The mission of the Pennsylvania CPA Foundation is to inspire students to pursue careers in accounting and provide the educational, motivational, and financial support they need to work toward achieving the CPA credential. In a wide-ranging discussion, Jerry Maginnis, chair of the Pennsylvania CPA Foundation, explains the ways by which that support is provided and explores the challenges and opportunities young professionals will confront as they climb toward a fruitful CPA career.
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By: Bill Hayes, Pennsylvania CPA Journal Managing Editor
The Pennsylvania CPA Foundation's mission is to inspire students to pursue careers in accounting and to provide educational, motivational, and financial support to those working to attain the CPA credential. But in what ways does that inspiration take form, and how exactly can PICPA members work to support those looking to launch their careers in the CPA profession? To go in depth on these questions and more, today we are talking to Jerry Maginnis, retired office managing partner for KPMG, executive in residence at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey, and chair of the Pennsylvania CPA Foundation.
For some context, can you share with our audience the mission of the Pennsylvania CPA Foundation? What do you think is the purpose of what the Pennsylvania CPA Foundation does?
[Maginnis] We formed the Foundation about three years ago now, and it was largely to address the pipeline issues facing the profession. For your listeners that may not be familiar with that term, it's really dealing with future recruitment. Like a lot of industries and professions, we've got a lot of folks currently working in the profession who are baby boomers, like myself. Perhaps they've recently retired, or they're contemplating retirement in the near term. Projections would indicate that there's going to be a shortage of CPAs.
We launched the foundation to really proactively educate young people about some of the opportunities associated with being a CPA and, hopefully, attract some bright, talented, motivated individuals to our profession.
We also serve as a resource for educators. We bring educators together periodically. Obviously, they're critically important in terms of reaching out to the audience that we're targeting. So, we do a number of things. Our mission also focuses heavily on diversity and inclusion in the profession. Candidly, that's not an area the profession has excelled at historically, but there's a lot of good work being done currently to proactively address that concern.
What would you say it is that drove you to get involved and to become the Foundation board chair?
[Maginnis] I was really fortunate to have a lot of great opportunities in my career, worked with a great firm. When I got to this point where I've moved on to the next phase and stepped down from active 40-hour-week type employment, you have a lot of time to think about what you want to do next. I'm certainly staying engaged and involved in the business community. I'm serving on a couple boards, corporate boards. But, to me, this was a great time in my life to give back. If there was an opportunity to give back to the profession that's been so good to me, and to maybe help that next generation of CPAs, that was a really easy thing to sign up for.
It also ties in a little bit with some of the other things I'm doing. You mentioned in the intro my work at Rowan University, where I'm supporting their accounting program and getting to interact with a lot of students who are looking at entering the profession. I've also worked with the AICPA Foundation on their board and they have a very similar pipeline-oriented mission to the PICPA Foundation. So, it really ties in nicely with some other things I'm doing as well.
What do you see as the most pressing challenge the profession is facing at this time?
[Maginnis] There certainly are a number of them, but as we all, I think, understand – certainly practicing CPAs understand whether they're in public accounting or industry – the pace of technology change has never been faster. It's somewhat unprecedented. It's really having a huge impact on the way CPAs do their work, and add value for their clients, or the businesses that employ them. That, I would say, is probably number one on the list.
Your listeners are likely aware of the CPA Evolution Project. The profession's been trying to evolve to keep pace with that rapid technology change. All the more reason that we need bright and talented people to join our profession. In the last few years, there's been tremendous emphasis on STEM careers. So, I would point out this is a competitive landscape. Talented young people have a lot of different routes they can take their career. We want to make sure they're aware of the benefits of the accounting profession and, certainly, give it consideration in making their long-term career choices.
We talk about challenges there. I guess this is on the flip side, but maybe it's connected. What's the biggest opportunity you see for the future of the CPA profession coming up?
[Maginnis] I think it is very much connected. To me, the opportunities are all about keeping pace with that rapid change and, frankly, staying relevant, and adding value to the constituencies we serve. To me, CPAs play a fundamentally important role in our economy. The capital market system depends on high-quality auditing to help investors make good decisions about how they allocate capital. As I tell the students at Rowan, that's critical to the effective functioning of our economy. Because if you and I are two entrepreneurs who have the next great idea, but we can't attract funding because the markets aren't functioning efficiently, we may not be able to bring that new idea to market. So, when successful ideas get funded, jobs get created and the quality of people's lives get better.
CPAs are right at the center of that. That's just focusing on their audit work. Certainly, on the tax side and the advisory side, they do great things to help the economy function effectively as well. So, I have no problem when I sit down with a young person, look them in the eye, and say, "Listen, if you become a CPA, you're going to be doing very meaningful work every day that not only serves your clients, and the organizations that employ you, but also is really for the greater good of our society and our economy."
You go into this a little bit, and maybe we can get you to elaborate on a little more. Why would you encourage a student today to pursue a career as a CPA?
[Maginnis] Most of the individuals we're trying to attract to the profession, those that are bright, motivated people, they want a challenge, and the profession offers challenges in spades. The work is not easy. As we talked about earlier, it's constantly evolving, not just from a technology standpoint, but also in terms of new rules, regulations, things that need to be addressed and complied with. If you're the type of individual that likes to just show up and do the same thing every day, and not have a lot of variety, the CPA profession is probably not for you. But if you like to learn constantly, develop your skill sets, grow as a professional, the CPA profession can certainly offer you that challenge.
In addition, the work is meaningful. Some of that we just talked about. You can really make a positive impact on society. The last thing I would add here is that you invariably will have a seat at the table. When companies are making important business decisions, whether it be a Fortune 500 company, or a family-owned business, or a startup organization, typically the financial person is in the room with the CEO and the board, and is often the one that is advocating the strategy that's going to finance that next great idea. You will literally be part of the decision-making process as a CPA.
It may come back again to technology because it is so huge on the profession right now, but what would be the one skill that you think students and young CPA professionals need to further their careers right now?
[Maginnis] I'm going to dodge your question because I believe it's actually more than one skill. Let me just mention a couple fundamental criteria to be successful. You've got to be technically sound, whether you're an accountant, an auditor, or a tax person, an advisory professional. You've got to not only know your stuff, but you've got to invest the time to stay current because the world is changing so quickly.
Related to that, you've got to have strong technology skills. We talked about that, and you've got to evolve. Much is getting done with technology today. When I started in this profession, not to date myself, but we literally used pencils and paper. I think about the rapid change that occurred during my career, and I just see that change escalating in terms of the pace of innovation. So, staying current with technology is critically important. I tell the students at Rowan to think seriously about a dual accounting and MIS major. That will serve them well in terms of preparing them for entering this profession.
But I would say the most important skill set that I think it takes to be successful as a CPA is the ability to work effectively with others. Whether you are in public accounting serving clients, or you are working within an organization and collaborating with your colleagues, that ability to get along with people, to communicate effectively, is really critically important to your success.
How do you see, ultimately, the work of the Pennsylvania CPA Foundation benefiting future CPAs?
[Maginnis] I think a big part of our mission and our job is really to raise awareness and just let people know this could be a really terrific career path. Don't miss out on the opportunity of at least exploring it and, hopefully, pursuing it. As you know, there are a lot of motivated, talented individuals who are struggling to afford the cost of education to get through college. In that fifth year, they need 150 credits in this profession. The Foundation helps there by providing scholarships that can help not only cover the cost of college, but when they do get to the point they're ready to take that CPA exam, we've got a scholarship that'll help them with the exam cost.
I think the Foundation's also a great organization to help students learn, at an early age, the importance of networking, and to develop their networking skills. A lot of the events and programming we run put them in contact with other people and give them a chance to begin to practice those skills that are going to be so important to their careers. In some cases, maybe help them land an internship or that first job. So, a lot of different ways the Foundation can help this next generation.
What would you say is next for the Pennsylvania CPA Foundation? Any initiatives coming up that people should know about? And how can members get in?
[Maginnis] I'm a big sports guy generally and baseball specifically, and I'll use a baseball analogy here. If this were a baseball game, I think we're in about the bottom of the second inning. Our work has just begun, and we've made some great progress in three years, but we have so much more to do. If I think about it, I just talked about scholarships and one of the questions I asked at our last board meeting is how many scholarship applications did we get last year? And how many of them were deemed worthy of funding? And how many did we, in fact, fund? I won't give you the exact numbers, but let's just say we were not able to fund all the worthy applications. So, as a board and as an organization, we need to do a better job raising more funds that are going to provide access to that next generation of CPAs.
I think we're also looking for ways to branch out and extend our mission. We were fortunate recently to attract a significant donation from a fellow CPA, a friend of mine, a gentleman named Julian Brodsky, who had an amazingly successful career at Comcast, very senior executive there, legendary in the cable industry. Julian was kind enough to fund a significant gift to help with those CPA exam scholarships I mentioned.
In terms of how to get involved, I would say reach out to the team at the PICPA. Felicia Robbins, Meg Killian are both very involved with the Foundation. Those names will be familiar to many of your listeners. People can feel free to reach out to me. Shoot me an email. It's email@example.com. I'd be happy to connect you. Come out to a career day, mentor a young person. There are innumerable ways to get involved and support the good work of the Foundation.