A group of Mississippi CPAs are on a mission to spread the good news about their profession, speak out on timely topics and promote better financial literacy in the state and country. They’re part of the CPA Ambassadors program that was begun in 2003 by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).
Nine Mississippians have received ambassador training through the Mississippi Society of CPAs and another group will be trained this year. Topics include public interest, small business, financial literacy, recruitment and professional issues. The ambassadors are available to answer media questions and to speak to interested groups. They shine the spotlight on the work done by the 350,000 men and women in the profession.
“I got involved in the program because I love what I do and have a great passion for what accounting is about,” said Jerry Levens of Gulfport. “I take my stewardship of the profession seriously and will do anything to advocate the profession.”
Levens, a partner in the firm of Alexander, Van Loon, Sloan, Levens and Favre, enjoys “getting out there” speaking with media and groups. He was doing a series of radio interviews on tax season with Mississippi Public Broadcasting when the Mississippi Business Journal caught up with him.
He thinks the program will help the image of CPAs, but believes relationships are still the key. “We will still be judged by the people we serve and our relationships with them,” he said. “It’s a grassroots effort, and the connection occurs at the local level. Community visibility is a large part of it, too.”
Karen Moody of Jackson has been an ambassador for one year and feels she can be an industry representative. She’s worked in public accounting, but for the past 17 years has been director of accounting with Lampton Love Inc., the propane side of Ergon.
“The ambassadors are telling the public about our profession and my specialty is recruitment,” she said. “It’s a good profession. I’m excited about it and want to see more students go into it.”
Moody has seen a few changes since she entered accounting in 1961. For one thing, the dress code is greatly relaxed from the days of blue and gray suits. “You go downtown now and you might not see a suit and tie,” she says. “Also, there are many more women in the profession now. It has evolved and isn’t just for men anymore.”
Levens agrees, noting that the emergence of more women brings a new dynamic to the workforce. “Probably 65% coming out of school now are females. When I graduated in 1978, it was about 50/50,” he said. “All but 10 out of 55 employees we have are female. Because of that, quality of life is a big part of what we do.”
Moody likes to tell others about the wide area of opportunities offered by accounting. “I feel like I have a story to tell. I grew up on a farm in Utica,” she said, “and it’s been a lot of fun getting where I am from where I was.”
In addition to training on critical messages that will help reintroduce the CPA profession to the public, ambassadors receive support tools that include prepared speeches, talking points, guidance on handling tough media questions and briefings on related issues that dominate today’s headlines. These CPAs also have the opportunity to emphasize the profession’s commitment to battling fraud, improving auditing standards and quality, and shoring up small businesses that represent the main economic engine of the country.
Recognizing a financial literacy problem in the U.S., the AICPA reports that 43% of American families spend more than they earn each year. The average household credit card debt is more than $8,000. In 2005, 1.8 million Americans filed for bankruptcy, the highest amount in history. High school seniors scored an average of 52% — a failing grade — on a national survey of financial knowledge. Four out of five business startups fail within five years.
Jack Coppenbarger, executive director of MSCPA, said a new class for the CPA Ambassador program will begin January 9 at the association’s building in Ridgeland and is still being formed. The eight CPAs trained in last year’s class in addition to Moody and Levens are Talbot White, Tupelo; Baron Thames, Hattiesburg; Vera Reed, Lucedale; and Paul Calhoun, Kimberly Miller and Patrick Gough, all of Jackson. Dr. Quinton Booker of Jackson State University is also a CPA Ambassador and recently completed a three-year term on the AICPA board of directors.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.