Farm Aid, an event synonymous with Willie Nelson, will visit Connecticut this year on Sept. 28. The event makes me think of the great Willie and Waylon (Jennings) country anthem where each chorus pleads “Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys.” The duo continues their advice with “Let ’em be doctors and lawyers and CPAs.”
Well, all right, they don’t actually sing “and CPAs,” but they should. Here’s why: Parents counseling their children on careers would do well to suggest that of the certified public accountant, as it offers outstanding opportunity, reward and respect. There’s never been a better time than today to be a CPA — except for maybe tomorrow. And it comes down to — you guessed it — the numbers.
First, we need more CPAs. Lots more. Connecticut’s CPA profession is aging. We expect that 75 percent of CPAs will retire over the next 15 years; at the Connecticut Society of Certified Public Accountants (CTCPA) it’s referred to as “The CPA Silver Tsunami.” And yes, it’s tied directly to the national demographic phenomenon of baby boomers qualifying for Medicaid to the tune of 10,000 per day — every day — until 2029, according to the Pew Research Center.
In its 2018 Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance Professionals, Robert Half, a global staffing firm specializing in accounting and finance professionals, reports “There’s high demand for top talent in public accounting due to a severe shortage of skilled candidates.” Their “In-Demand Certifications” list puts CPA at the top.
Nationally, college accounting enrollment remains at an all-time high — 79,524 in 2016 — but the number of new CPA exam candidates for that year was far lower at 48,044. At the same time, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that employment of accountants and auditors is expected to grow faster through 2018 than for all the occupations the bureau tracks.
Some CPA firms now start recruiting accounting majors on campus as early as the students’ sophomore and even freshman years, and certainly by the time they are juniors and seniors, these students know where they’ll land well before they don cap and gown. Not every college grad shares such a bright employment outlook. Hey, even during the 2009 recession, the unemployment rate for the accounting profession was 4.5 percent — equal to full employment.
CPA expertise is in demand, and people are willing to pay for it. CPAs earn 10 to 15 percent more than non-CPA accountants. Recent grads with “up to one year” of experience who are good to very good candidates start at a range of $46,000 to about $55,000 annually; for superstars, that jumps up to the low $70,000s. Senior managers are well into six figures and new partners can earn upward of $250,000 annually and as much as $500,000 or more when you factor in bonuses and other parks.
In addition to the compensation, there are intrinsic rewards, such as respect. Ninety-one percent of business decision makers consider CPAs valuable assets to their organizations. Many CPAs serve as expert members on the various boards of municipal governments, not-for-profits and volunteer organizations, where their fellow board members appreciate the talent those CPAs bring to the table.
Forget the so-very-yesteryear, hackneyed Hollywood image of the pocket-protected number cruncher. Today’s and tomorrow’s CPAs increasingly must understand technology but more so, its application. A recent Deloitte survey showed 21 percent of organizations currently have blockchain in production, with 25 percent more planning to do so in the next year. Artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, data analytics and the so-called “disruptive changes” taking place today and tomorrow will only further heighten demand for CPAs and their analytical skills.
As long as people and their various organizations seek to maximize financial outcomes, manage business performance, make informed investment decisions, plan for their financial futures and comply with local, state, federal, and international rules, regulations and taxes, the CPA will be in demand.
“Mamas, please let your babies grow up to be CPAs…“
Bonnie Stewart is executive director of the Connecticut Society of Certified Public Accountants. The Connecticut Society of CPAs is celebrating more than a century of service to membership and community alike. Formed by nine CPAs in 1908 at New Haven’s Union League Club, today CTCPA has a current membership of almost 6,000 individuals in public practice, business and industry, government, and education. Its function is to advocate on behalf of the accounting profession, foster a professional community among CPAs, and provide continuing education opportunities as well as a comprehensive peer review program and a variety of membership services for CPAs in Connecticut. Stewart can be reached at 860-258-0214 or firstname.lastname@example.org.