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Career opportunities for certified public accountants.

Working as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) can be one of the most rewarding and satisfying of all professions that African-Americans collegians can aspire to enter. There are many reasons why a career as a CPA is so appealing to the majority of individuals who choose it.

Professional Appeal

Individual practitioners cite numerous reasons why working as a CPA is so challenging and personally beneficial.

Professional esteem: Becoming a licensed CPA is a mark of significant accomplishment. Having "CPA" behind one's name carries considerable clout in business circles and, generally speaking, fosters the same kind of esteem granted to other professionals like doctors and lawyers.

"Having CPA certification brings instant credibility to the table along with immediate recognition," says Milton Scott, Audit Partner with Arthur Andersen & Co. in Houston.

"Business colleagues are not as likely to doubt your capabilities if they know you have achieved such an important professional distinction," he adds.

Earning potential: CPAs enjoy financial rewards on par with others in professions that have stringent academic and licensing requirements. According to statistics complied by the College Placement Council, the average entry-level salary for accountants in all industries is around $28,000.

Holding a master's degree and/or being certified leverages one's earning curve appreciably. amounts to in actual salary increase depends on a number of factors: type and size of company one works for, geographic market trends, and the individual's work performance and professional potential.

Career leverage: Working successfully as a CPA automatically opens many doors for career advancement. Top jobs in accounting and finance are most often held by CPAs. In particular, CPAs with experience in public accounting are especially sought after for key corporate positions.

Allen Boston, Audit Partner with Ernst & Young in New York, comments: "Even early on, young CPAs in public accounting take on significant levels of responsibility working as members of the client services team. In this respect, they work hand-in-hand with specialists in other areas--such as tax and management consulting--and thus broaden their horizons and experience levels."

Job security: For the most part, CPAs don't face the kind of occupational uncertainty that professionals in some industries face. Whether the economy is strong or weak, the demand for qualified CPAs grows. In fact, in a downturn economy, the expertise that CPA's offer in identifying companies' financial troubles is all the more valuable.

"We're needed in good times and bad times," mentions Beverly Everson-Jones Jones, executive director of the National Association of Black Accountants, a 5,000-member organization.

"Although some specific companies have suffered cutbacks, on the whole our profession has not been hit as hard as other professions. This is due in part to the fact that sharp accountants are business-oriented and can help companies make long-term decisions that will affect their bottomline," she remarks.

Becoming A CPA

What does it take to become a successful CPA? The most important criteria include: outstanding academic background, quality training and mentoring, and professional credentialing.

Academics. Accounting and finance are the most logical majors for anyone aspiring to become a CPA. It is extremely important to excel in the classroom. Achieving a high CPA in one's major (and overall) is expected of those who compete for top entry-level positions.

The well-prepared student will also have a diversified background in other areas, such as computer science, humanities, written/oral communication, and mathematics. Given the move toward a global economy, it's also advisable to have knowledge of international finance and at least one foreign language.

Training. There is no substitute for quality on-the-job training by seasoned professionals who take an interest in one's career. Each company has its own industry specific training for entry-level accountants.

In point of fact, one particular requirement for becoming a CPA involves direct supervision for a number of years by someone who already holds that designation.

Big Six firms, it is widely acknowledged, offer some of the best training within the profession. Training provided by senior accountants, managers, and partners grooms young accountants for quality job performance, and equips them for future career advancement.

Commenting on the advantages of Big Six experience, Milton Scott of Arthur Andersen remarks: "Where else can young professionals be exposed to so many different areas and gain such rapid skill development? Opportunity for supervision after the first year is another attractive feature of Big Six training."

Credentialing. The CPA designation is awarded to accountants who have achieved certification and state licensing. Each state has its own regulations for licensing.

Careers In Accounting, by Gloria L. Gaylord and Glenda E. Ried, is a helpful book that spells out the various state requirements concerning CPA certification.

All states use the four-part Uniform CPA Examination prepared by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. This rigorous (2-1/2) two and one-half day exam covers knowledge of accounting practice, auditing, accounting theory, and business law. Some states also require CPA candidates to pass a separate ethics exam.

Most states have a reciprocity agreement that fully recognizes the certification/licensing a CPA has achieved in another state.

Once certified, a new CPA can look forward to more challenging work and a good future within the profession. Specifically, career options become more numerous once an accountant becomes certified and demonstrates a track record of success.

What It's Like To Work As A CPA

Employment opportunities for CPAs are virtually unlimited. Their skills are needed in non-profit organizations, governmental agencies, college classrooms, public accounting firms, and private industry.

To focus on the wide variety of work experience that CPAs may be involved in, let's spotlight several talented African-American CPAs whose careers appear to be promising.

Marvin Vines works as senior accountant with Deloitte & Touche in Atlanta. He graduated from North Carolina A&T State University in 1990 with a 3.9 GPA and received his CPA license in 1993.

His responsibilities include serving as the liaison between his firm and client companies, primarily in the manufacturing and health care industries. He supervises audit engagements as the in-charge accountant, providing on-the-job guidance to other staff accountants.

Marvin's work as a CPA is challenging in many respects. His assessment: "It's particularly stimulating working in so many different industries and dealing on a direct basis with top-level management at client companies--including CFO, Controller, CEO, etc.," Marvin says.

A typical day for Marvin includes the following activities:

8:30 - Meet with Audit Manager and Audit Partner to discuss status of current engagements.

9:15 - Meet with staff accountants to discuss pertinent details from the meeting with manager and partner.

9:30 - Review workpapers and draft audit report for client.

Noon - Lunch with client's Controller/CFO.

1:30 - Resume work begun in the morning.

3:00 - Prepare, to start new audit engagement with a new client in a different industry

6:15 - Enrichment program/ mentoring at Harlem Boys Club (once a week).

8:00 - Meet with local NABA chapter (once a month.)

Marvin's advice to college students: "Take the CPA exam during your senior year of college. This is probably the best time to pass the exam since all the knowledge is still fresh in your mind."

Jacqueline Dennis, CPA, serves as Manager of Financial Auditing at The Home Insurance Company in New York City. Following her graduation from Pace University in 1983, she began her career with a mid-size public accounting firm in New York, and later worked as supervising senior accountant for KPMG Peat Marwick.

Her job responsibilities include planning, coordinating, and reviewing operational and financial audits of various departments and company subsidiaries. In addition to supervising a small staff, she interfaces with senior management and recommends improvements to the company's systems of internal controls.

Jacqueline appreciates launching her career with a Big Six firm. "Working with a broad base of industries and clients gave me a good perspective on different areas of accounting. I was able to utilize that experience and audit background to move into an internal audit position in the private sector."

Although her job is rewarding in many respects, she is keeping in mind the option of one day going into business for herself.

Her advice to aspiring African American accounting students: "Be open to various accounting career paths as you near graduation. In addition to Big Six positions, also consider small and mid-size public accounting firms, as well as entry-level accounting positions that provide opportunities for certification."

Dewayne Redmon serves as Senior Auditor for Turner Broadcasting System in Atlanta. After graduating from San Jose State University in 1987, he worked in San Francisco for a mid-size accounting firm and later for KPMG Peat Marwick. He became licensed in 1990.

Relocation brought Dewayne to Atlanta, where he joined the audit staff at Coopers & Lybrand and worked several years.

In his current position, he is challenged by a combination of financial and operational responsibilities. "I have a lot of financial experience, but I'm learning operational issues as I go," he says.

Part of Dewayne's job satisfaction includes the excitement of working for a worldwide broadcasting corporation. Travel takes him to places like London, Paris, and Amsterdam to work with the many operating units of TBS.

He offers two points of advice to college students: "The Big Six is the best place to start an accounting career even if it's not your long-term goal to stay in public accounting." Secondly, "Maintain a high GPA and be involved in professional organizations like NABA and Beta Alpha Psi."

Collectively, these points of advice encourage students to master the principles of accounting well enough to sit for the CPA exam at the earliest opportunity, in order to explore a many career options as possible, including Big Six exposure.

Building A Business

At some point in time, most aspiring CPAs consider becoming an entrepreneur. They envision this as an attractive alternative to progressing up the ranks toward possible partnership consideration in a large firm.

The experience and counsel of a successful African-American accounting entrepreneur lend insight on the matter.

Mike Bruno is a managing partner of Bruno & Tervalon, the largest African-American owned CPA practice in Louisiana. The firm is ranked in the top twenty of all CPA practices in New Orleans, based upon total employees. Clientele ranges from small businesses to large corporations with operating budgets in excess of $300 million.

Bruno received his accounting degree from Southern University in New Orleans in 1971. He worked his way through school and was married with a son in his last year. Upon graduating, he became the first African-American hired on the professional staff on a Big Six firm in Jackson, Mississippi.

His work specialized in auditing federally funded programs and nonprofit organizations. Later on, he joined a minority owned firm in Memphis, where he gained considerable experience in auditing colleges and universities.

In 1977, Bruno returned to New Orleans to work as audit manager for the largest African-American owned CPA firm in Louisiana. (The firm's managing partner had been Bruno's former accounting instructor at Southern University in New Orleans.) A year later, Mike had the opportunity to buy the firm, which then only had six employees. Today, the staff of 26 includes 11 CPAs.

Building a business certainly has its positive and negative features. Bruno comments: "The most positive aspect of my being self-employed is making employment and career opportunities available to other African-American accountants, as well as being in control of my own economic well-being."

On the negative side of the ledger, Mike mentions the tremendous time commitment involved in growing a business during its formative years. One trade-off to monetary reward is the loss of quality time with family

Balancing a heavy work load with family obligations is absolutely essential for successful entrepreneurship. His advice to students thinking about starting their own accounting business some day: "Three things: Determine whether or not you truly think owning an accounting business is for you. Prepare a business plan as part of a class project. Gain a good understanding of what the profession entails."

Specifically, he recommends getting certified as a top priority and spending the first five years gaining as much experience and technical knowledge as possible. In addition, update the business plan every year.

Should there be ownership potential where you are, explore that option fully. "The days of the one-man accounting business are practically gone forever," he cautions.

Professional Networking

Success for CPAs depends on more than a good education, thorough training, and appropriate credentialing. Another important ingredient is professional networking.

The motto of the National Association of Black Accountants is "Lifting As We Climb," mentions Beverly Everson-Jones. Those who have reached certain heights of accomplishment can reach behind and lend a helping hand to others.

In fulfilling their motto, NABA sponsors career programs through regional student chapters. These programs include recruitment activity by some of the country's top employers--often represented by former or current NABA members.

"Our members represent some of the best and brightest in the profession--individuals who can make opportunity for themselves and for others," says Everson-Jones.

Allen Boston with Ernst & Young echoes this thought. "One of the advantages of networking is broadening your experience base and sharpening your skills. In particular, it's highly beneficial to get specific feedback from more seasoned practitioners concerning their project involvement," he mentions.

"Furthermore, by interacting with professionals in various positions with prominent companies, you will enhance your own career development. The industry movers and shakers have the responsibility and authority to make things happen!, he adds.

For many practitioners, a career as a CPA is exciting, challenging, and financially lucrative. If you prepare yourself appropriately in college to acquire the credentialing and enter the profession, you may one day say the same thing.
COPYRIGHT 1993 IMDiversity, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Bruce, Calvin E.
Publication:The Black Collegian
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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