“Accounting is the Language of Business”
The body of knowledge required of newly licensed CPAs has transformed: today’s professionals must be agile, savvy, and prepared to handle responsibilities that require higher-order skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, and professional judgment. A joint initiative of the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), CPA Evolution focuses on subject matter that truly reflects the realities of practice and is designed to prepare future licensed professionals to succeed, now and in the future. AICPA member Tyler Lauer is a young accounting professional who started his first full-time position in July 2021, with the international tax and transaction services team at Ernst & Young. Tyler earned his bachelor's and master’s degrees from Michigan State University and passed all four sections of the Uniform CPA Examination (CPA Exam) even before completing his master’s program.
AICPA: What is your perspective on the value of earning the CPA?
Tyler Lauer: [From the time] I learned about the fundamentals of what it meant to be a CPA, I knew I wanted to use my degrees from Michigan State to help me become a CPA. One of the most valuable aspects of being a CPA is the global prestige and recognition. Taking the CPA Exam and earning the required working hours are daunting tasks, but the knowledge you learn from the process is an excellent foundation to excel in the business world. Not only can becoming a CPA help your career as an accountant, but taking the skills you learn from becoming a CPA will help in all different aspects of business. The process of becoming a CPA is a tremendous step anyone can take to enhance their skills and gain an understanding of how accounting is at the center of all the business functions.
AICPA: Would you recommend other students/future professionals pursue CPA licensure, and why?
TL: The business world is changing dramatically with increased technology reliance and remote working becoming the norm. As a result, the CPA Exam is evolving through CPA Evolution, which helps prepare future CPAs to face challenges during this transition period. Becoming a CPA in the next several years will put you on the cutting edge of a revolutionized business world. I strongly recommend students and future professionals pursue CPA licensure. Not only is the CPA content important to accountants and the future of the profession, but the intangible skills that I learned through my study process are tremendous. For example, I learned valuable skills like time management, detailed scheduling techniques, and the determination to achieve a difficult goal. Anyone who pursues CPA licensure will be strongly encouraged to learn these skills to succeed, not just accountants – it would be beneficial for anyone in the business world to consider becoming a CPA.
AICPA: In college, when you started taking accounting courses, did your program meet your expectations?
TL: It exceeded my expectations. As soon as I started taking the introductory accounting classes at Michigan State, it really opened my eyes to the opportunities and the possibilities of becoming an accountant. I enjoyed everything that came along with becoming an accountant and learning at Michigan State was something that I found to be very, very interesting. My experience continued to get better the further I progressed. Being able to apply what I learned in the introductory classes towards my master’s courses help me excel and get the best possible experience from the Accounting Department at Michigan State.
AICPA: What did you experience during your student internships?
TL: I was able to intern at two Big Four Firms. At Ernst & Young, it was essentially a rotational tax program. I was in the domestic group at one point, the international tax group, the business tax services, and the state and local. I got a taste of all the different types of tax service lines that you could potentially pursue. It affirmed my thoughts and feelings for becoming an accountant, especially in the public accounting realm. So that was a fantastic internship. A few months later, I interned at PricewaterhouseCoopers, where I did strictly international and really enjoyed it there. That was where I made my decision to stick with international tax just because of the dynamic work environment and learning opportunities.
AICPA: Do you feel the work during your internships prepared you for your career?
TL: It is not necessarily the same thing as going into a full-time job, as an intern. You still are very young, very inexperienced, and you don't have a lot of the necessary skills, [which] the CPA Exam and your upper-level accounting courses will teach you. It was definitely some data entry. But the managers and the seniors would sit down with me and help me see the bigger picture.
AICPA: Did you get exposure to the kinds of work that newly licensed professionals do?
TL: Yes, absolutely. I think the public accounting firms and all the big four do a great job of it. As an intern, you get assigned a buddy, or mentor, who you can ask questions about work at the firm, about the CPA exam. I spent time asking those questions … how do I prepare for the CPA Exam? What's the best route to take with it? What have your experiences been like at the firm? [It] did help me get a good picture of what it's going to be like in a firm.
AICPA: In school, were there any specific accounting classes or subjects that you think would be valuable and have an impact on your career going forward?
TL: One was an international tax class, to figure out the basics of that, as well as a corporate tax class for tax provisions. A non-accounting course I found to be very beneficial was a financial modeling class. I know a lot of the big four accounting firms are essentially creating big models to project earnings and future tax effects. Knowledge of Excel [and] helping create financial models I will definitely carry forward with me when I start working. I also took a communications course that was extremely beneficial to help me apply what I had been learning in my core accounting classes and essentially improve my soft skills. At the end of the day, you can know about the content, but if you can't communicate and express your thoughts, be able to work together on teams or handle difficult situations, then it's going to be very tough to implement that knowledge you have.
AICPA: Is there anything about the accounting program that you just completed at Michigan State that reinforced your decision to go there?
TL: Absolutely. After having researched their accounting program, their accreditation, and looking at professor bios, I just thought it was going to be a great fit for me. It was a fantastic experience getting to know professors and learn accounting, tax and even auditing. I went to seminars about different master's programs and met with some of the advisors from different schools and ultimately settled on Michigan State because of their willingness to work with students and, you know, push students to apply what they've learned in those lower-level accounting courses. Michigan State's done an excellent job preparing me for the workforce. I've had two internships, and I finished the CPA Exam before I finished my master's program.
AICPA: Any suggestions or advice that you would give to accounting faculty, in terms of how they might evolve their programs to meet expectations of the profession?
TL: The biggest piece of advice I could give the faculty, as a student who's learning the content to be a CPA going to go into the workforce, is just be open to and be able to adapt to changes. It's a very dynamic profession, and changes clearly are coming with CPA Evolution. Any way that professors can incorporate that into their teaching or just overall be ready for the changes and help students out – it'll go a long way and look good to the students who are taking their courses. I know Michigan State does a pretty good job of implementing data analytics and information technology into a lot of their accounting courses to help students get those skills the workforce requires now. Then maybe implementing specialty options at the undergrad or the master's level and have information systems, specializations … overall, promote this new technology that we're using and new skills.
AICPA: What impact do you think the CPA Evolution Initiative will have on accounting students?
TL: I think we're in a very dynamic world right now where things are constantly changing. And that includes the CPA Exam. New associates who are graduating, just like me, are expected to know so many more skills than in the past. I think it is beneficial for people to get a good understanding of business analytics or information technology. And being able to implement that at the university level and the CPA [Exam] level is a great step to help people prepare for the workforce because there is a gap naturally going from the university level to the workforce. If there's a way that we can streamline that process or help prepare students the best that we can, to get them to the next level through the CPA Evolution, it's going to go a long way in helping them start their careers off on the right foot.
AICPA: What would you say to non-accounting students to interest them in exploring an accounting degree?
TL: Simply put, accounting is the language of business. At the bottom line, if you know what's going on with a company's accounting, know about the numbers, then it speaks volumes. You can get a good understanding of what a business is like and how a business operates. And you always need accountants, especially now when there are tax law changes and audit automation. We need accountants and different perspectives. So [for] different majors, like finance majors or supply chain majors, I think [accounting] will broaden their knowledge overall and help them get a much better view of business.
Edited for length and clarity, from a May 2021 interview.