In the past year (2019) have you noticed any trends in practice at your firm/organization? For example, changing workloads; challenges in recruitment and retention, training, or promotion; outsourcing of accounting services; staff shortages; or tapping into retirees?
Throughout 2019, our staff in Albany has remained relatively stable with low turnover. As a result, our staff have increased their knowledge bases, and many have stepped up to face the ever-changing audit and tax landscape.
According to the 2019 Rosenberg Survey, there is a huge divide between the age of partners and professional staff. Have you seen the same? Do you think this has an impact on retention?
Yes, there is a significant age gap between the average partner and the average professional staff member. Our firm does not have a mandatory retirement age, which allows our partner talent to continue working as long as they continue to contribute to the growth of the firm. We encourage junior staff to work closely with our more seasoned partners, in the hope that they learn from the wisdom they bring and realize that they will someday be in the same position of having the option to work beyond when other firms would require them to leave. We are focused on the legacy of the firm, and a big part of that legacy lies with the transfer of knowledge from the older partners to the younger professional staff.
We are focused on the legacy of the firm, and a big part of that legacy lies with the transfer of knowledge from the older partners to the younger professional staff.
The 2019 Rosenberg Survey found that the percentage of women partners continues to grow very slowly, especially at large firms. What have you experienced? What explains the challenges the profession faces in achieving greater gender parity? How about racial and ethnic diversity?
Obtaining the rank of partner is based on merit, not race or gender. Professionals are promoted to that level based on skills, knowledge, and abilities. We are fortunate to have such trailblazers in our firm such as Marilyn Pendergast, the first woman president of the NYSSCPA. By having women at the helm, we are setting an example for the next generation of partners to show them that women have a place within our firm leadership. In support of these talented professionals, UHY has a WISE initiative (Women Invested in Success and Excellence) and active participation on the NYSSCPA’s diversity and inclusion committee. These programs allow everyone to focus on the value that professionals of varied backgrounds bring to the table.
According to the survey, revenue per partner and equity per partner are increasing. Leverage (the ratio of professional and administrative staff to partners) seems to impact this. Can you comment on this—do you see burnout and extra work increasing among non-partners? Are you witnessing greater unhappiness or staff turnover?
Staff (both administrative and professional) are the most valuable assets of a public accounting firm. There is no doubt that staff work hard to service clients, and they must be rewarded for it. To help professional staff prevent burnout, added resources and new technology are constantly being evaluated. Time off is encouraged, and special events that allow staff to unwind and relax are made available. One of the biggest factors we are seeing related to turnover is that our younger professional staff are highly mobile and looking to move out of New York state.
Can you weigh in on what you’ve seen in 2019 in terms of new practice areas, new regulation, legislation headaches, and new emerging technologies and practice growth areas?
We work in a profession that has undergone significant changes over the past year, including not-for-profit reporting, tax reform, increased rigor of peer review, lease and revenue recognition discussions, discussions related to blockchain and cryptocurrency, and a world focused on cyber-security. With the constant change in regulation and technology, the younger professional staff are in a unique position to learn at the same time as the partners, giving them the advantage of becoming the go-to experts on specific topics, which can propel their career faster than in a more stagnant period.
What concerns do you have about the professional marketplace? Do you think there has been a dilution of the value of the CPA license?
College graduates have the ability to become CPAs by working under CPAs. This experience no longer needs to be obtained by working in public accounting, but can be gained in private industry, government, or any other form of employment, as long as the individual is under the supervision of a CPA. Consequently, the knowledge base of a historical CPA is different than that of many current CPAs. This isn’t necessarily bad or a dilution of the profession, just different. I’m an attest services CPA, but friends and family ask me various tax questions just because I am a CPA. There just needs to be better public awareness that not all CPAs are tax experts; some CPAs have other expertise.
How would you counsel high school or college students about careers in accounting?
High school is where I discovered accounting and was the foundation of my 35+-year career. As part of my giving back to the community, I chair Capital Region Sponsor-a-Scholar, a college success organization focusing on students from low-income families. Consequently, I frequently have the opportunity to promote the accounting profession to high school students, where I tell them that accounting is the language of business. All students should take accounting classes regardless of their major. Knowing accounting can assist them later in life, as they work to understand their own financial position, stay within a budget, or open their own business. If they find out that they like accounting and decide to make a career out of it, there are many employment opportunities in public accounting, private industry, and the governmental workforce.
Do you find your work satisfying? Valuable? Meaningful?
Absolutely. It is extremely satisfying to help clients through something that they do not have expertise on or may be struggling to resolve. I also receive a sense of self-gratification in being able to give back to the profession and my community, making each a better place for the next generation.
Historically, CPAs were responsible for protecting the public, ensuring the integrity of financial statements for all stakeholders. Do you think this is still the CPA’s role? Is this still a critically important objective?
Protecting the public is certainly one role CPAs play, and it is an important role, especially in the public marketplace. Today’s CPA, however, has many additional roles and responsibilities. Not all CPAs audit or provide attest service on financial statements; CPAs also prepare and ensure compliance with tax laws and regulations, provide business advice as a valued member of management, and consult on complex accounting or business issues. Furthermore, CPAs also have the responsibility to give back to both the profession and community. Regardless of the service provided, CPAs first and foremost must perform their roles in an ethical manner at all times.