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Recruiting, Retention, Revitalization Key for NABA CEO

Oct 6th 2015
Freelance Business Writer
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After taking over as president of the National Association of Black Accountants Inc. (NABA, Inc.) in mid-September, Jina Etienne is confident that she brings a fresh perspective that could help the organization develop new programs and resources, increase membership, and drive steady growth over the next three to five years.

Etienne

Etienne, CPA, CGMA, is a longtime tax expert and former director of taxation for the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), which now oversees the daily operations of the Greenbelt, Maryland-based group. With about 6,000 members and more than 190 professional and student chapters, NABA's â€“ and Etienne's focus – includes addressing the needs of members and boosting diversity in the accounting industry, among other tasks.

AccountingWEB contributor Jeff McKinney recently spoke with Etienne about her new role, what she brings to it, and how she plans to shape the organization and address its goals for the foreseeable future.

AW: What does the board see as your immediate priority as NABA's new leader?

Etienne: I have been tasked with developing an implementation plan to operationalize the strategic planning framework updated by the board this past spring. We are looking at a number of new programs, resources, and initiatives we can launch in the next 18 months that leverages our existing resources, expands our current programs, and improves the alignment between the needs of our student members, professional members, and corporate partners. I am also exploring changes to our operating procedures to streamline costs and improve operational efficiency.

AW: How do you plan to boost the group's membership and increase the number of corporate partners affiliated with the organization?

Etienne: The importance of diversity in the workplace is recognized by most businesses, with more companies looking to implement diversity initiatives every day. What is less understood is how to create a culture of inclusion. The US population is projected to become a majority of minorities by 2044, so we are working to put together tools, resources, and best practices that will serve our members and keep up with the pace of change. I would like to add new programs and resources aimed at our corporate partners, to help them strengthen existing diversity programs and create new inclusion strategies.

AW: What skills are you bringing to NABA that will be most beneficial?

Etienne: I see myself as an entrepreneur with a passion for serving the profession. My experiences as a CPA firm owner, as a black woman navigating my career, as a wife and mother trying to maintain balance, and as a volunteer giving back to the profession all meld into a unique perspective that will inform NABA's plans to drive new, innovative tools and resources for members and corporate partners. Tax is what I know, but not who I am. My core strengths are project management, strategic planning, communications, and improving operational efficiency.

AW: In your view, what are the biggest challenges CPAs will face in the coming year?

Etienne: Keeping up with changes in the regulatory environment is a growing problem for CPAs. The sheer volume of tax law changes, regulatory changes, SEC reporting changes, and new financial reporting rules, and so on; it can be overwhelming – particularly for small firms. That's why organizations like NABA and AICPA continue to drive value for members. We synthesize, organize, and prioritize the issues to help our members focus on the right things based on their unique needs.

AW: How do you see the accounting profession changing over the next few years?

Etienne: As a profession, we are moving away from a transactional services business model toward a relationship-based service model where we serve clients more holistically. So, instead of hiring a CPA a few hours a year to do your tax return as an isolated service, more CPAs offer a mix of interrelated services throughout the year to help the client on a broader level. Many accountants don't feel comfortable in that space because it requires soft skills, such as communication, relationship management, managing boundaries, flexibility, and adaptability. However, with technical expertise an expected skill for CPAs, soft skills are quickly becoming a market differentiator.

AW: How do you plan to boost the recruitment, retention, and advancement of black accountants in America?

Etienne: We would like to grow our regional student conferences that help prepare black students for positions in accounting and finance. We see retention of top minority talent as the next big diversity challenge for employers. We plan to work with our corporate partners and provide them with the tools, guidance, resources, and training to help them create a culture of inclusion to directly improve minority retention. Business with a demonstrated commitment to grow the existing ranks of their existing minority talent will, in turn, see improvements in attracting the best candidates. We have already begun some preliminary work on new programs, such as our Top Workplace for Black Accountants, an annual assessment designed to recognize the best in diversity and inclusion for employers of accounting and finance professionals that launched Oct. 1.

Editor's note: We are extremely grateful to have the chance to catch up with Jina Etienne in her new role. We would also love to hear from you about how she should be addressing the challenges of current and potential NABA members, as well as her views on the profession.

About the author:
Jeffrey McKinney is a longtime freelance business writer and reporter. He has written for Black Enterprise magazine for several years, covering a broad range of business and financial topics. He also writes regularly for Franchise Times, a highly regarded national publication covering the franchising industry. 

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Our Profession's Diversity Journey

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