Saturday, 31 May 2008

When You Grow Up . . .

Have you ever been asked to speak to a class of high school seniors about choosing an accounting career? I did it for several years. The lawyer beat me hands down every time. His room would be brimming with kids, where I would be lucky to have a few die hards whose parents were accountants.

Clearly, accounting doesn't have the same excitement as a courtroom drama or suing some mammoth corporation on behalf of an underdog. Yet, at the same time, accounting has been a satisfying and relatively recession proof career for a lot of people. The nice man with the immaculate lawn down the street from me, who just celebrated his fiftieth wedding anniversary, is a retired accountant. I don't think he's had his fifteen minutes of fame, yet he had a long career, raised a family and did a lot of good work for the Presbyterian church. The next time you see a college student eager to sacrifice their soul, working insane hours for a law firm, why don't you mention accounting as a career alternative?

Of course, we tend to shoot ourselves in the foot. It isn't just that there are very few public accounting role models. (Trivia Question: name any famous accountants from popular films or television shows.) It's also that we're not good communicators. Trial lawyers are trained to present persuasively. Accountants seek objectivity. Did you take any communications courses on your way to becoming an accountant? Me neither.

When I was in high school I wanted to be a lawyer too, but I decided to study commerce as good preparation for law school. Looking back on it, I'm glad that I decided not to apply for law school. Specializing in computer technology turned out to be a good career for me. This all came to mind when I saw an announcement by McDonald's Restaurant that they had appointed Dave Simsons, CA, CPA as Vice President, Shared Services and Information Technology.

So, the next time you face those high school students, talk to them about a career in accounting information technology. That'll grab their attention!

(Trivia Answers: "The Accountant" (1989) starring Alfred Molina, the character played by Rick Moranis in "Ghost Busters", the man who wanted to become a lion tamer in the famous Monty Python skit. Any others?)

Monday, 19 May 2008

Too Much Administration?

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) is lobbying to remove the barriers to professional accountants working in multiple states. As they point out,

“Because the electronic age makes conducting business across state borders an everyday occurrence, a national effort is underway to adopt a uniform system that will allow licensed CPAs the ability to provide services across state lines without being subject to unnecessary burdens that do not protect the public interest.”

They go even further and say,

“This provision provides the right balance of trust and public protection. Removing notification is being coupled with automatic jurisdiction. By removing boundaries to practice in the U.S., CPAs will be able to more readily serve individuals and businesses in need of their expertise. At the same time, the state board of accountancy’s ability to discipline under the provision is enhanced and is based on the CPA and the CPA firm’s performance of public accounting services, either physically, electronically or otherwise within a state, rather than restricting the board’s authority to only those holding a state’s license.”

My question is why do we have state boards at all? If our goal is to protect the public, then the focus of the accounting profession needs to be international, not just inter-state. The state boards need to merge with the AICPA and become task forces of a united body, so that we can concentrate our efforts and present a united front. Yes, for historical reasons, the accreditation of CPA’s needs to be done at the state level, but in this age of instant communications, can’t we administer the program centrally?

Canadian Chartered Accountants face the same issue with the same results. We have the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants (CICA) nationally and provincial institutes such as the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario. It just seems to me to be such as waste to have two levels of administration when one would work.

What do you think?

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Nickel 'n Diming

Would you like an iron-clad, guaranteed way of annoying your clients and ensuring they think twice before calling you? A friend was venting this week about the bills he was getting from the firm supporting his accounting system.

"Every time I call them, they bill me for fifteen minutes. I've stopped calling them because I know I'll get an invoice, whether they know the answer to my question or not."

People don't like being "nickeled and dimed", i.e. seeing an invoice filled with little charges. They find it annoying and it leaves them with the feeling that they didn't receive value for their money. It can lead to their going through and questioning every line of every invoice, as well as a loss of trust in the relationship.

Here's an alternative: don't charge for telephone calls. You want your clients to call. In fact, I make a point of telling clients that I don't charge for telephone calls or emails if I can answer a question quickly. If their question is going to take some research time or I need to come on-site, then I'll tell them. That way the client feels in control. I also advise clients to keep a questions folder or error log for issues that are too minor for a special call. If I'm on-site for something else, I can address the smaller issues while I'm there. The result is that I get more focused time with the client and they see value in the consulting charges.

Here's another handy tip: if you can do the work in the client's office without incurring significant charges then make the trip. Even if you have to go out of your way, make an effort to put in at least the occasional appearance and make sure you get around and meet the people you know. You would be amazed the number of times you will hear, "I'm glad you're here. I've been meaning to call you . . . "

You won't miss those nickels and dimes when you can charge whole dollars!

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Help a Young Career

"Here is what you should know if you want to get ahead . . . "

Did anyone ever take you aside and say those words to you? Me neither. Yet it used to happen all the time, back when people stayed in one company long enough that there was time to plan for the future. The older executive would take the new recruit aside and teach them the subjects that they never got in school: how to work within the system, how to form alliances, how to help one another other climb the corporate ladder.

So, what would you advise the bright young professional accountant who has just passed the exams?

I would advise them to join the Board of Directors of a charity. Why? It's not just that there is a crying need for professional accounting in the not-for-profit sector. It's also a fast way to get practical experience working with a Board of Directors. Charity Boards are welcoming. Board members have the patience to help you along. But you need to be strategic:

  1. Choose a charity you believe in. Then it won't feel like work.
  2. As a professional accountant, they will want you to be Treasurer. Accept the position for one term (usually 2 or 3 years) then actively recruit a replacement so you can move to another position and learn new skills.
  3. Make sure you donate money as well as time to the cause. It increases your credibility.
  4. Keep moving up, recruiting a replacement as you go. Always ensure you bring fresh blood into the organization.
  5. Focus on how you can help others and keep relationships active. That's called networking.
Learning New Skills

The broader your skills, the farther you can go in your career. Professional accounting skills are a great base, but if you can add revenue generating experience, such as fundraising or grant proposals, you have a dynamite combination.


Networking is more than just passing your business card around at an event. It's about establishing and maintaining relationships. The best way to build a relationship is to help someone. The second best way is to ask for someone's help. Since there's no way to predict who will be able to help you in future, try to be helpful to a wide variety of people and see what emerges.

Dive In!

Some Board members take a passive role. They read what they are sent and respond. Others take a more active role. They research the organization's needs. They participate in planning. They take an active role in furthering the organization's objectives. That's the kind of Director you need to be.


Charitable work is often called its own reward. That's true, but there is a practical side as well. The issues you face on a charity Board, such as prioritizing resources, dealing with personality conflicts, wading through government filing requirements and forecasting the political future, are exactly the same issues you face on the Board of a for-profit corporation.

So, go get 'em, Tiger! And remember to mention me in your memoirs.