insight magazine

Have CPA, Will Travel

The CPA credential is a ticket to wherever you want your career to take you. So, where will you go? By Deb Rood, CPA, MST | Spring 2024

In hindsight, I think I was destined to be a certified public accountant (CPA). My dad was an accountant and owned a small practice. My first job—at 8 years old and for the lofty sum of $5 per month—was sorting checks to help the bookkeepers balance client bank accounts. My dad continued to employ me through my teenage years, but I graduated from check sorting to data input for compilations and tax preparation. Thankfully, my pay increased as well. While I appreciated the work, I didn’t anticipate following in my father’s footsteps—until I took a bookkeeping class in high school and realized I found it easy while others really struggled. So, I headed off to Northern Illinois University to earn my accounting degree.

If you noticed, I said my dad was an accountant, not a CPA. After being in business for several years, one of his client’s bankers told him that they’d be unable to continue accepting his compiled financial statements unless he obtained his CPA. So, despite being a busy professional with a young family at home, he took a CPA exam review class at night, studied on the weekend, and was able to pass the exam successfully. Seeing the emphasis placed on the CPA credential, and the possible consequences of not having it, I prioritized earning my CPA upon graduation.

The job market was tough when I graduated, so I took the job I was offered—a glamorous gig that involved reviewing small business insurance claims related to fires, hurricanes, and other disasters. Often, we’d tell a small business owner that their accident wasn’t as serious as they claimed and reduced, sometimes greatly, the amount of their insurance reimbursement. That wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to help small businesses like my dad did. Therefore, I made the best of this first job and used it as a steppingstone to become what I wanted to be—a tax specialist.

A couple of steps later, I reached a destination where I stayed for almost 20 years, building a successful practice that specialized in state and local taxes along the way. After mentoring several individuals to carry on in my absence, I was ready for a new challenge, which led to my current position at CNA Insurance, where I advise CPAs in public practice about the professional liability risks of providing services and how to mitigate them. Even though I’m no longer in public practice and don’t need an active CPA license to meet my job responsibilities, the “CPA” after my name still holds value. I consult with CPAs every day, and being a CPA with experience at firms of all sizes affords me credibility and provides a connection to those with whom I speak.

What also holds value is my involvement with the Illinois CPA Society (ICPAS). My journey with ICPAS began when, to borrow a phrase from our immediate past chairperson, Jonathan Hauser, CPA, I was “tapped on the shoulder” by a colleague and asked to accompany him to an ICPAS State and Local Tax Committee meeting. Twenty-five years later, I’ve served on numerous ICPAS committees and task forces, served the boards of directors for both ICPAS and the CPA Endowment Fund of Illinois, and received a few accolades along the way. I sought to become a board member to further my service to a profession that’s been so good to me and my family for so long.

Unfortunately, our profession, like many, is facing a talent crisis. The number of CPAs leaving the profession vastly outpaces the number entering it. Many students believe there’s little to no reason to obtain the CPA credential unless they’re planning to work in tax or audit. As most CPAs realize, there’s so much more you can do, places you can go, and value to unlock, when you’re a CPA. My goal as ICPAS’ chairperson this year is to demonstrate, through my career and others’, that so many more doors open—and open wider—when you have “CPA” after your name.

As a travel enthusiast, I like to think of the CPA credential as a ticket to wherever you want your career to take you. So, where will you go?

Deb Rood, CPA, MST, is the chairperson of the Illinois CPA Society and the risk control consulting director of CNA Insurance.

Disclaimer: As chairperson of the Illinois CPA Society, the author is an employee of Continental Casualty Company (CNA). As such, CNA does not endorse any coverages, systems, processes, or protocols addressed herein unless they are produced or created by CNA. The views expressed by the author in this Insight column are her own and may not necessarily reflect those of her employer.

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