Why become an Accountant?

A high school student asked me some questions about becoming an accountant. This old accountant's answers are below

Why did you choose accounting? Numbers were always interesting – my older brother was also an accountant.

What education background do you have? Grade 12 and the first four years of the five year CGA programme. FYI, in 1971, the year before I started you apprenticed to become a CA. Five years practical and night school. No university degree was necessary.

What specifically did you have to do to officially become an accountant? In the era in which I started you opened the door and learned how to provide services. You took continuing education courses, specialized in your area of interest, worked hard, learned from your mistakes and never made the same mistake twice. Your learned how to do all facets of accounting, bookkeeping, business management, tax preparation, tax planning and so on.

What designations do you currently hold? None.

Are you seeking any more? Every day. I take at least 40 hours per year of continuing education credits in Tax and tax planning. I participate in social media platforms for business like LinkedIn and Twitter. The day you stop learning or wanting to learn become a common labourer. Getting a designation does not prove you are knowledgeable, just that you can write an exam. Knowledge is gained through doing and experiencing your profession.

What is your current job title? Accountant, bookkeeper, clerk, trusted advisor, remote comptroller, friend.

What previous accounting jobs have you had and what did you have to do in them? I have worked for myself since 1974. Loved the job when I started and can’t wait to get up in the morning to go to work after 45 years on the job. I worked for 2 years for a CA (CPA) firm from 1972 through 1974 as an audit clerk.

What specifically do you like about their current job and the accounting field? This could go on for pages or maybe even a novel. Accounting, with a tax and business management speciality, has always kept me interested and engaged. There are times of boredom when straight data entry or wrote situations come about but they are a small portion of the hours I spend in a year or over my lifetime. You have to learn where the smallest pieces fit before you can understand the trends in a clients record and be able to advise them on bettering their business decision. Accountants are an important part of both reading the chicken entrails of the past year or years and projecting them into the future for business and retirement planning. No other professional has access to their clients attention and information on such a regular basic. We see our personal clients annually, we retain information about their families, their jobs, their investments, their homes. We are always available to assist with planning and to answer questions about a myriad of topics. Our corporate clients are basically the same. We handle planning and reporting, government filings and financial statement preparation. We are unique among professionals since we see everyone annually at a regular time. If you are good at what you do and it show in your face when you talk to your clients you become almost a friend advisor and look after families not clients. We have clients and their children and their children’s children who have been clients of mine/ours since 1972. The accounting field is the best profession. End of line.

Is your job routine or does it differ most days in any way? Explain how either way. While there are annual, monthly and weekly goals that never change (personal and corporate income tax filing, payroll preparation, HST calculations, monthly or quarterly reporting, that can be routine I can honestly say that my job is never the same or routine. If you pay attention even the routine becomes a place where you mine for data and knowledge every day to help your client over the long-term. Every job or project has always been like a video game to me for 45 years. Figuring out how to do it right and winning has been a prime motivator. In the real world you don’t get extra lives.

What are your thoughts or feelings on the new CPA organization? Honestly it was a difficult transition for everyone. The CGAs and CMAs were forced to amalgamate. For quite some time there have been bad feelings and the CAs really didn’t want to (their words) elevate the lesser designations (CGA & CMA) and make them equivalent. It was a process that in the end was amazingly well handled. I employ a CPA CGA in my practice. She started working for me at 18 years of age and completed the CGA programme before the amalgamation. She is now a CPA CGA. We currently employ a CPA student who will graduate in the next 2-3 years. The designation is strong and is a goal to work towards for anyone who wishes to become a true accountant. In ancient history I was able to do and learn the vast majority of information a CPA learns without a designation. My clients learned to trust me through 40 years of service and results. That is no longer possible and this is why all new accountants need to follow the CPA path and why the people who will inherit my practice must be CPAs.

Are there things you like or dislike about it? As it started there were many potential problems, as it ended it was very positive.

Any advice for a high school student potentially looking to become a professional accountant? Try your best to get a coop assignment from a small local firm rather than a member of the big 5 firms. You will learn far more and become a general accountant with a solid grounding in all phases of the profession. Embrace business technology and paperless processes. You are just entering this profession where technology is advancing at an amazing pace. Never miss an opportunity to upgrade your personal technology understanding and skills.

If you could start over would you do anything different? No. I have loved this job since July 15, 1972. There have been good and bad days but overall good significantly outweighed bad. On the wish front I would have liked to finish my CGA designation but I was forced to drop out because I worked for myself. I was told I had to give up my practice and go to work for someone else in order to finish. I am one of those people who can write exams, passing was not a problem. I didn’t stop because the courses were too hard I was forced to resign from the programme. I wish it had turned out differently.

What are some advantages and disadvantages about being an accountant? The advantages and disadvantages are basically the same if you plan to eventually have your own public practice. You will work 50 hours per week when you aren’t busy and over 100 hours per week when you are. If you love your job that is an advantage, if you are just "in it for the money" that is a disadvantage. You will spend the rest of your professional life going to school for upgrade courses, CE Credit courses and will NEVER stop learning. If you love your job that is an advantage, if you are just "in it for the money" that is a disadvantage. You will need to learn humility and how to utter the difficult words "I am not sure, let me research that and get back to you." It’s tough to admit that you don’t know everything but learning your limitations is key and surrounding yourself with a group of pier advisors to ask questions and learn from is key to your mental survival. If you love your job that is an advantage, if you are just "in it for the money" that is a disadvantage.

• My chosen profession has been the most stressful, rewarding, difficult, easy, mentally taxing, holiday I could have ever ask for or dreamed about. In my opinion you can’t ask for a better place to hang your hat for your professional and real world life. It’s been a hoot that I hope lasts for another 25 years.

Still crazy after all these years.