Surprise! I am not going to write about AICPA president Barry Melancon's speech in which he called for a "rejuvenated accounting culture" and where CPAs hearken back to their traditional values in order to restore the profession's damaged reputation. Instead I thought I would talk about school parent groups, what was known as the PTA when I was kid eons ago, at a time when Howdy Doody was my idea of reality television. If you are too young to remember who Howdy Doody was, do some research on the Internet and while you're there, check out eBay and see how much a Howdy Doody puppet is now worth.
So what do school parents groups have to do with accountants? Many members of those groups are your clients or potential clients and one of your competitors, American Express Financial Advisors, just pulled off a masterful coup. American Express and PTO Today are working together in presenting College Funding Night as part of a series of School Family Nights. It is described as "a free informational event at schools across the country to help provide parents with the answers they need to plan for college." PTO Today is a national magazine and founder of the PTO Network, both aimed at these parent groups.
College Funding Night is designed to help parents of elementary and middle school children learn about Section 529 college savings plans, Coverdell Savings Accounts, UTMAs, UGMAs, Roth IRAs, and financial aid opportunities. At www.schoolfamilynights.com, parent groups are told how easy it is to host these free college funding nights including the availability of a step-by-step planning guide and professional promotional materials designed to increase attendance. There is also the following statement of assurance on the Web site: "The parent involvement expertise of PTO Today and the high-impact content of our pre-approved partners all in one easy package."
This is some coup for American Express. It will be getting friendly access to a captive audience of potential clients with children at some 80,000 elementary and middle schools throughout the country. These parent nights will be an excellent way for American Express advisors to exhibit their financial planning expertise and, in turn, sell their services and products.
Ultimately, this is the problem that CPAs face. They are in a world of alliances and where the marketing of services is coming to the forefront. To be sure, the competition is fierce. Some accountants can practice and do business as they always have, but many will simply need to adapt and change.
That's where the fine line comes into play. As things change, what should be constant is the role that the accountant plays, which is that of an independent professional advisor applying a set of professional standards and principles, both in practice and perception. This is the brand that the CPA is selling. It is not enough to talk the talk; you also have to walk the walk. CPAs have to make sure they pay attention to both.
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