Editor’s Note: On the occasion of The CPA Journal’s 90th anniversary of publication, the editors asked the leadership and members of the Chinese American Society of CPAs (http://www.cascpa.org) to share their reflections on how they became CPAs, how the profession is perceived in their communities, as well as the history and mission of the CASCPA. The following is an edited compilation of their viewpoints.

Ryan Zhang

Who were the early founders of the CASCPA and where are its members from?

The early founders are James Woo, William Wang, Steve Wei, Kurt Li, Frank Lee, and James Yang. They are all from Taiwan and lived in Greater New York. The Society was for med 35 years ago on October 11, 1985. In 1987, the CASCPA was registered as a nonprofit organization.

What was the mission and purpose of the Society? Was it social as well as business and cultural? When did you begin educational programs?

In the 1970s, as a large number of new immigrants moved in, Flushing [Queens] developed a large Taiwanese community. As business developed in this community, the CPA profession quickly grew as well.

The CASCPA was founded to enhance the professional standing of CPAs, to assist members by providing educational, networking, and other practice building and career development opportunities.

The society also reaches out to the community by providing educational programs to teach the general public on how to become better consumers when purchasing services from tax and accounting practitioners.

The society aims to help its members succeed in growing their practices, their skills, and their knowledge base through high-quality CPE seminars, member-to-member networking, and liaising with other CPA societies.

Where did members go to school and get licensed? Where do they do business?

Many members went to local schools, such as Baruch College and Queens College. New immigrants often have had an undergraduate education before they came to the United States and go to school again for an accounting education.

Many members acquired their CPA license in New York, but some moved her after becoming licensed in other states.

Many of our members and their clients do business in both Manhattan Chinatown and Flushing Chinatown. Many Cantonese speaking CPAs gradually joined the Society after its formation.

Steve Wei

In the early years, who were your clients and what type of work did you do? How has that changed?

In the early years, we provided tax services for individual taxpayers, including intern doctors from Asian countries. For commercial tax services for professionals, such as practicing physicians, lawyers, engineers, knitting mills, grocery stores, restaurants, import/export companies, real estate investors, and brokers or sales agents, as well as not-for-profit organizations. Many practitioners provided tax services, and some provided auditing services. Wei, Wei & Co., LLP, has provided auditing services to both governmental organizations and businesses since 1995.

What was the mission and purpose of the CASCPA? Was it social as well as business-oriented? And is it cultural as well?

The society was founded in the belief that promoting the good name of the society will undoubtedly benefit every member in practice. One way to accomplish this objective is to give speeches on income taxes to the general public. The other purpose of the Society is to enhance friendships and professional knowledge among members. This can be achieved through technical seminars for members. I believe that members gain more than they may lose by helping one another, and the Society can best serve as a public forum for this purpose.

Josephine Lam

How did your members know about accounting and who inspired them to become CPAs?

We all know that majoring in accounting offers job security. Almost every company needs an accountant and accountants are the last ones to be laid off during difficult times. Many of us like running our own businesses, and it is relatively easy to start a CPA firm as compared to other businesses. We are mainly self-driven to become CPAs to achieve better self-esteem, social status, and the hope of opening up our own firms one day. Of course, there are others who took the advice of their families to become CPAs to get a stable job.

We are mainly self-driven to become CPAs to acheive better self-esteem, social status, and the hope of opening up our own firms one day.

In Chinese culture, how is the profession of accounting and CPAs perceived – similar to attorneys or similar to physicians?

The Chinese culture typically thinks attorneys, CPAs, and physicians are the three most respected and rewarding professions. Many parents prefer their children to become one of the three in order to succeed in life.

Who were your early clients and what type of work did you do, and how has that changed 35 years later?

I believe the earliest Chinatown CPA firms served mainly restaurant, garment factory, and laundromat clients. Those were the earliest businesses most Chinese started in New York City as first or second generation immigrants. The Chinese CPAs were extremely respected back then due to the limited number of them practicing in Chinatown. Apart from doing bookkeeping and filing taxes for their clients in the old times, I know CPAs also helped their clients perform complex payroll calculations, such as garment factory pay-by-piece work and union-involved paycheck calculation. Sometimes they even helped clients pay bills and wrote checks because majority of them could understand only limited English or no English at all. The clientele is very different now. The new generation Chinese is now more educated and involved in many different professions and businesses. CPA firms nowadays need to be equipped with more and more knowledge and skills to serve their clients’ needs.

Do you interact with your Chinese colleagues in Chinatown? Is language the principal barrier, or are there cultural issues?

Yes we do, but the interaction has become less and less now due to the aging of Chinatown [Manhattan] CPAs. The majority of practicing Chinese CPAs started in Chinatown and most of them are Cantonese speaking. They do not participate in our activities as much as the younger CPAs in Flushing. Most of them are preparing to retire, and language is probably one of the factors as well. Cantonese and Taishanese have been the mainstream Chinese dialects in Chinatown. We have more and more Mandarin-speaking CPAs as CASCPA members, so the trend is changing.

Liren Wei

Can you provide some insight on the current shortage of junior staff? Is it due to citizenship status, immigration issues, or other concerns?

There is no shortage of entry level staff in the form of international students. Once the staff exhaust their OPT, however, they are at the mercy of the H-1B process. If they hit the lottery, they continue to work. If they don’t, they either continue their studies (and hope for more luck next year) or they return to their home country. With regards to domestic or local talent (those with U.S. residency, a green card, or citizenship), the best are usually recruited by the Big Four. Therefore, we typically do not hire locally and gravitate towards international students.

How has your firm (Wei and Wei) grown to be so large?

For those Chinese CPAs with an entrepreneurial spirit, they likely left their former employer because they weren’t making enough money or perhaps disliked reporting to supervisors and not having total control. Entrepreneurial CPAs want to be their own bosses. They will likely remain small. Our firm expanded through significant internal growth and mergers of likeminded CPAs. Even without the mergers, our internal growth accounts for more than 60 professionals. We attribute the internal growth to our attitude of quality before consideration of profitability and specializing in certain practice areas. We are one of the top choices in more than one practice area.

Do you find your work satisfying and what do you find most enjoyable about it?

Endless prospects from different industries and with different service needs find our firm. As a result, I’m constantly exposed to requests for non-traditional accounting services in new industries. This has created an environment for learning, continuous growth, and exposure to unique situations and interesting industries, not only for me but also for our staff. It’s very busy, but I have fun and thoroughly enjoy working.

Interesting work also helps with staff retention. As part of each engagement (audits and advisory), we provide a list of recommendations for improvements in their business, operations, processes, controls, etc. Our fees grow when our clients grow and succeed, a win-win for everyone. We have a rolodex of the professional service providers they will need to accomplish this goal—attorneys, underwriters/bankers, investor relations firms, market makers. They value these resources and benefit from these relationships.

Do you notice any difference in the work ethic culturally between old-line U.S. firms and Chinese firms?

Chinese professionals will always outwork old line (non-Asian) firms. We work hard by nature. However, I’ve noticed changes in attitude over the years. Those that started in the profession decades ago work much harder and are more committed than those individuals entering the profession today. The millennials are definitely looking for more time for themselves. They value personal life much more than prior generations.

Elaine Yue

How did your learn about accounting and who inspired you to become a CPA?

For myself, the reason for choosing accounting is my husband made the decision for me. He heard from his friends that accounting major students can easily find a job after graduation. When I was studying in Queens College, my individual tax professor who is a CPA practitioner as well inspired me to choose the path of a solo practitioner after I received my CPA license. After several years in practice, I believe that my husband made a good decision for my future education when I came to the United States just 10 years ago. I have gained so much from this profession, both from client satisfaction and self-growth in the profession.

You are the current CASCPA president; how and when did you decide to join the society?

I joined the CASCPA in December 2014, at which time I was pregnant with my fourth child and Josephine Lam was the president of the society. After I joined the society, I received so much help from other members. The CASCPA is an organization that encourages us all to contribute and make it a better organization.

Do you notice any difference in work ethic culturally now that you are in Great Neck or even between old-line U.S. firms and Chinese firms?

I think Chinese people have a principle of hard work. Older Chinese professionals work harder because they came here in earlier times and had a difficult time than us who come later. In our society, those colleagues who work seven days a week year-round are the senior CPAs. They get used to that lifestyle. But young professionals assign more value to their personal life, they decide to work six days a week in tax season and five days a week in off season.

At the most recent CASCPA annual dinner there were many colleagues from insurance, investment, and financial services firms—do you share resources?

We share knowledge, training, and educational and client resources with each other. Our CPA members become the refereed CPAs when their clients need a CPA; our associated advisors and agents help our clients as well. Colleagues from insurance, investment, and financial service firms sponsor our CPE events and social events. I think those interactions are win-win activities.