By Deanna C. White
Before the next generation of CPAs can even begin thinking about getting their younger clients into retirement-planning mode, chances are they'll have to figure out how to get them out of the staggering student loan and credit card debt.
This fall, teams of undergraduate business/accounting students from across the country will be able to test their personal financial planning skills – and take a stab at solving young America's debt dilemma – when they participate in the 2013 AICPA Accounting Competition.
The American Institute of CPAs' (AICPA) fourth annual competition will challenge students to test their personal financial planning skills by helping a fictional, twenty-four-year-old "client", who is saddled with crippling debt and who has come up with an idea for a mobile app focused on live music shows. To make this idea a reality, he needs help from the experts to take control of his finances and pay off his debt – fast.
Since time is of the essence for this imaginary client, competition organizers say, student teams have until 11:59 a.m. ET, September 27, 2013, to submit their entries.
The top three teams in the competition and their advisors will receive a trip package to Washington, DC, to present their case to an executive panel of judges. There, they'll compete for the top award of $10,000. Second place will receive $5,000, and the third-place team will receive $2,500.
The subject of this year's competition is meant to underscore the critical role CPAs serve as financial planners; a role that's especially important at a time when young adults are exiting college with tremendous student loan debt and credit cards maxed to the hilt.
Once again, this year's organizers strove to pick a timely, real-world topic to test the undergraduates' skills, said Rebecca Mahler, AICPA senior manager of Career Research & Student Organizational Partnerships.
"We chose personal financial planning as the topic for this year's competition to expose students to the experience of advising a client on his financial affairs", Mahler said.
The AICPA said this year's competition poses very real questions and scenarios future CPAs will likely face, as more people turn to CPAs to help them navigate a broader array of issues in times of growing financial uncertainty, complexity, and flux.
CPAs who specialize in personal financial planning will be especially valuable in the coming years, according to the AICPA, because they "provide comprehensive advice that takes into account taxes, retirement, investments, estate planning, and risk management." CPAs with the Personal Financial Specialist (PFS) credential in particular have advanced knowledge and experience in this area, according to the AICPA.
"In addition to gaining exposure to in-demand accounting skills, students will have an opportunity to develop their presentation and interview skills while working in a team dynamic – all of which will be extremely useful as they begin their careers", added Mahler.
Students who have participated in a past AICPA Accounting Competition say the competition was an invaluable learning experience that helped them develop their business skills and broaden their personal horizons.
April Crawford, a master's in accounting student at University of Texas – Dallas and captain of the team that won last year's competition, said her team felt the competition allowed them to practice many of the skills that will be critical in their careers as future CPAs, such as basic scheduling and organization, proposal writing, and public speaking in high-pressure situations.
Crawford said the AICPA competition also taught her team how to put their personal platforms aside and work together toward a common goal.
"To do our best as a team, we had to listen openly to other ideas and find ways to compromise", Crawford said. "I feel that all the things I learned in this competition will make me more valuable as a CPA."
Alan Perry, captain of the 2011 winning team from North Carolina State University, said the competition opened his eyes to the diverse career options within the field of accounting.
"My teammates and I gained a lot of practical experience and improved in all of those skill areas with each round of the competition. It was a great way to learn about different career paths and what kind of a career I was seeking", Perry said.
Teams may register and find additional details on the AICPA's ThisWayToCPA website.
All awards are fully funded by the AICPA Foundation.