Where What-Ifs turned into Here’s-Hows.

The 2010 AICPA Accounting Competition gave college students the opportunity to flex their skills in a business proposal for sustainability to an actual, honest-to-goodness client. The top team was awarded a cool $10,000.

Below is the original lowdown from the 2010 competition. The specifics have changed for 2011, so they won’t be all that helpful to you. But the general structure will. Read through to see what came when, and what our most brilliant teams had to go through to get to NYC.

  • The Finalists

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    Eco Consulting LLC

    University of Texas at Dallas

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    Team Titans

    University of Tennessee

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    The Green Assets

    Ohio Dominican University

  • The Assignment

    2010 AICPA Accounting Competition – Umstead Hotel & Spa

    The daunting task of maintaining peace and tranquility

    The Umstead would like your expert opinion. You see, The Umstead Hotel & Spa, one of North Carolina’s finest luxury hotels, offering room and suite accommodations as well as spa services to incredibly lucky guests, wants to undertake some new sustainability initiatives. And to find out the best way to go about it, they're seeking your team's input.

    So put yourself in the Director of Finance’s shoes. You owe a proposal to the hotel manager (in your case, it’s actually the competition judges) no later than October 15th. You’ve got to outline in an executive summary of 750 words or less, double-spaced, how the Umstead can make its practices align better with the principles of sustainability – without sacrificing the five-star experience for guests. You’ve got help – your team will be providing valuable insight as well – and you’ve got some good ideas to work from already (see below)*, but from there it’s up to you. A promising, creative suggestion will score major points, of course. Accountants aren’t just expected to crunch numbers.

    Select your top three choices for hotel sustainability initiatives and provide justification of why you chose them. Also detail what information you’d need in order to further analyze the choices if your plan is approved. And remember, if your ideas sound good to the higher-ups, (meaning your team is selected for the semi-final round) you’ll have to defend your recommendations in your follow-up report. So be prepared to quantify costs and benefits too.

    *Note: Teams got the full version of the case upon registration.

  • How It Worked

    **Note all information below is from the 2010 AICPA Accounting Competition

    It's official

    The 2010 AICPA Accounting Competition is a case competition open to currently-enrolled undergraduate students at two-year and four-year colleges, community colleges, and universities in the United States.

    The competition will be open to teams of exactly four students: two students on each team must be currently enrolled accounting students, and the other two may be currently-enrolled undergraduates from any discipline. All teams will have a Team Captain. The Captain will be responsible for turning in all submissions and all direct communications during the competition. The Team Lead must be a declared accounting major.

    Students may also choose to have a faculty advisor. This faculty advisor can help guide you or give you feedback on your responses, but they may not provide any of the final deliverable work. (Having trouble getting one to commit? Tell them that if you win, so do they – awards for First and Second Place Advisors are $500 and $250, respectively. Honorable Mention Advisor gets $100.)

    The competition comprises three rounds. These rounds will involve a real case, with a real company, and will be structured to simulate the stages of a business proposal. The first round will involve a short written response to a basic exploratory request that more broadly helps us understand your team’s take on the issue.

    Ten teams will be selected to participate in the second round. Qualifying teams will be provided a detailed business case, and will be asked to respond with a video presentation.

    Three of the top ten teams will be selected to present again in front of the AICPA Board of Directors at their meeting in New York City. This will be an in-person presentation, and attendees will receive travel and hotel accommodations in Manhattan. The presentation will be will require students to present additional ideas and go into further detail on their proposed ideas. There will also be an additional Q&A period.


    Who can compete in this competition? The 2010 AICPA Accounting Competition is open to currently-enrolled undergraduate students at two-year and four-year colleges, community colleges, and universities in the United States.

    How do we sign up? Simple: just go to the Team Dashboard page and start building your team.

    Can multiple teams from the same school submit? Yes.

    What are the awards? See below, and remember they all come with a trip to New York, including hotel accommodations for two nights.

    First Place:         $10,000        First Place Advisor:        $500
    Second Place:        $5,000        Second Place Advisor:        $250
    Honorable Mention:    $2,500        Honorable Mention Advisor:    $100

    I want to participate but need help rounding out a team. Can you help? Yes. In the Team Dashboard page you can browse the existing teams to see if there’s one you’d like to join, or start your own and invite other students to participate. As the founder of the team, you’ll automatically be the Team Captain, but you can elect to make another member Captain later if you choose.

    One of our teammates will no longer be able to participate. May we make a substitution?  You can alter your team members until the close of the first round and you have submitted your case. No substitutions are allowed after you have made your submission.

    Why four team members? The simple answer is that the AICPA wants to help develop the next generation of CPAs. The more detailed answer is that we hope you’ll learn important concepts during the competition, including analysis of difficult and novel issues, communicating your thoughts clearly and compellingly, and – you guessed it – teamwork. In the real world your fate is entwined with that of your team, and the better you are at collaborating with them, the better. This competition is no different.

    Can I serve on two different teams? No. Besides, don’t you ever sleep?

    If I leave a team, can I join another team that needs a member? You can bounce from team to team as much as you like prior to submitting your first round case.  Once that is done, you’re locked in for the duration of the competition, so be nice to your teammates.

    How come the team captain gets to keep the video camera, and not me? Well, they’ve got considerably more work to deal with than the rest of the team, including increased communications, coordination of members and submissions, and representing/introducing the team at the finals. We offer them the camera as a token of gratitude. But they can still decide to give it to you if they want.

    Is there a required format for the video presentation? No. You have some creative license here, but all four members must appear in it at least once.

    Will my team’s written submission be judged on its style? While there is no official scoring mechanism for the style of the document, do bear in mind that a well-crafted, professional document for the competition only works in your favor – just as it would in a business environment. 

    One of my team members is a graphic design major; may we submit the written portion in a different format? So: Want to expand beyond the boundaries of Microsoft Word 2003 or 2007, do you? That’s fine; just have your gorgeously designed case in a format that’s readable by Adobe Acrobat.

    Do we have to have a faculty advisor? Not at all. It’s up to your team, and in particular the team captain, whether to solicit the advice of a faculty member. This advisor can help guide you and give feedback on your responses, but they can’t provide any of the final deliverable work (of course). Also, if you do choose to have an advisor, and you win, your advisor is eligible to win an additional award for helping out. Seems only fair.

    Do we have to use the suggested solutions? Partially. As you noticed, there are a number of sustainability-related measures that the Umstead is considering to improve its business practices. They’re pretty good ones, too, in our humble (okay, expert) opinion. For your First-Round proposal, which will focus on three total recommendations, you should select at least two of these to examine and address. Your team can come up with one more idea “from scratch” on your own if you choose, or you can go with three off the list. 

    We’ve been selected as finalists! What’s the dress code for the final presentation and networking dinner? Students will be expected to dress business formal (suit and tie, pantsuit, or skirt suit) for the presentation, as well as for the networking lunch and awards ceremony.

    How will our response be judged? All entries will be judged on a scorecard metric. This will factor in content, clarity, and creativity. The measures of these will be grammatical correctness, accuracy of writing, understanding of concepts, creativity, and persuasiveness. 

    Will my school affiliation give me an advantage during the judging process? No. Judges will come from various parts of the AICPA and business world, so nobody’s out there looking to heap awards on their alma mater. Also, once your first-round case has been submitted, any information linking your team to a particular school will be scrubbed prior to evaluation, so the judges won’t even *know* where you’re from. Second-round entries will be judged even more heavily on quality of response, making it nearly impossible for individual judges to play favorites.

    One of my relatives is a member of AICPA—will I still be able to compete? Yes. The AICPA is a professional association with more than 360,000 members, so you can see that if we limited entries on the basis of family membership, we’d be excluding a lot of students. So unless your relative is on the judging panel, you’re good. We’d like to keep the opportunity to compete as open as possible.

    If our team wins, will the Umstead institute our ideas into their business practices? The hotel isn’t obligated to do exactly what you recommended, but if your idea is good enough to best all the other proposals, why *wouldn’t* they want to give it a try?