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CPA Now
Oct 07, 2020

Coaching vs. Mentoring Your CPA Candidates: The Choice Is Clear

Erin Daiber, CPABy Erin Daiber, CPA, PCC


More CPAs are retiring than are entering the profession, creating a growing need for young talent. Building a pipeline of talent is critical to your firm’s longevity and succession. If you’re looking for ways to support your employees in passing the CPA Exam beyond providing study materials, CPA coaching may be a solution.

It’s important to note upfront that coaching is not tutoring, nor is it technical support with the content of the exams. Yes, tutoring and mentoring can be critical tools, but coaching for the CPA Exam is a unique blend of executive coaching techniques and customized solutions specific to the exam. It provides a structure to build and sustain momentum throughout the process, and helps candidates balance studying with an already busy schedule. Candidates receive support with planning, accountability, study effectiveness, and test-taking strategies, to name a few benefits.

Experienced CPA coaching younger coworkerMost importantly, coaching helps candidates conquer the mental side of passing the exam. The discovery process that happens through coaching can remove blocks, barriers, and other deeply held beliefs that may be holding candidates back from performing at a high level on exam day and throughout the process.

Who

An ideal candidate for coaching is one who is committed to passing the exam, open to new approaches, and interested in making changes to improve his or her overall effectiveness. Most often, candidates who participate in coaching are high performers who have put off or are struggling to pass section of the exam and are now at risk of missing a promotion.

Why

From a candidate’s perspective, coaching is a unique benefit that goes above and beyond what most firms do to support staff. Coached candidates get the individualized support they need to achieve their CPA goal and develop skills that will help them as they progress through leadership and in their careers.

Programs like this show a true commitment to and investment in the future of your organization. Many firms have made the CPA license a prerequisite to taking on a manager role. While well-intentioned, requirements like this sometimes cause otherwise qualified, yet discouraged, CPA candidates to seek other employment if they’re struggling with portions of the exam. Making additional support available can foster increased loyalty to the organization and help retain ideal talent.

How

The way these programs are instituted, piloted, and rolled out is generally dictated by the size of the firm. The larger the firm, the more formal the process. Generally speaking, there should be a process by which firm leaders identify potential candidates for CPA Exam coaching and offer the resource to those individuals. This often corresponds with performance reviews where a candidate’s progress is already being evaluated. However, there should be a process where candidates can evaluate whether coaching is a good fit for their needs, and formally opt in or out.

To be successful, the firm must address and remove any stigma that may exist with regard to asking for help or seeking support in the licensing process. This stigma could reside in the firm culture, but more often than not it is a deeply held belief with high-performing personalities. These team members believe that they should be able to do this on their own, and they’re afraid that asking for help is a sign of weakness. It would be nice for candidates to take the initiative in seeking support, but many are not likely to do so because of their internal barriers. However, once support is offered, high-performers are often keen to dive in.

Return on Investment

If you have candidates in your organization who are struggling to pass the CPA Exam, there is a real risk that they will leave for a job that doesn’t require the CPA credential or for one that provides an environment that supports their efforts to pass. Replacing an experienced team member after three or four years can easily cost a firm $15,000-plus in recruiting fees alone (30% of the first year’s salary). These costs skyrocket when you consider the training investment, impact on morale, the experience that leaves, and the lack of available talent to replace them.

Let’s assume you charge an additional $25 per hour for a licensed CPA compared with an accountant. At 2,000 billable hours, you’re bringing in an additional $40,000 to the top line once an individual is licensed. Not all of that amount makes its way to the bottom line, but if 25% did, coaching pays for itself in less than three months. In some cases, passing the CPA Exam results in an immediate promotion and a further increase in the candidate’s billable rate. In these cases, firms recognize positive return on investment from CPA coaching programs within weeks of licensure.

Candidates need more support than ever to pass the CPA Exam if we want them to remain in public accounting. Balancing studying for the exam with increased performance expectations in the workplace is not easy. Offering coaching support for candidates who are pursuing the CPA license helps you retain top talent and protect the investment you’ve already made into the training and development of these individuals.


Erin Daiber, CPA, PCC, is chief executive officer for Well Balanced Accountants LLC. She can be reached at erin@wellbalancedaccountants.com.


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Statements of fact and opinion are the authors’ responsibility alone and do not imply an opinion on the part of PICPA officers or members. The information contained in herein does not constitute accounting, legal, or professional advice. For professional advice, please engage or consult a qualified professional.
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