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Changing Incrementally: The power of gradual change

Florida Institute of CPAs – Save the Associations Vol. 5

For the past 12 years, the number of CPA firm partners over the age of 50 and the average age of firm partners have steadily climbed upward. Only in 2017, for the first time in the Annual Rosenberg Practice Management Survey memory, did the number of partners over age 50 decline from the previous year.

Aware of the fact that their profession is aging, the Florida Institute of CPAs (FICPA) has been gradually making changes across the association to engage and recruit young accountants to the CPA profession and to the association.

The Increase of Retired CPAs, the Decline of the CPA Population

Deborah Curry, CEO of FICPA, shared that a major factor in the decline of association membership can be attributed to the growing number of ‘Baby Boomer’ CPAs that are retiring. While the number of applicants taking the CPA exam remains fairly steady, there is a need to actually increase the number in order to replace the expanding population of retiring CPAs. More retire each year than are entering the profession.

Another factor affecting association membership is the change in first career choice. As the need for accounting professionals has grown, many accountants are moving directly into corporate accounting positions instead of working first in public accounting firms. This is a divergence from past history.

Public accounting firms have long been intertwined with the CPA profession and its associations. They strongly encourage their employees to become CPAs and to engage in association activities, committees, and boards. When accountants go directly into corporate accounting positions, that same level of encouragement and direction is missed. Unfortunately, many non-public accounting employers do not encourage accounting staff to become CPAs or join professional organizations.

Incremental Changes

FICPA spent several months re-evaluating its strategy and membership offerings. During this re-evaluation process, the association realized it had to think like the younger generations in order to engage with them. Two major changes came from this exercise: revised membership categories and the introduction of the Emerging Leaders program.

Revised Membership Dues

“Why are we doing it this way?” was the big question FICPA leadership was asking when they started to re-examine their membership dues. The answer: “because it is the way we have always done it” – a common answer for many associations.

“We decided to make it less cumbersome and band members together based on stage of career while decreasing the number of categories,” shared Curry. In addition to streamlining the categories, FICPA also addressed young  member concerns by taking into account their income level. The association realized many young members can more easily afford a membership if they pay monthly using a subscription membership.

The FICPA is also dedicated to assisting accounting students through their education by offering a complimentary student membership.  As part of their complimentary membership, students receive counseling, advice on career opportunities, and assistance in studying for the CPA exam.  The resources offered are numerous and foster valuable mentor and peer relationships as students make their way through graduation and the job interview process.

Emerging Leaders Program

Many associations have noticed social media has impacted perceived membership value. A lot of networking and education can now be done online. To stay relevant, FICPA designed their Emerging Leaders program around two things important to young professionals that are best done in-person – activism and service.

The FICPA Emerging Leaders program offers many opportunities to connect young professionals to government activism and the advocacy process, both vital to their personal and professional futures. Emerging Leaders are also required to prepare their own regional event as part of the program.

To further the Emerging Leaders’ desire to engage with their community, an increased emphasis was placed on the FICPA CPA Day of Service, a day for CPAs to give back to their communities. Thanks to the work of the Emerging Leaders, this year’s efforts produced a record number of events and volunteers, which was a true testament to the success of the Emerging Leaders program and FICPA’s engagement of young professionals.

The Advice

Curry’s advice to other associations looking to engage the younger generations is to start small. “You will avoid getting overwhelmed and you are more likely to attract young professionals if you employ episodic engagement,” she shared. Young professionals want to try things out slowly and not overcommit. Ask them how they would like to be involved.

Be patient, Curry advises, “it will catch, and it will grow.”


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