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CPAs: What do we actually do and why?

Tuesday September 11, 2018

I get asked this a lot, at least the “what” part. Our profession is often stereotyped and sounds boring. I get it, but I think it’s so much more than most people perceive. I’ve been in the industry since 2011, starting by career at a big four accounting firm. I am one of 210,000 members of the Chartered Professional Accountants (CPA) of Canada and we can do a lot. Most of us start our careers at accounting firms and then we work at almost any company in the world from “mom and pop” businesses to the largest multinational corporations. The Canadian “CPA” designation is recognized around the world, which makes it almost a borderless profession.

Some CPAs stay in public accounting, but most move on to industry or private enterprise. In industry CPAs work as treasurers, controllers, finance directors, CFOs, presidents and CEOs just to name a few. The rest, like me, work in public accounting. I currently work at S+C Partners LLP, a boutique accounting firm that provides assurance, accounting, tax, advisory, IT and HR services.

CPA Canada states audit and assurance includes enhancing the reliability of information through activities such as internal control, internal and comprehensive auditing as well as through external third-party assurance services such as auditing – S+C provides external audit services.  Simply put, we come into your company for a short period of time and by applying an audit methodology make sure your company’s financial statements are not materially misstated. We also ensure that the accounting processes are well functioning, and then we provide an opinion on the year-end statements. Most CPAs can relate to the fact that one of the most difficult things to do in public accounting is try to explain an audit to someone who’s never worked on or been through an audit.

On the accounting side, we prepare and review your accounting records (i.e. your “books”), ensure your accounting records are within an approved standard (the two in Canada are Accounting Standards for Private Enterprise or ASPE and International Financing Reporting Standards or IFRS) and many times prepare financial statements. Debits and credits? Piece of cake!

Tax includes compliance and planning.  Regarding compliance, we prepare personal and corporate tax returns, HST filings, and payroll, just to name a few. Planning can get a lot more complicated, and includes corporate reorganizations, estate planning, scientific research and development credits, transaction planning for the purchase and sale of a business, management buyout scenarios… I could go on for pages. Tax – it’s one of one two guarantees in life and I think we all know the other one.

We are asked to assist our clients with matters not related to assurance, accounting or tax, so advisory pretty much covers everything else that has a dollar sign attached to it, including business start-up counselling, planning and financial projections, process deployment and improvement, developing strategies for securing financing, analyzing financial information and management consulting to name a few. Sometimes these engagement go beyond financial and into family counselling, for instance, which child gets the boat and which one gets the cat. And if we aren’t qualified to provide advice on something (legal, insurance, money management, etc.) we know someone who is. Many times we are the connection between various professionals.  CPAs are like Swiss Army Knives – we are multi-tools versed in many aspects of the financial and non-financial world.

But what do we actually do? I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and I think when all is said and done, we provide peace of mind.  Whether it’s to a client, a partner, a boss, a family member, the public or anyone, we provide the comfort that we will deliver what is expected, and often beyond. It doesn’t matter if we’re working on saving you thousands of dollars in tax by designing a hybrid sale transaction or simply filing your HST return, it will get done right, on time and as promised. It’s that simple and it will apply to every interaction we have in our professional careers.

The why? I can’t speak for other CPAs, only for myself. I do this because I like helping people and knowing that something I did made someone else’s life a little better. It’s that simple.

Igor Fik, CPA, CA
Client Service Manager