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Save the Associations

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.”

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

XYZ University - Save the Associations Blog Series

All summer long XYZ University will be sharing inspiring stories of associations that are doing something exceptional to 'save' their association and their industry from an untimely demise. XYZ U exists to help organizations engage younger generations of members, talent, and marketshare. We offer unparalleled generational expertise, coupled with an in-depth knowledge of future economic, membership, and marketing trends, to advise clients on the best strategies for long-term growth, relevance, and market engagement.

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