by Todd Koch, Partner
Long before I went to college, I knew I wanted to be a CPA. I liked my accounting classes and was fully committed to becoming a Certified Public Accountant. Upon graduating I got a job at JAK, studied for, and passed the exam. However, looking back over 40 years, I am no longer as confident about what a CPA really is. As my role has evolved, I have moved past the boundaries I once used to define a CPA.
CPA: Certified Public Accountant
A CPA is someone who helps people and businesses understand the language of money, in other words, accounting. Be it for taxes or attestation, we help our clients make the best decisions.
As I moved through my career, the initials “CPA” have meant many different things. Along the path, the letters have represented the following:
Cut Paste and Assemble
Part of my job as a young CPA was getting files ready for the next year. This was good training as I learned more about clients and workpapers. But it also could be really boring back in the day when “cut and paste” were not computer keystrokes but involved paper and scissors.
Can’t Pass Again
Passing the CPA exam is an achievement as well as a huge relief. Once you pass you never have to take the exam again! Having to master all the disciplines for an exam, when we only use a portion of them in daily practice, is very difficult.
Continuous Professional Advancement
Continuous studies are a constant for CPAs. While there is a lot of education that CPAs should and must take, you also can choose to specialize in areas that move you along your desired career path. This realization was a critical part of my evolution. I started out studying literally everything: business and individual tax as well as financial statement audits and prequalification reports. Now I lead our tax department, and even though my license allows me to, I no longer sign financial statements because I no longer keep up with that side of the business. Frankly, this is why we have peer review. By not trying to keep up with everything, I have been able to concentrate my studies and develop expertise in a specific area of business, which has made me a better CPA.
Constantly Probing for Answers
Accounting is a language based in numbers. As we look for information to complete our tasks, we have to communicate with clients in a language they can understand, which is not accounting. This means we have to continually rephrase questions, so they are comprehensible to our clients. Sometimes this makes us seem like a Constant Pain in the Anterior to our clients, but over time, as we refine our ability to translate, it becomes easier.
As we enhance our skills, we even learn how to answer our client’s unasked questions. Through this process, we come to understand our clients better and can help them in ways that they did not even imagine.
Critical Problem Analysis
While this has always been a hallmark of CPAs, with experience, the definition of what is “critical” evolves. Early on, I defined critical as tasks on my desk I needed to complete. Later on, I viewed “critical” as achieving the goals of the company, which could include helping the company expand or even facilitating the shutdown of their business.
Complete Professional Advisor
As CPAs, what we do evolves as our relationships, skills, and network evolves. We may be called on to work with other advisors, we may work up normalized earnings, or we may lend a compassionate ear. CPAs are critical to business success because we are many things to many people.
So, what is a CPA? It depends, and that’s the reason why I am proud to be a CPA.
Learn more about being a CPA at JAK by visiting our Careers page.