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Today's CPA

It’s Not Your Dad’s Oldsmobile

When I joined the Illinois CPA Society back in 1998, I thought this must be a pretty staid profession. How wrong I was.
Todd Shapiro ICPAS President & CEO


As I look towards the New Year, I realize that CPAs, more than ever, are performing what used to be called “nontraditional services.” This came to roost in my own home not so long ago with my son, Michael, who was then enrolled in the business school at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. After a fair amount of discussion with the CEO of the Illinois CPA Society (aka dad), Michael decided to major in accounting, though he was unsure about the “traditional” areas of audit and tax. In his junior year, he interviewed for an internship with the Deal Advisory group at a Chicago accounting firm. The rest, as they say, is history. He graduated in May 2014, started working at the firm and passed the final part of the CPA exam this past February.

I write about Michael’s experience not as a parent, but more to highlight the increasing number of CPAs who practice in areas other than audit and tax. In essence, we’re seeing an expansion of consulting services to include areas such as personal financial planning, strategic consulting and outsourced CFO services, to name a few. This phenomenon really shows the power of the credential and solidifies the CPA as the trusted business advisor.

What does this accelerating expansion mean for the profession? In a word, opportunity.

Last year I met with about 25 small firms and sole practitioners over breakfast. One of the things these practitioners brought up was the Society’s radio advertising campaign to promote the profession and the CPA credential. They asked me to talk about not just tax, but also the CPA’s role in providing business counsel. We discussed how consulting was becoming a bigger part of the practice and a very profitable one at that. As has been said throughout history, accounting is the language of business—and CPAs know accounting. It’s a win-win for clients too, since they benefit from the positive growth and management of their businesses.

The expansion of CPA services also helps when it comes to recruiting new, young talent. I’ve seen this firsthand with Michael. The trend is that while there are more accounting majors than ever before, the number of graduates sitting for the CPA exam is flat or declining. Therefore, the more opportunities available outside of traditional services, the greater the chance that young talent will see public accounting as a means to advance their career goals—rather than looking elsewhere for those opportunities.

That said, we can’t take our eyes off audit and tax services, or understate their importance. Countless individuals and companies rely on CPAs for tax preparation and advice; CPAs are the only professionals who can perform financial audits and, as such, they carry the responsibility of protecting the public good.

The expansion of CPA services is just one of the issues we’ll be talking about in 2016. Hot topics extend from the CPA pipeline and diversity and inclusion to ongoing challenges with practice monitoring—and everything in between. You’ll hear more on these in future columns.

On a personal note, I’ve learned that this is a constantly changing profession with new opportunities every day. I am humbled to be the CEO of one of the nation’s leading state CPA societies, charged with the inspiring mission of “Enhancing the Value of the CPA Profession.”

A healthy, joyous and prosperous New Year to you all.