Just in case new accountants didn't have enough on their plates with new careers, opportunities, and the adventure of studying for and passing the CPA exam, there is a responsibility that young CPAs have to the rest of the world that isn't often discussed: passing on the importance of financial literacy.
First of all, the AICPA has countless resources for professionals as well as everyone else (meaning you could point your neighbor to the website if ever unsure what advice to offer) at 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy worth checking out. Underwater on your mortgage? Unsure how to save for retirement? Looking for tips on pinching pennies? You can find all of that and more via the AICPA, with guides tailored to meet your specific needs based on where you are in life.
The AICPA's "Feed the Pig" campaign takes financial literacy just a step further, offering solutions for cash-strapped college students looking to sock away some spending money as well as lifestyle suggestions that can save the average family thousands of dollars a year. There is even "Feed the Pig for Tweens", a cartoony, interactive take on financial literacy for the younger generation who likely still doesn't know what "put it on my charge" really means.
Even Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke got in on the argument, stating in an April 2008 speech: "The financial preparedness of our nation's youth is essential to their well-being and of vital importance to our economic future. In light of the problems that have arisen in the subprime mortgage market, we are reminded of how critically important it is for individuals to become financially literate at an early age so that they are better prepared to make decisions and navigate an increasingly complex financial marketplace."
These resources, joined with the efforts of state societies of CPAs, NASBA, and individual accounting firms that bring financial literacy to the forefront of the American economic recovery argument are priceless but are they enough?
More important, what responsibility lies with the latest crop of CPAs to bring their knowledge of these critical issues to American (and world) consciousness to prevent a catastrophic financial disaster like the one from which we are now just beginning to heal?
We've got three key things for young CPAs to keep in mind, although the professional code of conduct certainly has more ideas!
1. Get your own house in order
No, we aren't talking about your actual house - especially if you are studying for the CPA exam, a little mess is totally allowed - we're talking about your financial house! Though times are tough, there are still ways to save for a rainy day. Pay down as much personal debt as possible (no, not just the minimums on those credit cards!), avoid taking risky items onto your personal balance sheet ("balance transfers" with 0% introductory rates are a perfect example of "risky" items that can backfire on you later if you don't read the terms thoroughly), and do your best to live within your means. We cannot define for you what that means, we are merely pointing out that it's a good idea to make sure your personal left/right balance correctly! Sock away what you can, even if it's just a $50 a month.
2. Work with your state society of CPAs to spread the word
State societies are great for more than just discounts on CPA Review courses you know! Many states have programs in place to give back to the community, and your state society of CPAs can certainly point you in the right direction.
3. Remember that financial literacy doesn't stop at the client
One important thing to remember is that as a CPA, you have the opportunity to reach all levels of business and industry, from non-profits to publicly traded companies to government agencies. It doesn't matter where you find yourself in your career, the fact remains that you will have an endless amount of opportunity to share what you know with others. Don't think financial literacy means some glorified version of consultancy, it is far bigger than that. You have a responsibility to clients to make sure their financial needs are being met but what about those in your community? What about the responsibility to the profession itself?
The point is that CPAs are trusted authorities on all things financial and if we can't spread the financial knowledge, who is going to do it for us?
Financial literacy resources we recommend:
AICPA's Feed the Pig
Federal Reserve Education
US Government's My Money.gov
Jump$tart Coalition for Financial Literacy