The CPA as SuperHero

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When I passed the CPA exam, I felt I could do just about anything. It was the biggest stretch goal I had ever attempted, and I succeeded where so many others had not. I felt blessed.

But I didn't sign up for this.

I just wanted to support my family, be treated as a professional and earn a good living.

I did not enlist to be a SuperHero.

All those years ago we were just CPAs. Our role was audits and accounting, tax preparation and planning. We didn't consult, and the client didn't expect us to. The Internal Revenue Code didn't change much from year to year. We went to work and we came home.

I pretty much stopped practicing in 1980 to pursue a dream as a consultant to the profession. It seemed obvious that we were in need of learning how to sell ourselves, which had become my passion. After consulting to hundreds of firms all over the world, I went back to being a CPA full-time eight years ago as I could not travel anymore.

But I was not prepared for the changes and responsibilities of being a CPA in the 21st Century. I wasn't prepared to be Superman.

Perhaps you haven't a clue as to what I am talking about. Maybe your head is buried so far in the sand that you don't know what the client really needs you for, and often expects.

My SuperHero duties include:

* Protection from QuickBooks and bad bookkeeping. Years ago, the client relied on professional bookkeepers who would come in on a regular basis and helped keep their records and recording in order. No, they didn't produce financial statements, but gave us quality information so we could. The PC brought us DIY bookkeeping, and suddenly folks who knew nothing about debits and credits were recording their own transactions. Yes, cleaning up client messes have put a lot of money in our pocket, but how many businesses are mismanaged because they insist on doing their own bookkeeping using programs they don't understand? We protect our clients from themselves by insisting they learn the bookkeeping function, or turn it over to someone who does.

* Protection from the IRS. Nothing new you might say? It certainly seems a lot more businesses and individuals are being audited than ever before. Just look at the stats from the IRS. People who represent themselves will often get eaten alive. Our clients rely on us to shield them from a system where they are guilty until proven innocent.

* Protection from overpayment - and underpayment. Over half the returns we get that are self-prepared or produced by other preparers have errors. We do each return effectively three or four times to make sure the client is paying the correct amount of tax. We tell them what they need to do to minimize tax this year and moving forward.

* Protection from themselves. Sometimes clients come up with the craziest ideas. Occasionally it is a business decision that needs sounding out. Or an opportunity not pursued. Or a hiring decision they will mess up. One favorite of mine is buying a franchise. How many of your clients have bought a song and dance and flushed away their retirement or savings?

* Protecting their future. My parents didn't have to tell me to live within my means, to not buy stuff that I didn't need and couldn't pay cash for. However, these seem like new concepts to many of our boomer and Generation X and Y clients who don't realize credit cards need to be repaid, or their mortgage is over their head. We coach our clients to consult with us before making major financial decisions.

* Protection from fraud. We have to be more suspicious than ever before, as it seems employees aren't as trustworthy. We keep our eyes open constantly to try to prevent fraud being perpetrated on them.

* Acting as a psychologist and motivator. Clients come to us with life changing decisions. This economy has forced us into the role of cheerleader and Father-Confessor. So many of our clients have lost their homes and their businesses; we have to try to keep their spirits up when the world is beating them down.

These roles are exhaustive and often exhausting. Because we provide a much higher level of value than a mere accountant, our fees are higher. And often playing SuperHero is rewarding.

Perhaps if we told students and young people what being a CPA is really like, how fascinating and rewarding it can be, we could attract and keep more of the best.

Because young people dream of being a SuperHero.

However, I didn't sign up for this. But I am glad I did.

Allan S. Boress, CPA, FCPA is the author of 12 published books on marketing, selling and managing the business development process for CPAs. The “I-Hate-Selling” CDs and Study Guide are available at www.ihateselling.com

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Protection from the IRS is a big enough reason alone to enlist the help of a CPA. Hiring a CPA or an accounting firm is a good idea for business owners to make sure that their paperwork and taxes are filed correctly. Let's be honest, most business owners (especially small business owners) don't have the time to sit down and familiarize themselves with the pages and pages of tax codes. Leave it up to the professionals who are well versed in tax code and tax law to handle these issues.

True, but find a CPA who's well versed in the tax code, because not all are. I'm not a CPA yet (just finished my MS-ACC), but I specialize in tax preparation and planning, and some of my best clients are CPAs!