I started my career with Lybrand, Ross Bros. & Montgomery (LRB&M) in 1952. Back then, life was simpler for CPAs. If you had the credentials, many opportunities were open to you, and you could start your own practice or find employment at a firm as a general practitioner.
After I passed the CPA exam, I volunteered to help prepare the firm’s staff members to effectively pass the exam. When the director of the Comprehensive CPA school passed away, the students and the director’s widow asked me to complete a CPA coaching course that he had been conducting; afterwards, I was asked to take over a CPA review course. My students’ success rate was so high that my review course became one of the largest CPA cram courses in New York. In fact, in my third year, there were so many students that the Fire Department reduced the class size because it violated the fire code.
Complexity and Specialization
It’s far more difficult to be a general practitioner today than it was 50 years ago. It’s impossible for any one person to know all the information required these days at the drop of a hat—you have to specialize. Moreover, clients are not as quick to pay for your advice.
Today, complex legislation like the sarbanes-oxley Act, the Affordable Care Act, the Tangible Property Regulations, and the Net Investment Income Tax all require a higher level of expertise to guide your clients successfully. on the bright side, it’s easier than ever to access information. In the past, you had to write your Congressman to get committee reports; now, you can get any committee report explaining new legislation on the Internet. Although the path is different, success is still about putting in the effort.
The advice that I often give to young people is that when there are major new developments in the profession, especially complicated changes, everybody is on the same starting line. The young professional who gets the jump and masters these new rules can often become a leader in a new specialty. It’s not easy, but the key to success is hard work and persistence.
With specialization comes opportunity. For example, one field that is growing is financial planning. At a recent conference, I asked several attendees how their practices had changed. one woman told me, “I was a small practitioner doing accounting work and preparing 1040s. I added financial planning to my practice, and I’m making more profit from my financial planning practice than I made from my regular accounting and tax work years ago. Today, I wouldn’t have been able to make it without adding financial planning to my practice.”
It’s time for CPAs to adjust and evolve as professionals.
In short, the good old days are gone. It’s time for CPAs to adjust and evolve as professionals.
Editor’s note: It is with great honor that we present Sid Kess, JD, CPA, as this month’s guest editor. Sid graduated from Baruch College (BBA), Harvard Law School (JD), and NYU (LLM), and has taught taxes and accounting to more CPAs than any one individual. He is of counsel to Kostelanetz & Fink, one of the nation’s leading tax controversy law firms. We look forward to Sid joining The CPA Journal in May as column co-editor for Personal Financial Planning.