Frequently, I meet students or young professionals who ask about my career path and the decisions I have made through the years. By way of background, let me start with the Cliff Notes version of my career to date:

After graduating from Brigham Young University with my Bachelor’s degree in Accounting, I spent three busy seasons working as an auditor for Deloitte. During that time, I sat for and passed the CPA exam. I then moved to a global consulting firm for two and a half years where I worked on a variety of projects, including forensic accounting, litigation consulting and valuation engagements. Next, I transitioned into a role as a financial planner and investment advisor for a couple of years before starting my own financial planning firm four years ago.

It’s not unusual for the person I’m chatting with to somewhat quizzically ask why, as a financial planner, I maintain my CPA license. So let me address why I believe my accounting experience and CPA license make me a better financial planner – and why it can do the same for you.

Community

The financial planning community is a much smaller fraternity than the CPA community. And when you’re a sole practitioner like me, it can sometimes feel like you’re on an island. One of the primary ways I combat that is to maintain my CPA license and stay active in the AICPA and my state and local CPA Societies. The dues I pay to be part of the PFP (Personal Financial Planning) Section of the AICPA are some of the best dollars I spend all year. It helps me connect with financial planners from all over the country who are CPAs like me.

As a member of the Texas Society of CPAs, I have also had the opportunity to serve on my chapter’s PFP Committee for the past 6+ years. The committee is a group of financial planners who meet every other month to address PFP needs within the chapter and community and to plan an annual PFP conference. My involvement with that committee has greatly helped me improve my practice. And that makes me a much better financial planner.

Knowledge

Each of the primary areas of personal financial planning (estate planning, investments, risk management, etc.) is laden with tax implications. I’ve never worked in a tax-specific role. But I’ve been exposed to lots of tax-related client engagements and CPE courses, and I’ve been fortunate to associate with some of the smartest tax people around. I owe that to my CPA license. That is experience and learning that my non-CPA financial planning colleagues just haven’t had.

As a CPA, I am also held to a stricter continuing education requirement. That may be frustrating if you find yourself just days away from your deadline with dozens more CPE hours to complete. (Uh, not that I’ve ever done that…) But it also gives me a great opportunity to learn and expand my base of knowledge each year. And that makes me a much better financial planner.

Training

When I was an accounting student at BYU, I had no idea that I would end up becoming a financial planner. At the time, I had every intention of getting an MBA and either conquering the business world as the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or becoming the General Manager of my favorite Major League Baseball team and saving my Pittsburgh Pirates from continuing the longest string of losing seasons in the history of American sports (hey, 2013 is their year…I can feel it!). The beauty of becoming a CPA is that each of those widely divergent paths (along with hundreds of others) is entirely achievable – largely because of the skill set we gain as CPAs.

Among other things, my experience as a CPA has trained me to think critically, to communicate effectively and to work tirelessly. I can’t think of a more appropriate and necessary skill set to being a financial planner and owning my own business. So while it may seem that being an auditor, for example, didn’t prepare me to be a financial planner, I have a major leg up on other financial planners who aren’t as accustomed to reading and dissecting company financials, prospectuses and other critical information. Maintaining my CPA license helps me to keep my skill set current. And that makes me a much better financial planner.

Summary

I love being a financial planner. There’s honestly nothing I would rather do professionally. But it’s not an easy job. So it’s important to find things that will help me serve my clients and give me a competitive advantage. My CPA license does just that. The community. The knowledge. The training. That’s why I maintain my CPA license. And it makes me a much better financial planner.

So why do YOU want a CPA license?