The New York State Society of CPAs celebrated its new headquarters in Downtown Manhattan this week, with an open house and an official ribbon-cutting.

The society’s new offices, which it has occupied since late July, are at 14 Wall Street, a storied location in New York City history (it was originally the Bankers Trust building, and its top floor was J.P. Morgan’s private apartment), and one that brings the NYSSCPA back close to its roots: Its very first offices after its founding in 1897 were right across the street, at 11 Wall Street.

A return to the past was not the impetus behind the new HQ, however: “What prompted the move, truth be told, was that our lease was coming up,” said the society’s current president, J. Michael Kirkland. When it proved impossible to stay at the old location on 33rd Street and Park Avenue South, Kirkland chaired a task force that looked at more than 30 locations across Manhattan, and ended up focusing downtown for exactly the reasons you’d expect from a CPA society.

“For bang for the buck, Lower Manhattan turned out to be the best for us,” Kirkland said. “Being CPAs, adding up the numbers, it was a no-brainer.”

It wasn’t until after they had chosen 14 Wall Street that staff research uncovered their proximity to their original offices. “It didn’t dawn on me at all,” Kirkland said. “Lo and behold, we’re right across the street from our historic home. So it just turned out that way – it wasn’t planned. But it’s a tremendous event for the society.”

“It was serendipity,” said society executive director Joanne Barry. “When we first started out, I said, ‘I do not want to go downtown.’ … But down here, not only did we get beautiful space, but the price point was something we could not walk away from.” Among other things, the society was awarded a five-year grant of approximately $50,000 a year from the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. to help make the move to the new 34,500-square-foot space happen.

Looking back and looking forward

The Wednesday evening event and ribbon-cutting highlighted the intertwining of the CPA profession and the society with New York history, featuring talks by Michael Miscione, the official historian of the Borough of Manhattan (who explained that the average salary for a CPA in 1897 would have been $2,500) and a Teddy Roosevelt impersonator (Roosevelt was commissioner of police in 1897, when the society was founded). New York State was the first in the country to establish CPA licensure, and the same men who lobbied the state legislature to do so in 1896 went on to found the NYSSCPA the next year.

“The fathers of the profession — they were all men — had the foresight to understand that an association was needed to make sure that this fledgling profession would succeed and expand and grow and become what it is today,” Barry explained.

For all its historic ties, though, the new office is meant to be forward-looking. “If you look at the technology here,” Kirkland said, “from the televisions to the audio-visual to our ability to do webinars – we have our own new studio here – that was also a motivation for the move, because we wanted to deliver more up-to-date training, conferences and events to our members, who are dispersed all across the state. So, to lower their expense, we said, ‘Let’s build out our technology here,’ and through the generosity of our members — you can see our Donor Wall — we were able to build out the technology to do that.”

While the technology and new facilities will make it easier to get the message out to the society’s membership across New York State, Kirkland and Barry are also hoping to use the new offices to draw both current and prospective members in.

“Throughout my time as president, one of the big things I push is membership," Kirkland said. "We’re at just over 29,000 members today, which is the highest it’s been for a few years." He and Barry estimate that there may be as many as 10,000 more CPAs in the state who aren’t members.  “I would truly love to get us up to that number. One of the reasons for this expenditure is to make people comfortable to come down and make use of these facilities. We have our business lounge, which is for all the members. We hope they’ll bring friends and future CPAs along to learn more about us and become members, because we’re only stronger if our numbers grow and we speak with one voice.”

The society made a special point of inviting members from all age groups to attend the celebration, “to show them that 14 Wall Street is their home,” Barry explained. “We need to change to become a more dynamic organization. The young people who are entering the profession view it differently. It’s not just demographics — it’s no longer automatic that you join your professional association when you become certified, so it’s become a challenge for us to attract younger CPAs to become part of the association, and that’s part of tonight.”

Barry has high hopes that the new offices will help with that growth mission: “We moved in at the end of July, and some time in August a member came into our reception area and he just looked around and he said, ‘This is what my professional organization should look like.’ All I need is for members to come down here once, and then they realize what we have down here.”

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