Know your professional audience; your license might depend on it

By Brendan Fitzgerald, CPA
2012-2013 Chair of the Executive Board

The fact that you’re reading this column suggests you’re not the audience I’m trying to reach. But I hope you will continue to read nonetheless. I want to address our fellow CPAs who confuse The Ohio Society of CPAs with the Accountancy Board of Ohio (ABO).

It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. Spend any amount of time with an Accountancy Board member and they will confirm this happens often. During my term as chair-elect, I encountered CPAs who congratulated me on being elected by the members to serve, then followed up with a joke about knowing someone in power that could help them if they happened to have trouble with their license. Try as I might to explain the difference, I’m not sure the message was always received.

The Accountancy Board of Ohio issues your license to practice, and they can take it away. If you retain anything from this column, remember these two points:

  1. Open and read any correspondence received from the Accountancy Board of Ohio.
  2. Never utter the phrase, “But, I paid my dues to The Ohio Society of CPAs” while standing before the Accountancy Board during a disciplinary hearing. (There are worse things you could say, but that one certainly isn’t going to help your cause.)

What brings our fellow CPAs before the Accountancy Board for a disciplinary hearing? A variety of infractions or offenses can lead you to that point, yet all are avoidable. Do not misunderstand: some circumstances might converge to create an unanticipated problem for a firm or licensed practitioner. But if you reach the point where the Accountancy Board is discussing revoking your license and it is a surprise to you, the outcome will most likely not be in your favor financially, professionally or both. In your spare time, visit the Accountancy Board’s website and read through the meeting minutes posted. Some of the offenses could be categorized as accidental, some intentional and others originating out of naiveté.

One disturbing infraction often turns up during the audit of hours reported for continuing education and submitted by permit-holders when renewing their license. Audits by the ABO of CPE records result in a 3.3% failure rate in being able to document the number of hours reported by licensees renewing their permit to practice. A failure rate above 0.0% in a profession that is based on honesty and integrity is hard to fathom. The credibility afforded our profession, in some part, is being able to remove emotion from deliberations. When our peers are in harm’s way because of their own action or inaction, OSCPA can be supportive, but we cannot turn a blind eye to professional responsibilities. The Society is organized to support the profession and the public interest. The interests of those constituencies are not mutually exclusive. OSCPA will make every effort to help our members, but that doesn’t excuse our members from accepting responsibility for problems of their own making.

Because you are reading this in CPA Voice, you are a supporter of The Ohio Society of CPAs, and for that I thank you. I don’t have any statistics to shoehorn in here about whether firms disciplined by the board are supporters of OSCPA or the individual practitioners are members, but I suspect that a significant number are not. Being an OSCPA member does not guarantee that you will never appear before the Accountancy Board in a disciplinary hearing, but it does demonstrate a commitment to your peers and your profession. To paraphrase a comedian named Lenny Clarke, “If you like being a member of the OSCPA, tell your friends. If your friends don’t like being members of the OSCPA, get some new friends.”

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