Being a CPA – Is It Worth It?

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Just completed our 7th tax season since I went back into practice full-time.  Perhaps, like you, I am wondering if this was the correct career decision after all.

Yes, there are many advantages to being a CPA, primarily the CPA brand.  As I have explained to students and civilians over the years, people treat you differently when they find out you are a CPA. Our profession is still held in such esteem that it sets you aside from the general populace and gives one a leg up in all sorts of business, and even personal, situations.

Our designation certainly holds a lot more weight than being an MBA, or even a PhD, in a business discipline would. 

The CPA brand has been invaluable in every aspect of my business career from the day I passed the exam.  I have found it easier to get business loans, negotiate contracts, or be respected by almost anyone that has ever come in contact with CPAs or knows of the difficulty of attaining the certification.

However, is public practice worth it?  Is it worth giving up 3+ months of one’s life every year and then spend weeks in recovery?  Is it worth worrying how to pay the bills, keep clients happy, keep your best people motivated – all without a regular, guaranteed paycheck?

We have a lot of retired government employees, from local to federal, in our personal tax practice.  Know what?  These folks have it mighty good.  There is probably little debate as to who works harder in the real world: people in business or those who work in government.   In fact, when my son asked for career advice (he was in pharmacy school at the time), I suggested he first consider the federal government for a career as he and his wife wanted a large family.  He could work his 40 hours a week, get all sorts of vacation time and days off, and retire at a young age.  Then, go back to work for the government as a contractor and double dip the social security system.  Sweet.

Yes, if I had gone to work for the IRS after passing the exam, I would now be retired.  My take home as a retiree might be more than running an accounting practice in an area devastated by the economy.

One reason I didn’t take that career direction all those years ago was because I couldn’t see waking up in the morning, staring in the mirror, and wondering why I wasn’t doing anything important with my life.  So I took the “I want to make a difference” route, consulted to over 500 professional firms, spoke all over the world, had many books published, and here I am writing a blog about what looks to have been a wrong turn.

Professionally, there is no beating being a public accountant.  The learning experience of being involved in client businesses and personal financial (and familial) affairs has been invaluable.  Interacting with my peers is always a challenge and growth experience.  How else could one accumulate a warehouse of knowledge as is offered to us every day on the firing line of business?

Any career in government service without this experience would be limited indeed, as we know what is going on at this side of the table, on the client side.   This experience is what would have added real value to a career in government service.

So, what advice would I have given a young Allan 35 years ago?  Probably the same guidance that others have figured out for themselves: slog it out in public accounting, learn what you can, and find an easier, softer way to provide for your family.  And perhaps this explains why the majority of people I see at CPA conferences are in their fifties and sixties – the youngsters figured it out before we did.

Allan S. Boress, CPA, FCPA is the author of 12 published books on marketing, selling and managing the business development process for CPAs.  He has consulted with over 500 professional firm and trained over 200,000 professionals since 1980.  His “I-Hate-Selling” methodology is available at www.ihateselling.com

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Thanks! Do you suggest working as a CPA for the FDIC?

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