Happy Anniversary, Montana CPAs

May 31, 2013

Have you seen the Men in Black movies?  Most of us have.  They focus on this secret agency whose sole purpose is to rid Planet Earth of alien creatures.  No one knows about this covert agency, no one knows about the good they do or how they save the planet countless times each day.  CPAs are a lot like that.  Yes, you heard me right, I said CERTIFIED PUBLIC ACCOUNTANTS  are a lot like a secret organization of professionals who right the world of wrongs and make it a better place to do business.  Let me explain . .

My name is Margaret Herriges and I am the Communications Director for the Montana Society of Certified Public Accountants, a professional association for CPAs.  We call ourselves MSCPA and we have nearly 1,700 members around the world.  Most of our membership lives and works in Montana but their work makes them global professionals.  Yes, some of them are the folks you visit each winter to get your taxes done, and some of them may be the auditors that you see in your office once a year.  But they are also the CFOs of established and emerging companies throughout the state, they are the leaders in the nonprofit world and the backbone of many government agencies at the local, state and federal levels.  They are the educators readying the next generation of professionals to go out conquer the world.

You see CPAs are the foundation of successful business.  They aren’t just tax people or auditors, they aren’t just CFOs or controllers and they certainly aren’t the bean counters that television and movies have portrayed them to be.  They are the people who are fluent in the language of business. 

CPAs have a long history in Montana. This June MSCPA is celebrating our 100th Anniversary. 100 years of speaking the language of business, 100 years of building Montana’s economy and contributing to Montana’s development. 

Like much of Montana history, our story began in Butte in the early 1900s centered on the interests of the Anaconda Copper Mining Company and William A. Clark.  As gold miners moved north and west and homesteaders came to the state in droves, businesses flourished and they needed those CPAs.  The accounting profession grew in Great Falls, Billings and Missoula and on June 23, 1913, these CPAs joined forces and established the Montana State Society of Public Accountants.

Over the past century the profession has changed drastically.  What was once considered a gentlemen’s occupation has now become productively infiltrated with brilliant women who comprise nearly 50% of the profession. Today’s CPA is very well educated.  In the mid-90s a standard was passed that required all accounting students to complete 150 hours of education to be able to sit for the Uniform CPA Exam.  This, in effect, has resulted in graduates who not only have a Bachelors degree but also a Masters degree in the accounting field.  But that doesn’t make them a CPA.  They still have to pass the grueling 4-part Uniform CPA Exam.  They complete examinations in Auditing and Attestation, Regulation, Business Environment and Concepts and Financial Accounting and Reporting.

Their education doesn’t stop once they pass this exam. CPAS are the ONLY accounting professionals who are licensed and they adhere to a strict code of ethics.  In order to maintain their license, and more importantly, successfully help their clients and organizations, they must take hours and hours of continuing education classes annually.  Each time Congress changes the tax code CPAs are learning how to apply it and make it work for the businesses they represent.  When Sarbanes Oxley passed CPAs worked diligently to make sure not only they were in compliance with these new federal regulations but that the businesses who rely upon them fully understood the implication of the changes.  The same thing is going on now with the Affordable Care Act.  CPAs are leading the charge to maintain profitability throughout the compliance process.

Recently CPAs nationwide have committed to being a constructive force in the fiscal responsibility debate.  Just last week CPAs from Billings, Helena, Havre, and Missoula were back in D.C. meeting with Senator Baucus and others to discuss the “What’s at Stake” initiative launched by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants regarding federal fiscal responsibility. The accounting profession believes it is imperative that significant action occurs to resolve our deficit dilemma as soon as possible.  CPAs have a special expertise in analyzing and reporting financial data which allows them to be a constructive force in the fiscal responsibility debate.  Who better than CPAs to work on behalf of the public interest and to assist policy makers as they strive to make the difficult decisions associated with the government’s finances? 

Montana CPAs were extremely active in the recent legislative session.  The MSCPA Legislative and State Taxation Committees worked with legislators from across Montana to explain tax issues and the ramifications that different legislation could have on our citizens.   Many may find this surprising but MSCPA strenuously supported tax simplification bills throughout the session, hoping to achieve a tax system that is fair AND understandable to the average person.

So you see, CPAs really are like the Men in Black.  They work behind the scenes at every level of business in Montana, speaking the language of business and working hard to make Montana businesses more successful which in turn provides Montana with a thriving economy.   Happy Anniversary Montana CPAs.  We are proud of you and the work you do.