insight magazine

Growth Perspectives | Spring 2023

The CPA Profession Is Greater Than Its Stereotypes

It’s time to change the narrative—growing the CPA profession will require all of us to redefine our brand, become more diverse, and deepen our skill sets.
Brian Blaha, CPA Growth Partner, Wipfli LLP

Much is being said about the CPA profession’s pipeline problem, lack of diversity, and its strict requirements for entering the field—and just as much is being said about how to fix these issues. I, for one, believe that growing the profession is a good place to start. As the chief growth officer at Wipfli LLP, my focus is always on the top line, so I naturally think about growth a lot—and I believe growth in our profession starts with people aligning to the needs of internal and external clients.

To grow the profession, we need to redefine and enhance the meaning of the three coveted letters that follow our names—CPA—to include a broader set of traits centered on strategy and advisory. With this in mind, I think we’ll need to focus on three key actions: 1) redefining the profession’s overall brand, 2) diversifying the profession, and 3) deepening our communication and advisory skill sets.


Think of all the stereotypes of a CPA: boring, introverted, math wizard, tax code know-it-all, someone who pounds away at a calculator all day while sporting a pocket protector and green eyeshade. Are those even around anymore? You get the picture, and if you’re a CPA, you know there are many more stereotypes that paint us in a less-than-positive light. Are there some CPAs that fit these old stereotypes? Sure, but the CPA profession has been, and always will be, so much more. It’s up to all of us to help the narrative and flip the script so we are seen as a sustainable, vibrant profession for many decades to come.

We’re no longer the profession where a traditional CPA must source the work, staff the work, review the work, bill the work, and ensure the cycle continues. We’re a diverse profession and our clients want us to be curious, anticipatory, consultative, and offer proactive, strategic advice. We’re required to have strong communication and analytical skills and thoroughly understand the industries we serve. Although accounting and finance are intrinsic to our profession, we need to be defined by how we use our expertise in those areas to deliver solutions to complex problems.

The AICPA and its nonpartisan public policy organization, the Center for Audit Quality, recently launched a nationwide campaign, Accounting+, aimed at attracting the next generation of students. The campaign represents the profession’s many options, career paths, diverse skill sets, and flexibility. It’s also aimed at increasing overall diversity within the accounting profession. Overall, I think it’s a great start since part of changing the script of what accounting is requires a change in public perception. However, we can all be working in our own ways to redefine the CPA brand, expose more people to the profession, and find new ways to show that CPAs aren’t what the stereotypes make us all out to be.


Making our profession more open to diverse viewpoints will provide for a larger tent for an expanded employee base to find rewarding careers in. However, being open to diverse viewpoints in and of itself won’t change the profession—it requires thoughtful planning and action.

Many large firms, including Wipfli, have instituted business resource groups (BRGs) or equivalent groups to focus on the needs, challenges, and opportunities of minority and underrepresented groups in the corporate environment. These groups have opened the space for knowledge sharing and dialogue on important issues that have plagued the CPA profession for years. Being curious about others and the challenges they’ve endured can help create common understanding, and learning to be comfortable with the uncomfortable allows us to see each other for the individuals that we are. Sometimes it’s that shared understanding that makes all the difference.

In other cases, diversifying our profession requires more pointed action. One of the easiest things each of us can do is become a mentor. I’ve had the privilege of being a sponsor and ally to many managers and senior managers in a program started by our Women of Wipfli BRG. Through this program, I’ve helped connect employees with others in the firm, supporting them in building their internal and external networks and deepening their understanding of firm economics. For our multicultural BRG, we recognize the challenges some of our employees often face are unique and require different actions. For example, we’re exploring a formal mentorship program for our younger minority employees.

I believe the next phase of our profession’s diversity journey is to shift our efforts externally. We need to create opportunities to better connect with students in high school and college and share our experiences on why accounting is an excellent career choice that opens a world of possibilities for them. When the Illinois CPA Society surveyed thousands of students and young professionals to understand who most influences them in deciding to pursue the CPA credential, the findings presented in “A CPA Pipeline Report: Decoding the Decline” showed that their employers or prospective employers (39%), college professors (33%), and family (27%) carried significant influence. Individual volunteerism, serving as brand ambassadors for the profession, and helping to build private and public partnerships are all going to be critical aspects for us to pursue if we want to make meaningful progress in this area.


Over the last decade, technology has greatly reduced the long list of mundane tasks typically associated with a CPA’s work. By leveraging technology, we’ve been able to gain hours back and deploy them in more meaningful work, providing more value to our clients.

University curriculums have done a great job of preparing CPA candidates for the traditional work they’ll encounter. Yet, a singular focus on the technical aspects of our jobs has left a gap in skill sets necessary to deliver on the CPA value proposition of today. The skills required to be the most trusted and strategic business advisors to our clients are essential—and unique enough that they need their own focus. Without filling those gaps, we risk losing ground to other professions.

We must work together to ensure higher education, professional associations, firms, and corporations are providing the education necessary to serve our profession in the manner our internal and external clients are demanding. Additional focus is needed on increasing our industry expertise, communication skills, and techniques to enhance our advisory capabilities.

To secure our profession’s role in the consulting arena and ensure a holistic approach to the client experience, we need to prepare CPAs to think bigger and more strategically, while utilizing the advances in technology that are allowing them to actually do this.

I think we can all agree that we’re all much more than the stereotypical accounting bookworms so many make us out to be. We’re making progress, but we need to pick up the pace and commit to a concerted effort to change the narrative and make our profession more attractive to a new generation of diverse and talented CPAs. This requires a firm-by-firm approach, along with the help of academia and our partners in innovation. Everyone has to get on board—the CPA profession’s future depends on it.

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