How to Support Prospective CPAs at Your Firmby
The accounting industry needs more licensed professionals, and firms can play their part by supporting a new generation of accountants who are studying for the CPA licensure exam. In this article, Will Baker of BaCo Tech discusses how his firm is helping one prospective CPA by offering financial support, flexible working hours and a lot of encouragement.
I have worked with many young professionals who are pursuing their CPA licensure, preparing for the exam and growing their skills as accountants. The industry currently needs more people, specifically those who are licensed. For firms today, helping young professionals pursue their CPA is of vital importance to the growth of the industry.
Of equal concern is retaining those young professionals. Investing in and helping young professionals throughout the licensing process will not only help them pass, but will also increase their motivation to stay with your firm for a longer period of time.
The following suggestions for how firms can help young professionals are largely based on a recent conversation I had with Libby Kuchler, a first-year accountant with The BaCo Group in Dallas, who is pursuing her CPA licensure. I spoke with Kuchler to find out what BaCo has done to help her as she prepares for and takes these tests. She has presently passed the first of four portions of the exam and will be taking the next two this spring.
Consider the Cost
In Texas, the CPA exam costs $1,000, which is spread out across the four sections of the test (or, $250 per section). However, each section requires its own application and additional application fee. Add to that the cost of test prep materials, which can range up to $3,000 depending on the course, books and program. Many first-year accountants don’t want to wait to take the exam; they would rather get it out of the way while their undergraduate coursework is still fresh in their minds. However, for many young professionals, $4,000 can be prohibitive. If a young professional at your firm wants to pursue a CPA, consider sponsoring that venture. For example, BaCo has covered some of the upfront expenses for Kuchler and has offered her bonuses for passing. While large firms may have partnerships with test prep programs, small firms may need to make arrangements on their own.
Be sure to also consider the “soft” costs of preparing for the exam, such as time. For example, Kuchler is working full time during tax season while also preparing for the exam. The CPA exam is hard, with a 50-percent retest rate for those who take it, so preparation is important. Firms should allow flexibility for young professionals so they can make time to study.
“I study every day, for a few hours a day, no matter what. But I often study after work, which means that I am working up to 10 hours a day at work, plus a few more hours at home. However, I do have some flexibility during the day to step away from my desk to study,” Kuchler said.
Kuchler is taking the REG portion of the exam right after tax season, so the work she is doing now is applicable and relevant, which reinforces what she is studying. Plus, BaCo gives Kuchler time off to take the exam without having her use PTO.
“The firm has been supportive throughout the process and willing to give me the time I need to prepare for and take the exam, without my having to sacrifice too much, which I appreciate,” Kuchler said.
Provide Resources When Available
Small firms may have an advantage over large firms in providing young accountants with relevant work experience. While first-year accountants at large firms might be given routine work, small firms might need help from first-year accountants across multiple projects. Consider having prospective CPAs work with more experienced managers and seniors on tasks that are relevant to the exam. Furthermore, if CPAs at your firm recently passed the exam, set up a mentorship program to so they can help prospective CPAs through their journey.
“There’s a lot of information you need to know about the exam, not just the material, and finding out what to expect is difficult without talking to someone directly. It’s definitely helpful to have someone with recent experience provide pointers and advice,” Kuchler said.
This will also give new CPAs the opportunity to be leaders, which will help them feel valued and give them management and mentorship experience.
“I am really excited to help prospective CPAs in the future,” Kuchler said.
Be Encouraging, Not Pushy
Most people working toward their CPA put pressure on themselves to do well. Create a work environment that will encourage them rather than adding to that pressure. Kuchler said that even small gestures, such as being asked how her exam prep is going and getting encouragement throughout the process, has been helpful.
“I put a lot of expectations on myself, so being in an encouraging environment that helps me along the way and doesn’t add the expectation of passing with flying colors is really one of the most helpful things,” Kuchler said.
When asked what wasn’t helpful, Kuchler mentioned that some casual comments can be unintentionally discouraging. For example, some colleagues said the exam was harder for them because they could not use computers, while others lamented that they didn’t get to take the exam in multiple phases.
“This exam has always been hard to pass, whether you take it in 1980 or 2020,” Kuchler said.
Encouragement comes not only in the form of words, but also in actions and incentives. Celebrating a prospective CPA’s little achievements along the way, such as taking them to happy hour after a section is passed or giving them an afternoon off, can go a long way. When these successful young professionals finally receive their licenses, throw them a party and congratulate them on a job well done.
Will Baker has worked in Client Services in the marketing and technology space since graduating from the University of Oklahoma. A son of a CPA, he has developed a passion for helping CPAs improve their practices and gain more work-life balance through technology and attracting the right types of clients. Will has been able to help firms across...