Thinking Creatively About Your CPA License

by Dr. Sean Stein Smith, CPA, Lehman College – November 13, 2018
Thinking Creatively About Your CPA License

Obtaining a CPA license is something that is widely recognized as a differentiating factor in the marketplace. No matter where practitioners travel and regardless of the specific industry they are employed within, the CPA license helps them stand out as a subject matter expert in the areas of accounting, attestation, tax and/or reporting. However, especially true for early to mid-career CPAs, the very strengths most commonly associated with the CPA license can also artificially narrow the career paths and engagement opportunities for these practitioners.

Having a CPA puts a licensee in a better position to be able to understand and articulate the implica­tions of quantitative information, which is important as today’s business environment is increasingly dependent on more data and analytics. Let’s take a look at some of the opportunities available to those with a CPA license that might have previously flown under the radar:

Nonfinancial Reporting

The concept of nonfinancial reporting is nothing new, but it is arguably more important than ever before. While in the past the idea of nonfinancial reporting was limited due to the lack of availability of nonfinancial data, current technological trends including artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things means that more infor­mation is available at nearly every budget price point. Regardless of how big a firm is, or the size of a client company, there are AI and automation tools for every budget. CPAs, leveraging existing compe­tencies linked to analyzing and communicating the meaning of data, should take full advantage of this trend.

Data Security

There certainly is a fair amount of excitement surrounding the increased digitization, automation and technological integration sweeping the business landscape, but with every opportunity there will also be associated challenges. Virtually every week there is a headline about some sort of data breach, hacking incident or a leak of information into the marketplace. With more and more information being stored in electronic formats, transmitted almost instantly and in some cases processed automatically (leveraging automation and AI tools), CPAs can certainly add value. Developing robust controls, managing the flow of information between internal and external users and ensuring all involved parties are up to date fall well within the expertise of accounting professionals.

Cryptoasset Expertise

A conversation and analysis of possible opportunities for accounting professionals would be incomplete without at least a brief mention of the cryptocurrency and cryptoasset space. While cryptocurrencies may represent a new and exciting investment opportunity for individuals and organizations, every new opportunity also carries risks. In the case of cryptocurrencies there are two distinct risks that might trip up you, your clients or your firm:

  • First, the regulatory uncertainty in the cryptocurrency space, even with the June 2018 statement from the Securities and Exchange Commission on the treat­ment of certain cryptocurrencies as securities versus treatment as commodities, is something every financial professional needs to be aware of. CPAs, already used to parsing regulatory updates, should take advantage of this uncertainty to develop new lines of business.
  • Second, and more directly linked to what CPAs already do, are the tax questions connected to the cryptocurrency space. In addition to publicly stating that cryptocurrency enforcement will be a priority start­ing with the 2018 tax year, the IRS has also stated that, given available resources, guidance and advice will most likely be issued on a continuous basis versus a comprehensive frame­work issued once. It is not a stretch to imagine more and more clients turning to CPAs for up-to-date advice on these matters.

These topics may seem intimidating, but current and future clients are going to expect CPAs to be informed about cryptocurrency issues. While this will require some self-education and learning, being well informed on these topics will posi­tion proactive practitioners to succeed and create value in this emerging area.

Having a CPA license is, without a doubt, something that will add value to you, your firm and your clients going forward. Thinking creatively about how to use that license — connecting existing competencies to emerging trends — will help you build rewarding career path. 


Sean D. Stein Smith

Sean D. Stein Smith

Sean Stein Smith is a professor at the City University of New York – Lehman College. Sean also is the chairperson of the NJCPA's Emerging Technologies Interest Group (#NJCPATech). He serves on the Advisory Board of the Wall Street Blockchain Alliance, where he co-chairs the Accounting Work Group. Sean is on the Advisory Board of Gilded, a TechStars ’19 company. He is also a Visiting Research Fellow at the American Institute of Economic Research.

Read more by Sean D. Stein Smith:

Learn more from Sean D. Stein Smith:

This article appeared in the November/December 2018 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine. Read the full issue.