Strength in numbers

CPAs find value in local professional organization

The lone accountant, hunched over a desk covered with figures…we’ve all seen this image. But the 200-plus CPAs belonging to the Southwest Washington chapter of the Washington Society of CPAs (WSCPA) don’t fit the stereotype. Instead, they appear a vibrant, active group of professionals, interacting with each other, their clients and the community.

"We have the highest rate of attendance per membership roll in all the state," said Chapter President Tiffany Couch, a Vancouver-based forensic accountant.

Networking and continuing education

The chapter offers plenty of opportunities for member CPAs to get together. Monthly two-hour meetings featuring a meal and a speaker, annual networking events and frequent four-hour and eight-hour continuing professional education (CPE) classes all contribute to the ongoing professional development of members.

Marci White, a staff accountant with Vancouver-based Peterson & Assoc., joined the chapter a year ago, after she graduated with an accounting degree from Washington State University Vancouver. She is still studying for the CPA exam, having two more sections to conquer. White considers her chapter membership a good investment.

"Sometimes you get stuck in your own little corner," said White. Participating in chapter activities, she said, "is a good way to keep informed as to what is going on with the state and meet other accountants locally."

The chapter’s CPE events are popular because they provide a local alternative to traveling to Portland or Seattle for classes. In Washington, CPAs are required to take 40 hours of continuing education every year and to pass an ethics exam upon renewal of their license. Couch said that the chapter tries to offer classes on timely topics, such as IRS rules, fraud and reciprocity. For example, in May, the chapter’s course was "Standard Setter Update."

The classes are often attended by CPAs involved in public accounting, and also by accountants working in private industry, as well as by CPAs’ clients.

"We encourage private industry accountants to join our chapter," said Couch.

Non-members are also welcome at meetings and classes. In fact, Couch said that a major challenge the chapter helped meet was to educate the public about why it is important to have a CPA.

"We help investors and banks – and therefore the public – stay safe," she said, by making sure companies remain solvent. The more business owners learn about the value of CPA services, the better they can utilize them.

The networking at meetings and classes is one of the main benefits of the organization. Couch pointed out there were many areas of specialization, such as estate taxes, S-corporation issues, forensic accounting and business valuation. By leveraging the knowledge of colleagues, said Couch, "networking allows CPAs to align themselves with other professionals, and provide better service to their clients and/or employer."

Community and advocacy

The chapter, and the WSCPA in general, also encourages members to give back to their community. Examples include providing opportunities for CPAs to provide accounting services to nonprofit organizations and to educate the public about financial literacy. For example, the Hudson’s Bay High School in Vancouver is seeking to start a financial literacy program, and the WSCPA is asking local CPAs to help out with this effort.

The chapter also actively supports accounting students at Clark College, WSU Vancouver, and Lower Columbia College. They host an annual "meet the students" event and have a booth at the institutions’ career fairs. The chapter also regularly awards scholarships to accounting students, giving out $3,000 this year.

In addition to CPE, recruiting and supporting students, and networking, another important activity of chapter members is advocacy. One example is the chapter’s involvement with the Uniform Accountancy Act of 2001. This act, opposed by many local CPAs, established sweeping changes to public accounting practices.

"Our chapter was very active in fighting this legislation," said Newt Rumble, a CPA with Peterson & Assoc. and a member of the chapter’s board of directors. "We fought hard, but at the end of the day, we couldn’t sway enough votes."

According to Rumble, who has been a CPA for almost 25 years, the act was supposed to, among other things, "establish a uniform set of standards that would apply to the licensing of CPAs in all states." In reality, he said, each state adopted the act uniquely, creating what Rumble called an "expensive and cumbersome morass of different rules and regulations that we have to comply with."

Rumble said it was common for CPAs to service clients in several states. This practice is governed by the reciprocity regulations of each state, which differ widely. With the new rules, CPAs must pay license fees to each state in which they do business. While the added expense might not affect larger firms, Rumble said smaller CPA firms have a much harder time absorbing the $1,500 or so in additional costs.

"It is a financial burden to smaller CPA firms serving clients across state borders," said Rumble.

Despite issues with reciprocity, Couch stated that Southwest Washington was a great place to be a CPA. Many of the larger CPA firms in Portland and Seattle won’t take on small businesses as clients. In contrast, she said, in Southwest Washington, "there is a great group of CPAs that provide high level of service to small business owners in our area."

Washington Society of CPAs History

The WSCPA was formed in 1904. Its mission statement describes the organization as a "voluntary association of CPAs in public practice, industry, government, and education." WSCPA goals include the following:

• To develop the professional practice of accountancy, both public and non-public

• To encourage the maintenance of high professional standards; to cultivate cordial relationships among practicing accountants

• To promote a better lay understanding of services rendered by CPAs

• To act in a representative capacity for the profession.

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Membership and Event Information

Regular membership costs $205 (students are $35). Monthly meetings are $45 (including meal) and continuing professional education classes run about $30 an hour. Both are open to non-members. Besides networking and CPE, the chapter offers insurance services and discounts on local vendors for services such as form and check printing, UPS shipping and office supplies.

Upcoming events include the following:

June 14
Annual Networking Event, Bethany Vineyards, Ridgefield

Sept. 28
Meeting featuring two prominent accounting professors speaking on Applied and Financial Accounting Standards

For more information on the local chapter or these events, call 360-601-4151.