Ralph Albert Thomas

Opinion: Coronavirus Crisis Reinforces What CPAs Do Best — Lead

As we move forward from weeks of sheltering in place, shuttered businesses, furloughed employees and stalled business growth, we have come to appreciate true leadership amid these turbulent times. While we continue to mourn friends, family and others lost to COVID-19, we acknowledge the leadership from those in the firing line of this virus, like our healthcare workers, first responders, grocery store personnel and other essential workers. The same goes for those behind the scenes. Our CPAs and other accounting professionals have emerged as true leaders amid this crisis — they are in the trenches every day, helping businesses keep afloat, find more access to credit and locate new ways to expand service offerings.

As the CEO of a membership organization of 14,000 accounting professionals, I am reminded every day what these committed individuals bring to the table in terms of knowledge, business sense, economic scope and budgetary finesse. CPAs are the people we normally turn to for guidance on tax policies, mergers and acquisitions and industry career advice. But these days, they are teachers, IT technicians working on unemployment insurance applications and motivators all rolled into one. They are often performing these tasks without pay and on their own time amid a caseload of clients. Today’s CPAs sit on all sorts of nonprofit boards and volunteer their time at schools, sports associations and religious organizations. And when times get tough, they go into overdrive.

This new coronavirus challenge has only strengthened their resolve to lead bakers, landscapers, landlords and others in the right direction. Around the clock, they are answering texts, calls, emails and messages on social media. CPAs have now become virtual resources to all sorts of business owners in ways never imagined. Our members routinely calculate and recalculate ways to obtain the most effective grant and loan assistance and determine what qualifies for relief programs that remain fluid, like the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Small Business Association’s Paycheck Protection Program or the New Jersey Economic Development Authority’s economic relief packages — all while working past midnight and conducting meetings in their pajamas, like the rest of us.

CPAs also advise the youngest among us— at the high school and college levels — leading them down a path to become a CPA. Throughout the year, our members presented at more than 120 New Jersey high schools, helping students sort out careers, college educations and where to land jobs— many times it was with them and with their colleagues. Out of their own pockets, they regularly contribute to the NJCPA Scholarship Fund, which along with donations from member firms, our Education Foundation and others, awarded more than $380,000 to students this year. Since the 1960s, the Fund has awarded more than $7 million in accounting scholarships.

There’s no question that as business professionals our world has turned upside down, but CPAs are out there helping businesses keep their lights on, food on the table and people employed.

I’m proud to know and work with these individuals every day.

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