The misunderstood CPA

An influential accountant asked in an online discussion how I identify within the profession, adding that the term “CPA” is misunderstood by many. Some prefer “accountant” or “tax preparer”.

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and state CPA societies, including the New Jersey Society of Certified Public Accountants, spend much time, money and effort addressing that misunderstanding. Their public relations campaigns emphasize that a CPA, above all else, is an agent of change. Last year I made a presentation to a group of local first year college students using a professionally produced video that made a compelling case for that argument. But my own assessment is that, overall, these PR campaigns have not been successful with the public.

The “CPA” term works well for me, although I suspect that people don’t usually think of me as a tax preparer or accountant. I think most people consider me to be a business technician. I base that conclusion on the fact that when a stranger approaches me with a business question, it is usually about a technical problem they have or foresee with their business. I don’t mind that image, but I don’t make a living addressing business technical problems because there is not enough pain in that topic. I make a living solving tax problems because tax problems can ruin peoples’ lives.

The fact is that taxes are the most constant and powerful antagonistic force in the history of human society. Many people do not handle that force well. My work in helping people make adjustments to their thinking and behavior to relieve stress, protect themselves, and live a healthy prosperous life in the face of oppressive taxation has been a wonderfully satisfying career decision.

So, despite the fact that I market as a tax problem solver, that doesn’t mean that people identify with that label. I’ve been working with a professional marketing adviser on a weekly basis to further develop this image and reputation.

A CPA is an agent of change. That change is within the mind of my client. The results of that change transforms lives.