As the oldest state accounting organization in the country, the New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants (NYSSCPA) holds an iconic place in the numbers realm. With 16 chapters spread out across the state, from the Adirondacks to Staten Island and of course, Manhattan, NYSSCPA has grown to 29,000 members over the course of its 110-year history.
"I've found the society to be a great value to myself as a professional," says Don Kiamie, who has been a NYSSCPA member for 20 years and currently serves on the group's real estate committee. "I don't think I could have gotten that value out of any other organization."
In the Beginning
Incorporated in 1897, the accounting society has long been a gathering place and point of reference for the state's accounting professionals, enabling them to network, share information, and stay informed of the latest and most important innovations in their field.
The group's mission states that it "seeks to cultivate, promote and disseminate knowledge and information concerning certified public accountants; to establish and maintain high standards of integrity, honor and character among certified public accountants; to furnish information regarding accountancy and the practice and methods thereof to its members and the general public; to protect the interests of its members and the general public with respect to the practice of accountancy."
It's a large-scale mission that's being met today by a professional staff of 80, a 42-member board of directors and 60 technical and administrative committees with hundreds of members.
The society's committees are divided into six major areas: accounting and auditing; consulting services; future of the profession; industry; operations and tax. Each society chapter throughout the state also has its own committee structure enabling members who live outside the New York City metro area to get involved in local professional activities. According to the NYSSCPA website, "All chapter members are encouraged to serve on a committee to help strengthen and unify the profession."
Generally speaking, membership is made up of two types of CPAs: those in public practice and those in industry. Kiamie estimates that 60 percent of membership is from CPAs in practice with the remaining 40 percent representing the industry professionals. Other individuals who are not certified public accountants may also join the society as associate members, including college or university faculty, employees of CPA firms, CPA candidates who are not yet certified, CPA students, and international CPAs. Associate members enjoy all the benefits of full membership except voting rights and the right to serve as officers or directors of the society.
Benefits of Membership
For long-time members like Kiamie, the benefits of being a NYSSCPA member are wide-ranging. Kiamie says he initially joined the society for the contacts and networking opportunities. Over the years, he's also grown to appreciate the ever-expanding host of professional education options offered by the society. "I wanted to use the society as a source for continuing education," Kiamie says. "I'm always looking for more education, and I've been able to get it with this organization."
The professional exchange of ideas also has proved invaluable. "I've been able to network and it's been great meeting other people, talking to them, bouncing ideas off them."
In terms of professional support, Kiamie says the NYSSCPA also comes through in a big way. "Whenever I've needed support, they've been able to give me names or resources that have led me to the answers I needed. They've helped me find better ways to do my work. I've been completely satisfied with the educational, networking and support opportunities (offered by the society)."
The educational opportunities afforded any and all society members are enormous, ranging from conferences to seminars to self-study programs. Upcoming technical session course titles include everything from "What Accounting Information Systems Programs Offer to the Profession" to "Client Reference Letters—How You Should Respond."
Professional conferences provide more in-depth examinations and explanations of an even wider range of subjects such as estate planning, working with construction contractors, examining issues of high net worth and more. Other annual conferences focus on aspects of industry such as real estate, which includes sessions on issues relating directly to co-ops and condos. Audience members number in the hundreds and include real estate clients, brokers and other professionals learning alongside CPAs.
In support of its community-based efforts, the NYSSCPA also hosts chapter conferences designed to specifically address local needs and issues.
A different type of educational initiative involves reaching out to tomorrow's CPAs and spreading the word to high school and college students. "We've been getting into high schools and talking to kids about accounting careers," Kiamie says.
Created by the society's educational arm, the Foundation for Accounting Education, in partnership with New York state colleges, a program called Career Opportunities in the Accounting Profession (COAP) seeks to recruit young people into the CPA profession.
Created in 1987, the program brings together high school juniors from minority groups historically underrepresented in the accounting profession. Students come from public and private for a five-day summer session held on several college campuses across the state. The program offers sessions in accounting, financial analysis and computers, giving students a preview of college and the possibilities of an accounting career. Students work side-by-side with CPAs and also visit corporations, accounting firms and government agencies. In the nearly two decades since its creation, COAP has seen nearly 70 percent of its graduates enroll in accounting or business programs when they got to college.
A Bright Future
As the New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants continues to grow, more opportunities arise for its members each day. For Kiamie, who has watched the society evolve for the last two decades, the key word to describe what he sees today is "active." "We've become much more active with membership, more user-friendly," he says. "The society has tried to reach out to more of the members to provide broader services."
New programs are constantly in the works. New member benefits are being instituted. Members are working with lawmakers to elevate professional standards. CPAs are building relationships amongst themselves and with other professionals to create a stronger network of informational exchanges and knowledge. All in all, the future looks like a bright one for New York's certified public accountants and the hundreds of thousands of individuals and businesses they serve.
With more thoughts on the NYSSCPA and the work it does, here is a brief Q&A with society President Tom Riley, CPA:
What are the society's most important aims?
"The society is a professional association whose mission includes ensuring the highest level of CPA practice in the state to protect the public we serve. We are focused on continuing professional education, being responsive to standards-setters and regulators and testifying before legislative bodies on the areas in which we are experts. For example, the society is active in the debate to inject fairness and transparency into the federal tax system. We recently testified before a subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee on the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)."
In what ways do you feel the society most positively impacts the general public?
"The society is a highly regarded and influential body that frequently is one of the chief thought leaders for the profession and many times is its conscience, too."
What are the society's goals for the coming years?
"The society continues to build on a 110 year-old foundation of elevating the quality of practice for the profession because ultimately it is that that will protect the public interest. The public relies on CPAs for auditing financial statements, preparing tax returns, providing tax advice and for all levels of financial and business planning. To ensure that their trust is well-placed, we continue to provide the highest quality of continuing education through conferences and seminars throughout the year on the most advanced professional and technical topics, including professional ethics. The society has authored in-depth studies on peer review (a system where one firm audits the quality controls of another) and on ethics. We are working on a third on educational requirements. We always keep our eye on the ball—protecting the public we are licensed to serve to meet the challenges of a changing financial world."
Liz Lent is a freelance writer and a teacher living in Michigan.