Conrad Davis: Creating a mentoring climate at CalCPA

Realizing the full benefits and rewards of being a Certified Public Accountant comes when the CPA is involved with the profession and its future, said Conrad Davis, newly appointed chairman of the California Society of CPAs.

Accountants need to make a commitment to the vitality and future growth of the profession by participating in committees at the grassroots level, by ensuring transfer of knowledge and experience, and by helping to develop new leaders. All of these activities are enormously rewarding both personally and professionally, Davis told AccountingWEB.
 
Philosophy of mentoring
 
While external developments certainly will have an impact on the roles and responsibilities of accountants, interaction between experienced and new CPAs will be the key to building a stronger profession. Davis is most excited about creating a climate for mentoring at every level of the organization.
 
"I want to promote a philosophy of mentoring in CalCPA, where we are providing lots of opportunities for experienced people to interact with new professionals. It is central to our commitment to the future of our profession and I want our members to be thinking about looking for a mentor or becoming a mentor," he said.
 
"We are constantly looking at new ways to accomplish this. The CalCPA Emerging Leaders program is a statewide, collaborative effort with 150 participants this year, organized at the chapter level where young CPAs attend seven two-hour classes along with experienced professionals" Davis said. "Business leaders speak on various topics in a webcast during the first hour, and then the new members meet with experienced CPAs during the second hour. The program has two goals – to help the young CPAs to develop solid leadership skills and to enable young CPAs to establish relationships both with their peers and with more experienced professionals."
 
Davis is deeply grateful to the people who have provided him with direction and support along the way.
 
"Mentors have contributed so much in my career. All it has to be, sometimes, is giving people some guidance, something as simple as: 'I think that you should go through that door on the right.' My father-in-law, a CPA, never tried to push me in the direction of accounting when I was thinking about making a change from vineyard management. He just said, 'You’ve got the education and I think you will find it rewarding.' Later, when I had some experience in the profession, he said, 'I’ve been an auditor, but I think you will enjoy tax because it is more aligned with the way you think.'
 
"A mentor at KPMG, Rich Wise, told me to get my master’s degree in taxation, and Mike Ueltzen from Ueltzen & Company, where I have been since 2001, who has had a tremendous influence on my career, saw that I was not involved in my profession. 'You should get involved with the profession,' he told me, 'because you are going to get a lot of personal satisfaction out of what you do there.' My involvement with CalCPA really dates from that time, although I had been a member since 1995. I chaired my first committee in 2000 and became Bulletin Editor in 2004.
 
"My participation in CalCPA really allowed me to 'grow up.' I was committed to being a strong tax professional, but I don’t know that I fully understood what it meant to be a CPA. When I became involved and saw how many people were committed to the profession, to mentoring, and to political activity, it really opened my eyes. CalCPA was a fertile ground for developing public speaking and leadership skills, learning to create vision, and seeing the rewards of volunteering."
 
Potential roles, responsibilities for CPAs
 
Davis expects accountants to continue in their traditional roles in the future, "although changes will occur on the audit side with the transition to International Financial Reporting Standards. Not a change in the work, but in how it is done. Accountants must be prepared to help clients make the transition," he told AccountingWEB.
 
Looking ahead Davis also sees potential for the profession to have a role in the quantitative side of sustainable energy as standards are developed and companies move toward compliance with these standards.
 
"We are at a very early stage in the cycle, but there will be a process culminating at the stage where everybody says the same thing and is using the same criteria. Right now there is no agency that says, 'This is the rule.' And this is something we are looking at as a profession.
 
"I do not expect any paradigm shift in tax, although at the moment there is some tension with the Internal Revenue Service, which has said that the professions need to increase their exercise of due diligence. We are governed by Circular 230 and other standards which tell us that CPAs can believe what a client provides without additional verification. Additional due diligence on our part cannot involve a huge escalation in the amount of time we spend on returns. It is unlikely that the IRS will provide a bright line in this matter. It seems as if they are asking for increased qualitative analysis possibly suggesting that there hasn’t been enough professional skepticism," he said.
 
"Our guidance to our members in this context is to do what the IRS wants, but do not assume an unsustainable economic burden," Davis emphasized.
 
Reaching out to new members
 
"Our membership is thriving, but once you stop emphasizing it, you will see a decline," Davis said. "I credit some of the investments made by Loretta Doon, our CEO, for our current levels – reaching out to young and aspiring CPAs, sending people to college campuses, designing the candidate membership, which is free for the first year, and the student membership. We also offer help for the CPA exam, a lot of scholarships, and a free eight-hour CPE class for first-time licensed CPA members. Young CPAs come to understand the benefits of membership early in their careers.
 
"CalCPA has had an outstanding record for providing continuing education to our professionals and, as we go forward, we will be expanding our Web-based programs. We are also using social media for networking and to provide information.
 
"Our new members respond to the social media very differently. They also conduct their research differently – often accomplishing it very quickly. But, here again, is where mentoring fits in. They can assemble a lot of information very quickly, but they need someone to provide context to help them use it effectively," he said.
 
Grassroots participation
 
Davis is proud of the contributions CalCPA members make in Sacramento, especially their work implementing "important legislation, such as SB 819, which designated the 150-hour pathway as the only pathway to licensure in California starting in 2014.
 
"CalCPA made a focused effort to meet with our local representatives during the legislative process. In particular, we encouraged our younger professionals to meet and communicate with the legislative staff. They found this a very stimulating and rewarding process, and we want to keep this going.
 
"Our younger members serve on the state committees. An experienced member is assigned to each new member to make sure they are fully informed on state issues, and also to make sure that this knowledge is continually transferred to new people. We want people to recognize that they have something to hand down, and to experience the enjoyment and satisfaction of volunteering through their participation in the work of these grassroots committees.
 
"Right now, as we implement the substantial equivalency law, CalCPA members will have opportunities to work with the Board of Accountancy to come up with a good curriculum – a curriculum that will be manageable for students. CalCPA is also encouraging its members to develop relationships with colleges and universities. We want to help schools make the transition by serving on advisory committees.
 
"CPAs have a lot to offer," Davis said. "We want to encourage them to see themselves as part of their profession and their communities."
 
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