At the meeting of its fall Governing Council, the American Institute of CPAs announced a new initiative aimed at young professionals that will officially be launched later this year.

Focused on the needs of young professionals, the Young CPA Network is designed to reinforce the sustaining value of being a CPA to the AICPA's newest members. While a committee for young CPAs has existed within the institute for a few years, as have such groups existed at the state society level, the new AICPA network will offer resources tailored to the age group such as a Web page and a dedicated newsletter.

"We will help to build a generation of leaders, inspiring the next cadre of students to join our profession," said AICPA Chairwoman Leslie Murphy, noting that the tipping point for young CPAs deciding whether to stay in public accounting seems to be at the five- to seven-year mark.

Murphy has said that within 15 years, three-quarters of the AICPA's membership will be approaching retirement age. Like the institute, many state societies have proudly pointed to the fact that their membership rolls have remained fairly steady even as those rolls increasingly skew "older," with more and more dues payers literally leaving this world as card-carrying members. Death makes for a tough attrition to combat.

After the much publicized shortfall of college students entering the accounting profession, reports out of everywhere are that young people are again excited about entering the profession. Whether it's the demand created at all levels through the trickle-down effect of Sarbanes-Oxley, or part of a cyclical bell curve, statistics from programs such as the AICPA's "Start Here. Go Places." Web site shows that the profession appears to be doing a good job drawing students into the fold.

Last month, the AICPA also unveiled results from a survey that highlighted the disconnect between the low value a worker thinks their employer places on holding the CPA credential, compared with the high esteem an employer actually places on an employee holding the designation.

But the real question for the AICPA, as well as the state societies, is what value a CPA places on holding membership in any CPA organization? If groups are talking about that, they're doing it behind closed doors. The question is every bit as important as converting and keeping accountants as CPAs. And the question of how to convert that crop of CPAs into dues-paying members is even more important to the livelihood of the AICPA and state societies is the.

I have a handful of friends in the profession; all ensconced in jobs at the Big Four firms with at least a handful of years experience on their resumes. It's fair to say they're all concerned with establishing their path on the track to making partner. All of them are CPAs. One of them belongs to the AICPA. None of them belong to their state societies.

The AICPA and state societies need to come up with a better and more unique selling proposition to young CPAs. Discounted CPE credit and glossy reference materials alone aren't going to be enough anymore. The Internet has changed how much of what were value-added propositions in the past are viewed as humdrum offerings today.

The Young CPA Network sounds like a good start to offering something unique. On its face, it stands out as having the potential to communicate a very important message, that the voice and needs of young CPAs are important to a huge trade organization like the AICPA. But when the network is rolled out in its entirety, it needs to include an emphasis on the one thing important to every person who's just entering the profession and looking at the long path to partner -- networking opportunities.

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