vereidigte Buchprüfer, Buchprüfungsgesellschaften; audit institutions that employ Wirtschaftsprüfer), and during this period participate predominantly (for not less than 53 weeks) in statutory audits and in drawing up long-form audit reports. This special auditing activity as defined in § [Article] 9(2) WPO [Wirtschaftsprüferordnung - German Law Regulating the Profession of Wirtschaftsprüfer] is intended to ensure appropriate training for candidates wishing to enter the profession, after all, the German legislator has entrusted the performance of statutory audits solely to the profession.
Other qualification routes
The typical education route is via university degree. However, the WPO [Wirtschaftsprüferordnung - German Law Regulating the Profession of Wirtschaftsprüfer] does permit exceptions whereby evidence of defined practical work, supplemented by other professional qualifications, where applicable, can compensate for the absence of a university degree.
The educational route path – Master's degree pursuant to § [Article] 8a WPO [Wirtschaftsprüferordnung - German Law Regulating the Profession of Wirtschaftsprüfer]
Until fairly recently, no university studies in Germany were available which would lead directly to the profession of Wirtschaftsprüfer. The Wirtschaftsprüfungsexamens-Reformgesetz [German Law Reforming the Examination of Wirtschaftsprüfer Candidates] has paved the way for a degree course to train Wirtschaftsprüfer. This degree course is subject to special accreditation.
A master's degree course that has been accredited pursuant to § [Article] 8a WPO [Wirtschaftsprüferordnung - German Law Regulating the Profession of Wirtschaftsprüfer] provides training directed towards working as a Wirtschaftsprüfer. The entrance requirements are a relevant first degree, ideally a bachelor's degree in business administration, at least six months work experience in auditing as well as passing an entrance examination. The two-year master's degree is characterised by a high level of practical orientation. The course content is aimed towards preparing students for work as auditors and the Professional Examination.
Candidates are entitled to sit the Wirtschaftsprüfer Professional Examination upon successful completion of this master's degree programme. Candidates may sit the examinations directly following the completion of their master's degree. The results of the examinations on applied business administration/economics and commercial law sat as part of this degree programme are accredited as equal in the Wirtschaftsprüfer Professional Examination exempting candidates from the corresponding examinations. Thus, the Wirtschaftsprüfer Professional Examination is limited to two subject areas, for which two written examinations and an oral examination are obligatory.
The Wirtschaftsprüfungsexamens-Anrechnungsverordnung (WPAnrV) [Professional Examination Accreditation Regulations] regulates procedural details. The reference framework and the curricula pursuant to the WPAnrV set forth the required content of the master's programme.
An official appointment as a Wirtschaftsprüfer cannot take place immediately such candidates have passed the Professional Examination, because there is a requirement for at least three years' work experience. However, the entire period of work experience gained subsequent to the bachelor's degree having been awarded, is accredited as practical experience.
Preparation for the Professional Examination
Preparation for the Professional Examination usually requires an additional 1 to 2 years of part-time study during the period of practical work experience. Courses are provided by a number of private organizations. Neither the IDW nor the WPK are responsible for determining how such professional programs should be organized or to ensure their relevance and quality.
The IDW Akademie also offers various training courses for candidates that have begun their employment with a member of the profession. These training courses are taken during the period of work experience and concentrate on the key areas that Wirtschaftsprüfer deal with day-to-day: auditing, taxation, business administration and law. These courses aim to review, deepen and extend the basic knowledge candidates have acquired during their university education as well as imparting important practical knowledge.