Why You Should Get Your CPA License: Advice from a BAP Faculty Advisor


Kristine “Tina” Caratan, MNA, CPA, CGMA is an Executive Lecturer and Beta Alpha Psi (BAP) Faculty Advisor at San Francisco State University. In this interview, we sat down with Tina to talk about the importance of CPA licensure, how Beta Alpha Psi (BAP) plays a significant role in professional development for college students, and how she sees the accounting profession evolving in the future. 

1. What skillsets are important to be successful in the accounting profession? 

Students who major in accounting need to recognize that accountants aren’t just people sitting in cubes with no personality and never speaking to anyone.  Accounting IS a people business. They must have good interpersonal skills because you are dealing with clients and coworkers.  Even if you go into corporate accounting, you’re are working with a host of stakeholders including vendors and/or customers.

In addition, as you progress in your career, knowing how to explain complex accounting concepts to people who don’t have that skillset or knowledge level of accounting is imperative. If you try to show off your knowledge, you leave people in the dust. I tell my students: If you can explain a complex concept to your mother (assuming she isn’t a CPA) without talking down to her, then you can explain anything to anyone. Your knowledge is only good if you can help others comprehend.   

2. What made you decide to obtain your CPA license? 

It’s a funny story. I started off as a math major and then thought about being an American history major. Then one of my friends suggested, “Tina, major in something you can get a job in right after college.” So I went over to the college of business and the scales tipped toward accounting. Ultimately I thought, “If I’m going do this, I’m going do it right.” I studied for the CPA Exam, passed, and 44 years later, I’m still in the business.                                                                                

3. Why do you recommend your students obtain CPA licensure? 

I tell my students, “You have gone through one of the most rigorous business undergrad disciplines; don’t fritter it away by not taking the CPA Exam after you graduate. If you plan on staying in accounting, even if it’s not public accounting, there will be a time in your career where becoming a CFO, COO, or CEO will require both an MBA and CPA license.”

When I started my career in accounting 44 years ago, you could be a CFO with either. But I am now seeing job postings that say CPA and MBA preferred but some are saying CPA and MBA required, and that required element will continue to increase. It is too difficult to do what financial professionals are expected to do unless you have the technical skills that you gain through licensure as well as the managerial skills that are gained through acquiring an MBA.

Do not procrastinate about taking the CPA Exam. Take it as soon as possible when you’re still in study and test-taking mode.  The test not only gets harder due to more regulation and pronouncements, it gets harder due to the fact that you will quickly forget how to take a test much less study for one.  

4. Why did you transition from public accounting into teaching? 

I left public accounting almost 8 years ago as an audit partner in charge of the Northern California not-for-profit practice for Moss Adams.  I was also the lead recruiting partner for San Francisco State and Santa Clara University (my alma mater). I left to pursue opportunities that I hoped would help the not for profit industry in the Greater Bay Area.  Consulting seemed like a logical avenue.   Three months into my fledgling consulting practice, I received an email from San Francisco State telling me they needed someone to teach the accounting for not-for-profit/governmental course.

I had always thought about teaching in my lifetime, but not at that very moment. So, I spoke to my professor friends who encouraged me to do it and the rest is history. I start my eighth academic year this coming August.    

5. How did you get involved with BAP? 

San Francisco State University provides a unique opportunity for someone who wants to give back to the community and most especially their profession. We have a diverse study body, many of whom are first time college students in their families and often don’t have a many role models to show them the ropes of how to grow and advance professionally.

Way back in 1999, I became involved professionally with BAP as the AWSCPA member of the Professional Partners.  Ultimately, I became the Moss Adams representative to the Partners and chaired the Partners for two years.  Once I started teaching at SFSU, I sort of volunteered to help out the faculty advisor, as needed.  This was translated to me becoming the co-advisor.  About three years ago I became the sole advisor, which is very unique for a part-time teacher to have such a role, but given my prior experience with BAP it all seemingly worked out.

I love being able to offer students some real-life guidance from my own background such as how to delegate, trust others, and show them what it’s really like in the real world. The students are fun and it’s nice to be able to see how smart they are and how much they really want to learn about both accounting and the profession in general.

As an example of my professional involvement with BAP, while still a partner with Moss Adams I was instrumental in creating the annual competition called Project Run With It. I coordinated the Project for 9 years and it’s great to see that it’s still going strong and instills in BAP members the importance of giving back.

6. How does BAP provide the skills young professionals need today? 

By providing them with professional skills, such as how to talk to someone who is their chronological senior without being nervous; how to effectively public speak; professional dining etiquette; how to professionally dress, and even how to shake hands, our BAP students have a leg up on other students seeking to enter the world of Accounting, Finance or IS.

In addition, because we live in a global economy, BAP is also teaching members how to be socially responsible as well as how to incorporate different cultural settings. And, most importantly, it teaches young professionals how to get along with their colleagues in a social atmosphere.   

7. How do you see the accounting profession evolving 10-20 years from now? 

Popular opinion has it that we’ll be a washed up profession in not too many years, but I don’t believe that. During my professional career I have gone through 4 recessions. I’ve seen the highs and the lows and what never changes is the need for accountants.

What I think will happen is that the basic bookkeeping element of accounting will be completely automated, but auditing will still be a necessity. Everyone’s flying high right now and we haven’t witnessed a substantial financial crisis since the 2008 housing market debacle. But the first thing everyone says when there’s a big financial meltdown in financial statements is, “Where were the auditors?” That will never change.

However, the process how we conduct audits will change due to the increase in data (aka Big Data). There’s too much information out there for anyone to effectively audit if they do it in the old way. No longer will someone be able to spend hours just ticking and tieing numbers – big data combined with increased technology will simply not allow for that.

It is becoming more and more critical for accountants to possess strong critical thinking skills and understand the relationship between numbers to effectively find and solve problems. This is where I believe firms can do a better job of being more involved with students on campus. More firm partners need to come to our classrooms and really talk to students about the profession and why certain skill sets are so important to learn and apply.  Don’t wait for a professor to call you.  Reach out to any department chair in any University in your area.  Trust me they will welcome you with open arms.  And this is especially true if the University has a BAP chapter.

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