Being a CPA Is So Cool
Preparing the accounting industry for this increased popularity.
November 2, 2009
Although the Web site startheregoplaces.com was created to promote what a diverse and exciting group accountants are, the rising popularity of CPAs comes primarily from the growing financial anxiety on the minds of most Americans. An AICPA/Harris Interactive Survey shows that concerns about the economy that developed over several years reached a nearly universal level. Half of those employed are concerned about losing their job and two-thirds of adult Americans have reduced spending. In this worrisome economic environment, the public increasingly turns to accountants as a trusted source of financial information and referrals.
This shocking financial and economic crisis created a public trust crisis impacting mortgage brokers, regulators, bankers, credit rating agencies and financial advisors, among others. Of course, one word epitomizes the widespread trust crisis: Madoff. Unlike the burst of the IT bubble in the early 2000s, CPAs have not been associated with the causes of current financial woes. Consequently, the trust placed in the accounting profession stands particularly tall compared to other blemished professionals.
The welcome you receive when you introduce yourself as a CPA may already have increased noticeably. Of course, tax practitioners or not, CPAs are often greeted with tax questions from acquaintances, friends and relatives. But the enthusiasm, the broad scope of financial questions and the recurring lunch invitations from financial professionals are all new and different.
In addition to growing our lunch appetite, there are several ways to prepare for this increased popularity. Financial planning practitioners or not, CPAs should be ready to live up to the new cool and public expectations the credential confers on them. Indeed, with great cool comes great responsibility.
Strategies for Not Being Overwhelmed
To best address the financial concerns directed our way, we can choose between several levels of involvement.
1. Referrals to advisers and resources. This is asked of all of us. To this end, the AICPA Personal Financial Planning Section’s Statements on Responsibilities in Personal Financial Planning Practice provides useful directions: The CPA should become satisfied concerning the professional qualifications and reputation of another adviser before referring the client to that adviser. The Statements also provide due diligence standards: The CPA should consider information such as the following:
- The CPA’s previous experience in working with the adviser;
- The professional certification or license or other recognition of the competence of the adviser in his or her field;
- The reputation and standing of the adviser in the views of the adviser’s peers and others who have worked with the adviser;
- The relationship, if any, of the adviser to the client.
Many online personal finance resources could be pointed out to the public. They notably include consumer content through the AICPA’s PFP Section, including the Financial Decisions Guide: Implementing End-of-Life Decisions, as well as:
- 360financialliteracy.org from our own AICPA;
- SmartAboutMoney.org from the National Endowment for Financial Education;
- MyMoney.gov from the government’s Financial Literacy and Education Commission.
2. Consultations. Providing advice related to personal finance is unavoidable for tax practitioners routinely asked about IRAs, education saving and retirement plan rollovers, among many other topics. Such consultations may fall within the “accountant exclusion” and, as such, may not require registration as an investment adviser. However, this exclusion is quite limited and depends on facts and circumstances. Therefore, practitioners providing financial planning advice should be thoroughly familiar with the compliance guidelines. Helpful resources are available from the AICPA PFP Section, including The CPA’s Guide to Investment Adviser Registration, the PFP Practice Portal and Forefield Advisor, a client communication and education suite of articles and presentations written by CPAs and attorneys, as examples.
3. Segmented engagements and broad-based financial planning. CPAs willing to engage more fully in helping the public with their financial concerns will likely seek a supplemental credential to demonstrate their expertise in estate, retirement, tax, risk management and investment planning such as PFS (Personal Financial Specialist) from the AICPA and exclusively available to CPAs. Educational conferences are available to strengthen knowledge in financial planning, including the PFS exam and case study December 7th through 10th outside Dallas, Texas ($2,000 sponsorships are available to cover registration fees and some travel costs) and AICPA’s Advanced Personal Financial Planning Conference January 17th through 20th in Orlando, FL (an all day pre-conference workshop, From Tax Advisor to Wealth Manager: The Road Best Traveled, provides a hands on session in how to integrate financial planning into your tax practice).
4. Financial Literacy. The ultimate answer to the Call of Cool is to emphasize the P in CPA. Any of us can give back to our local groups, schools and communities by volunteering to promote financial literacy. Fundamental and wholesome financial information is not only needed, it is now much sought after. A recent personal finance workshop offered by the California Society of CPAs on the UCSB campus attracted nearly 300 students — twice as many as it did a few months ago. Who ever thought CPAs would be hot on campus? State Societies and the AICPA offer various ways to get involved.
These difficult economic times and our CPA credential give us the opportunity to make an important difference. We can live up to the growing reliance on our guidance by being ready to help the public ease their financial anxiety and strengthen their personal finances. A colleague told me she suspected being a CPA was always cool. Today, we just may have to be called CCPAs!
Jean-Luc Bourdon, CPA, PFS is an advisor with Walpole Financial Advisors, LLC in Goleta, CA. Bourdon volunteers as financial literacy advocate. He also currently serves on the UW-Platteville’s Distance Learning Alumni Advisory Board. Visit the personal financial planning resources at AICPA’s PFP Section. Join the PFP section or to apply to become a PFS Credential holder.