I enjoy what I do and consider myself an expert in my field. I love dealing with the Internal Revenue Service. I love assisting clients and helping them with their problems. I love helping people (proteges) who are interested in the business of becoming a CPA.
I am finding that the pool of proteges is shrinking. In 1993, I thought that by this time (2014) I would have a greater impact on those entering the CPA business. After teaching at UCLA and Becker CPA and training numerous staff midway through my career, it is clear that I am a natural in the area of training. However, to my chagrin, my ability to do such now has been hindered. Why, you ask? The answer is simple: delusion and egos.
The purpose of this article is to share my experience, strength and hope with respect to the business of being a CPA. I currently have 26 years of public accounting experience. I have worked for international, national, regional and local CPA firms. I even worked in my own firm for the better part of 10 years. I started public accounting in 1988 and it took five painstaking years to get my CPA license. During those five years, I ate, drank and slept the business of being a CPA and how to become one. I became a protege to every CPA in the business. I soaked my mind with knowledge. That is the way I roll.
In November 1993, I finally got my wish: I passed the Uniform CPA Exam. My work had finally paid off. Or had it? I then went on to pass the CFP exam and the PFS exam, and obtained a Master's degree in taxation. I also passed the NASD Series 7, 63 and 6 exams. Just last year I was accepted into law school.
This business of being a CPA has generally been very good to me. I went to the first ESPN ESPY Awards as a CPA, I moved from New Jersey to Beverly Hills, and I've done the tax work for professional athletes and movie stars on my own as a CPA.
More specifically, the challenge in today's workplace is catering to the egos of those who aren't credentialed. The classes of non-licensed folks generally fall into two distinct classes. Unfortunately, each class seems to be growing increasingly. One class consists of those matriculated in accounting and studying for the CPA Exam, but not yet certified. Then there are "quasi-professionals" -- those who aren't degreed but have, by virtue of performing in their role, won the accolades of their bosses and are carrying out professional duties.
The challenge with either class of people is that of delusion. The new Millennial degreed accountant isn't as hungry as I was at 25. Not only aren't they as hungry, but since they have been nursed on a smartphone, they seem to equate that to having the requisite knowledge to do my job. Yes, three years of public accounting experience is the new 30!
The new accountants are great at upwards feedback or continually evaluating their mentors (because they are entitled).
However, here is the flaw in my thinking (as any staffer will tell you): In order for me to be a mentor, they have to be a protÃ©gÃ©. However, they are not. When one is not teachable, there is no need to learn. Therefore, in a de facto way, it makes the roles of both protÃ©gÃ© and mentor obsolete.
Now let's touch on the other class of non-credentialed accountants - namely, "quasi-professionals." These are folks who have mastered QuickBooks, payroll tax returns and maybe even compilations. Although technically they are not supposed to be preparing tax returns without supervision, most do because their bosses let them. As a result, these folks are akin to nurses performing plastic surgery.
Let me offer some real-life experiences in public accounting and how they have formed my viewpoint. In one firm, as a tax manager, the head of the bookkeeping department told me "not to ask the bookkeepers questions."
In another firm, I refused to work on a Ponzi-scheming investment partnership for fear it would conflict with my ethical obligations as a CPA. The project was then handed to a non-credentialed accountant QuickBooks advisor who knew how to make a tax return balance. She quickly summary-judged me as "not being a team player." I had to remind her that I was the one who was at risk for losing a license. I couldn't quite figure out if her QuickBooks certificate could be yanked by FINRA.
At the next firm I went to, I was asked to review tax returns. Wow, at last, I could finally get back into doing the work that I enjoy. To my surprise, the staffer whose work I reviewed just kept going to the partner (who passed on all of the review points). The staffer replied to me that she wasn't used to having her work reviewed. Then she had the gall to ask me what supporting regulations I could cite that would support some of the review points I gave her. I had to remind her that it was the Internal Revenue Code, a.k.a. statute, that is the substantial authority, not the regulations (carried out by the U.S. Treasury at the IRS's directive).
In closing, my hope is for the accounting profession to thrive. I believe that in order for this to happen, the degreed accountant has to follow an old adage, "Respect your elders," and be a protege. The quasi-professional needs to follow Clint Eastwood's advice, "A man's got to know his limitations."
So you want to be an accountant? Do it, but be strong and don't be deluded by the delusional.
Stephen Bonick, CPA, CFP, PFS, CGMA, MST, is a CPA in Monterey, Calif.
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