More than numbers • Northwest Indiana Business Magazine

More than numbers

Experts work to diversify accounting industry, change stereotypes about CPAs

Courtney Kincaid
Courtney Kincaid

Ask any certified public accountant. They’ve likely heard all the misconceptions about their profession.

The job is boring.

It only involves math.

They only work in a back room with an adding machine.

Hollywood doesn’t help much either. Movies like the “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “Ghostbusters” portray accountants as either geeks or anti-social.

But those stereotypes couldn’t be further from the truth.

Courtney Kincaid, president and CEO of the Indiana CPA Society, said CPAs know the language of business, which is why they’re associated with all businesses.

“And they’re doing really sophisticated things like cyber security and some of these more sexy titles that are coming into the business schools, like how artificial intelligence is playing a role in the profession, what they’re doing for data analytics and really positioning CPAs as trusted business advisers more so than simply a compliance function, which is certainly what the stereotype fits,” Kincaid said.

Kylee Fraze Norman, a partner at CLH, CPAs & Consultants, said she’s heard many call CPAs “nerds.”

CLH, CPAs & Consultants
Kylee Fraze Norman (right) and Gretchen Kalk-Castro pose with Linda Hough (center), who recently retired from CLH, CPAs & Consultants. (Provided by CLH)

“We’re actually a lot of fun,” Fraze Norman said.

Gretchen Kalk-Castro, another partner at CLH, CPAs & Consultants, said unlike the stereotypes, CPAs don’t spend all their time doing math.

“I think they don’t realize how much we interact with clients,” Kalk-Castro said.

When it’s not tax-crunch season, most of their time is devoted to emailing, calling or meeting directly with clients.

“We help businesses from start to end, and we do a lot of consulting with that and helping them out with transitions, so it’s a lot more than just crunching numbers,” Kalk-Castro said.

Busting stereotypes

Part of the mission at INCPAS is “to promote a better understanding of services rendered by CPAs.”

INCPAS does that in a variety of ways, including when working to attract professionals to careers as CPAs. Those efforts involve meeting with high school and college students about accounting and the many opportunities the profession provides.

“Overcoming this misperception and stereotype is our No. 1 goal,” Kincaid said. “We spend a lot of time trying to dispel what CPAs do.”

Two of the biggest things that resonate with students are the ability to be an entrepreneur and an increased focus on giving back to the community through their work.

“CPAs are community builders, whether that is assisting a small business or working in a nonprofit,” Kincaid said. “We have tons of CPAs who do really meaningful work in nonprofits. It’s one of our largest areas of corporate finance that our members work in.”

Fraze Norman said she works with many small businesses at CLH, and she enjoys the opportunity to help them grow and thrive.

“We can make an impact not only on the business but also on the individual who owns the business,” she said. “And you actually grow to care about you clients.”

Many times, CPAs are helping small businesses as they transition ownership from a parent to their children. Being a part of that experience is rewarding for CPAs.

“To see them succeed, it’s really nice,” Fraze Norman said.

Building relationships

Kincaid said being a CPA is much more than a job for many. They get satisfaction from helping clients achieve their goals. She said CPAs are relationship builders, and they serve in an advisory role.

Building that relationship is instrumental because a lot of work CPAs are doing involves complicated information that can be confusing to the average person.

“There’s a great relationship built in trust that this person has their best interest at heart,” Kincaid said.

She said those relationships are key as artificial intelligence becomes more prevalent across the world. There’s often speculation that AI could replace jobs, and that’s no different in the CPA industry.

“Some of the functions that a CPA does will be automated or made or a lot easier or commoditized through artificial intelligence, but what we’re really trying to tell people, and we really believe, is that you can’t replace relationships with AI,” Kincaid said. “And so, it’s that interpretation, that analysis, those critical thinking skills that allow you to build trust and a true relationship.”

With an abundance of accounting job openings, building those relationships is still key to success.

“There are tons of availability, I think that’s probably true with a lot of learned professions right now,” Kincaid said. Accounting is “one of the few professions that’s truly recession proof because what they do is always needed.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job openings in the industry will grow by 6% between 2021 and 2031 — that’s about 136,000 job openings a year.

A survey launched by INCPAS showed some students considered becoming a CPA because they realized that in times of uncertainty, the relationship between the CPA and client is even more necessary, and there’s always compliance work that must be completed. That compliance work has grown more than ever with federal regulations that stem from COVID relief.

“It’s a new world in how we operate,” Kincaid said.

Kalk-Castro agrees there are many employment opportunities for CPAs.

“We’re looking all the time,” she said.

CLH has many internships that often lead to building their staff.

Diversifying workforce

As many accounting firms are looking for employees, there’s a push to ensure opportunities for women and minorities.

Fraze Norman said accounting was once a male-dominated field.

“I have seen a shift,” she said.

Kalk-Castro said she recently attended an accountant conference in Indianapolis. She noticed half the participants were women.

“Which was good to see,” she said.

That observation is in line with national statistics. According to Statista, women make up almost 60% of accountants and auditors in the U.S. as of 2022.

Fraze Norman and Kalk-Castro, who recently became the newest partners at CLH, pointed out that women have always been welcomed and empowered at CLH. It’s one of the reasons that attracted them to the company.

“It was nice to see the women in leadership here,” Fraze Norman said. “Women are in leadership roles throughout the company.”

As women become more involved in the CPA world, Kalk-Castro said she hasn’t noticed as many minorities turning toward careers in accounting. According to the Journal of Accountancy, only 2% of accountants are Black.

Groups like the Center for Audit Quality are working to change that.

Last year, the CAQ launched an initiative focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. Among the goals is increasing a diverse talent pipeline in accounting.

The CAQ sets out to do that with its Accounting+ campaign. That multi-year program involves engaging with high school and college students. They will learn about opportunities available in the CPA profession, including entrepreneurship and helping to shape communities.

The CAQ also has a “Bold Ambition” — which sets out to increase transparency involving efforts to build diversity, equity and inclusion in the CPA profession. It also features examples of work done by CPA professionals.

“The audit profession has been focused on (diversity, equity and inclusion) for many years, yet there clearly remains room for more growth, specifically with diverse talent entering the profession, and with retention and advancement of people of all races, ethnicities and backgrounds,” said Julie Bell Lindsay, CEO at the CAQ, in a statement when the initiative launched. “Our Bold Ambition is to advance equity and opportunity within the profession, which will help us better live up to our public mission and, ultimately, improve audit quality.”

Changing laws

While efforts continue to attract more women and minorities to accounting, the INCPAS is working to ensure the process to become a CPA isn’t too excessive.

Kincaid said people must accomplish several tasks to become a CPA, and it can be more than what’s needed for other professions. That process includes an experience requirement, education requirement and a four-part examination.

“We’ve been dedicated at the society for the last several years of making sure that those different checkpoints are appropriate, that they’re not overly burdensome and they’re not burdensome for certain demographics,” Kincaid said. “As the population of Indiana changes, we want to make sure that we are responsive to that as well.”

She said there are three rule changes in play for a CPA license.

Last year, Indiana became a “120 to sit state.” Kincaid said the average undergraduate degree requires 120 hours of college education, but to obtain a CPA license, a person must have 150 hours of education.

“There’s an additional 30 hours there,” she said.

Following legislation and a rule change, people can begin sitting for their four-part exam as a soon as they earn 120 hours of college education. Although they can begin the exam process, they won’t be eligible for licensure until they reach 150 hours of education.

Kincaid said legislation has passed for two other changes, but they are still going through the rule-making process.

One of them involves the experience requirement associated with the CPA license. Kincaid said most states mandate one year of experience to become licensed, but Indiana requires two years.

“We’re aligning with the rest of the country and changing that to one year of experience,” Kincaid said. “So, we did officially get that legislation passed in the 2023 session, and now we’re just promulgating the rule around that.”

The other change involves the four-part exam and how long people have to pass each part.

In Indiana, people must pass all four sections within an 18-month window. If a person passes one or more sections but doesn’t pass all of them in those 18 months, the person loses credit for the passed sections, and the exam has to start over.

Kincaid said most states follow the uniform accountancy act, which was amended to a 30-month window. Indiana and a couple other states are pursuing 36 months, she said.

Kincaid said INCPAS is focused on ensuring the rules and regulations in place make sense and aren’t unnecessarily burdensome for CPA candidates.

Kiera Speed
Kiera Speed

“We kind of have those three rules that we feel change some of those benchmarks but don’t change the quality of candidates in the end,” Kincaid said.

She and other experts hope the changes will help the downward trend in the number of accountants. The industry peaked in 2019 but dropped by 17% by 2021, according to Financial Executives International.

Plus, the latest American Institute of CPA Trends report showed a 2.8% decrease in accounting graduates with bachelor’s degrees, an 8.4% decline in master’s degrees and a 17% decline in new candidates for the CPA exam.

The Center for Accounting Transformation is working to find out exactly why that trend continues.

“We are at a challenging juncture in the accounting profession,” said Kiera Speed, a project manager at the organization, in a statement.

“And our latest research seeks to provide answers to the staffing needs of accounting firms, businesses and organizations.”

Read more stories from the current issue of Northwest Indiana Business Magazine.


  • Chas Reilly

    Chas Reilly has covered a variety of issues in Northwest Indiana for more than 15 years. Much of his career has been focused on municipal government, especially issues in Merrillville and Hobart. He also has experience writing about business, crime, schools and sports. Reilly started his career in 2006 with The Times of Northwest Indiana. He became a freelance journalist in 2015.


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