The new director of Connecticut’s accounting society is not an accountant, another sign that the profession is searching for added skills in managing trends.
Bonnie Stewart, a lawyer who has been working at the Connecticut Business and Industry Association since 1988, will begin her new job next month at the Connecticut Society of Certified Public Accountants.
Robert Boudreau, president of the Rocky Hill-based account society, said Stewart’s communications skills and governmental knowledge are among the reasons she was hired to replace Art Renner, a CPA who is retiring after 20 years as executive director.
“Bonnie brings a wealth of relevant experience and talent to our organization,” said Boudreau, a CPA who is a principal at Killingworth-based Buckley, Frame, Boudreau & Co P.C. “We are confident that she will hit the ground running in working with the great team we already have in place here at CTCPA.”
Demand for accountants in Connecticut is strong, fueled by government compliance requirements including complex tax laws. The occupation sector known as accountants and auditors is projected to grow 9.9 percent in the 10 years that began with 2014 while the increase for all employment categories is estimated at 6.1 percent, according to the Connecticut Department of Labor.
Accountants are highly sought after regardless of economic conditions, said Patrick Flaherty, the labor department’s assistant research director.
“They are in demand when the economy grows; for example, when new businesses start,” he said. “And they are in demand when the economy declines; for example, when bankruptcies increase. Additionally, businesses and government agencies of all sizes require accountants.”
Accounting for transferable skills
Against that backdrop, membership in the state CPA society has held steady at around 6,000 for the past 10 years, said Mark Zampino, the group’s public affairs director.
Stewart and others see her verbal strengths honed during her law and business networking career as a tool to help with recruitment. Hartford-based CBIA is the state’s largest business lobbying group and has about 10,000 members.
“My position at the CTCPA will be different than my current role at CBIA, but will take advantage of many of the skills I developed during my tenure at CBIA,” she said. “During my time at CBIA, in addition to leading our advocacy efforts, I held positions where I led our outreach and engagement teams as well as our group responsible for answering members’ compliance questions and conducting seminars and conferences.”
In other words, not being an accountant is not a disadvantage, Stewart said. She doesn’t even own a green eyeshade.
“The training and skills that will give me an advantage in my new role are required in a growing number of professions,” she said. “They include strong interpersonal and communication skills, community and coalition building abilities, an expertise in advocacy, as well as analytical and strategic skills.”
Four years ago, Connecticut changed its laws to allow greater involvement of non-accountants in the ownership and management of accounting firms. As of July 2012, Connecticut statutes were revised to allow firms with a simple majority of licensed CPAs to hold a permit.
Although there is work for non-accountants to do in accounting firms, the quality of CPAs is what keeps and attracts a firm’s business, said Edwin Muenzner, owner of the Franklin, Connecticut-based CPA and tax preparation firm that bears his name. He’s also a business professor at Three Rivers Community College in Norwich.
“Look at it as a football game,” he said. “There is a lot of blocking and tackling to be done but when you get down close to the end zone you need your skilled players to score touchdowns.”
Big shoes to fill
At CTCPA, Renner will be a tough act to follow, Boudreau said.
His achievements include streamlining the group’s leadership model, two moves into upgraded offices, and several compelling public service campaigns.
“We’re proud of our accomplishments with Art, and he should be proud as well,” Boudreau said.
The creation of the society’s Interview Day five years ago occurred on Renner’s watch. Zampino called Interview Day, held annually at the CTCPA Education Center, “quite an event.”
All Connecticut colleges and universities that offer four-year accounting degrees recognized by the Connecticut State Board of Accountancy are invited to participate. This year’s event, held Sept. 23, featured 10 schools. Sixty students were selected for interviews, 17 firms conducted interviews, and more than 160 total interviews took place, Zampino said. About 10 job offers were extended before the end of the session, he said.
There is a shortage of accountants in Connecticut, Muenzner said. During the Great Recession, Connecticut’s unemployment rate surged to around 9 percent while the unemployment rate for accountants was only about 3 percent, he noted.
Among the reasons for the shortage is the portability of accounting degrees and strong demand nationally, Zampino said.
“That’s really more of a function of where people want to be – whether they want the New York City or Boston experience, or whether they prefer a warm-weather-all-the-time environment, etc., that is where they want to live,” he said. “In that sense, the accounting profession faces the same challenges as any other (Connecticut) profession/career path.”
Zampino speaks annually to University of Connecticut accounting majors in their junior year as a way of interesting them in staying in Connecticut. He has addressed classes as large as 175 students.
“How many of them will stay in Connecticut, or return home (out-of-state), or go somewhere brand new to them is hard to predict,” Zampino said.
Supervision over the State Board of Accountancy was moved to the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection from the Secretary of the State’s office last year as part of budget tightening moves made by Gov. Dannel Malloy.
Complaints against certified public accountants in Connecticut during the past four years has been climbing, with 113 filed so far this year. There were 111 complaints last year, 66 in 2014, and 48 in 2013, said Lora Rae Anderson, the Department of Consumer Protection’s spokeswoman.
The increase in complaints is believed to be related to the State Board of Accountancy beginning to receive lists in 2015 of people and firms that use the CPA title in their preparer tax identification number with the Internal Revenue Service. The accountancy board then checks the list against the list of the board’s licensees and files cases against accountants who had not renewed their licenses or firms that do not have proper permits, Anderson said. This year, there have been 78 cases for failure to renew and/or unauthorized use of the CPA title compared with 56 cases in the prior year, she said.
Meanwhile, the language of GAAP, or generally accepted accounting principles, has taken on increasing importance in recent years. Malloy’s first-ever executive order called for his administration’s budget office to adopt GAAP, as prescribed by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board, as a way to better track the use of public funds.
The state is fully compliant with GAAP, said Chris McClure, spokesman for the governor’s budget division, also known as the Office of Policy and Management. What GAAP brought about were changes in accruals for both expenditures and revenue, McClure said.
The office of State Comptroller Kevin Lembo publishes the state’s comprehensive annual financial report based upon GAAP. The next one is scheduled to be released early next year.