Accounting as a profession carries a public interest responsibility that also contributes significant value to society. Accounting can also lead one to some amazing careers, such as a Fortune 500 CEO, an FBI agent, or a not-for-profit treasurer. Following are several successful CPAs’ perspectives on their careers and various issues in the profession.
Roderick Harvey, CPA, CVA, had a natural love for numbers and started preparing tax returns at age 15. He went on to serve in the U.S. Navy and earned a master’s degree in accountancy from the University of Texas. Passing the exam was an exciting life event for him; he noted that “unless you do something to get your license revoked, you will die a CPA.” He became an auditor and developed his career at KPMG, where he was involved in many facets of public accounting. He is now a managing partner at HCT Certified Public Accountants and Consultants in Florida.
Technical proficiency and social and analytical skills are critical keys to success for Harvey. As CPAs, he says, “we are the only animal in the jungle who can certify numbers.” He believes people who are not firm in their position or do not document and support their work ultimately get themselves (and the profession) in trouble by trying to please the client.
Harvey goes on to say that the best CPAs have a certain degree of social personality, and this bodes well for millennials with a high level of social awareness. “You’ve got to be able to engage the client, and this helps not only the audit team but also you, as the auditor, to be able to get through the profession, year after year.”
Craig Goodman, CPA, a director in the professional standards group at Marks Paneth LLP, wanted to learn a profession, and accounting fit his personality. He has over three decades of accounting and auditing experience working with domestic and international clients, as well as financial reporting expertise in regulatory compliance.
Technical proficiency and social and analytical skills are critical keys to success.
According to Goodman, a key to success in the profession is to ask for help. He believes new accountants can build on their baseline skills by asking for help. “People who ask for help early on in their careers—those are the people who turn out to be successful,” he said.
Goodman encourages young CPAs to look at the early part of their career as a continuation of their education. While accounting “is an intellectual profession, it also has this hands-on aspect that you can’t avoid: learning how to deal with grey areas. You have to (be able to) see all the differences, all the nuances. And that just comes with time.”
On ethics issues, Goodman urges young CPAs to look to the AICPA’s Code of Professional Conduct for guidance, saying, “reading and understanding the Code gives a lot of insight into why accountants are trusted and relied on by the public.”
Goodman also believes that “accounting is applicable to many different organizations, practice areas, and geographical locations.” The skills are transferable, and he urges frustrated young CPAs to “try something different. Don’t blame the profession. Maybe it’s just the place of employment or the department.”
Cynthia Scarinci, CPA, an assistant professor of accounting and finance at the College of Staten Island, believes public firms must be open to a cross-training program for new employees. “Students are recruited in a particular area. They accept the position and then find out they are not happy with it. If they start out in tax, they find it difficult to make a switch to audit” without the appropriate training. She advises former students, “If you don’t like tax, try something else!”
This is sound advice. If frustrated, try something else within the profession; the opportunities are endless. According to the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA), as of April 22, 2016, there are 664,532 actively licensed CPAs in the United States. To be counted in this number is a privilege.