Rewirement: Changing the Mindset before Retirement

Rewirement: Changing the Mindset before Retirement

Dec 15, 2022

By Alyzabeth R. Smith, CPA

pa-cpa-journal-rewirement-changing-the-mindset-before-retirementRampant retirements and career conversions are profoundly impacting many industries. While career converters are keen for reinvention, those closing in on retirement commonly have little appetite for a career makeover. So, many who can afford to exit comfortably are choosing to do so. In addition, some firms strongly encourage early retirement of high-level executives. These policies add exigency to future retirement plans. CPAs who provide succession planning services continually remind clients to prepare for “life after career.” Practitioners must personally embrace what they preach.  

Like many of their clients, CPA professionals face the uncertainty of abandoning a lifelong craft. This can lead to planning delays and thwart the kind of creative planning that results in post-career fulfillment. Shifting one’s attitude to embrace the idea of post-vocational life has been referred to as “rewirement.”  

Careers can be all-consuming. Decades of routine often impede the exploration of personal investment. Rewirement allows for a renewal of personal goals. At this stage of life, personal and professional goals may have become intertwined.  

The fusion of work and home life can obstruct clarity of intention and create anxiety. High-level executives are generally accustomed to significant influence, final decision-making, and a general culture of being needed. Upon their departure, however, the business world keeps on spinning. The ongoing progress can give a former practitioner an identity complex. 

Fortunately, seasoned CPAs can stay engaged in the accounting culture and be impactful without the stress of an active full-time career. Mentoring is an excellent way to continue to provide valuable ideas to aspiring leaders. Providing counsel also allows former practitioners to keep their fingers on the pulse of industry trends and guide young leaders through existing issues. Instead of dealing with events after they arise, volunteering with CPA societies can help former practitioners mold the environment that future leaders will navigate. The PICPA and AICPA (among others) offer impactful volunteer opportunities for retired leaders to effect industry change.  

Opportunities are abundant. Sometimes retirees – who now have a lot more time – join new endeavors impulsively. This eagerness can come back to bite. Without intentional time management, retirees will find themselves spending their golden years with flexible hours but the same intensity of work they had just left. Hours of service can quickly evolve into a full-time job. For every retiree who wishes to serve in a way that is not technically immersive, there may be another who relishes intense practical exercises as a rewarding way to retain skills application. The decision on where one falls does not have to be made on the way home from the retirement party. Careful consideration should be underway in the days and weeks leading up to the final workdays. There should not be any fear of missing out: professional societies are always looking for an extra set of hands. Having a plan will facilitate a fluid transition into the next phase of life.  

Any phase-out plan must include preparing clients for the conversion of their accounts to new ownership. If possible, this transition should begin well in advance of retiring to ease both parties into the new relationship. Dedicating time to a successor’s transition is an investment in the remaining vested interest with the firm, which will be impacted by client retention.  

Once separated from service, a CPA may consider volunteer opportunities with their alma maters. Junior high and high schools may have ways to contribute in a financial literacy capacity. Pandemic concerns and virtual classes opened many opportunities for former professionals to help get students back up to speed.  

Consider retaining professional licenses as a way to stay connected with the industry. Despite being retired, many CPAs aren’t willing or ready to drop decades of experience, even if they are starting a new phase of life. The desire to stay connected has led many professionals to part-time accounting work. With a decline of candidates in the professional pipeline (without a corresponding decline in the demand for services), professional opportunities are plentiful enough to be chosen selectively.  

Maintaining an active CPA license may also help retired CPAs avail themselves of professional resources. Aging can challenge the skills needed to function autonomously in an ever-changing world. Staying connected to an industry that embraces the continuing technological revolution can be a way for retirees to retain a window into current events and the related societal evolution. 

If all else fails and no suitable volunteer opportunities can be found, there is always the path of the Washington accountant and her husband who decided to spend their retirement as “cult-cruisers.” These seafaring water nomads plan to live out their days on the water, never touching land for any extended period of time. With the cost of living rising these days, a life at sea might be relatively cost effective – despite having quarters that are as cramped as a New York City studio apartment.  

If service is chosen over a life at sea, the journey may not be as scenic, but there will still be opportunities to capture some good times.  

Alyzabeth R. Smith, CPA, is a tax manager at Siegfried Advisory in Wilmington, Del., and a member of the Pennsylvania CPA Journal Editorial Board. She can be reached at 

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