Scott Wiley, CAE, head of the Ohio Society of CPAs, and newly elected Chair of the ASAE board, shares his thoughts about advocacy, millennials, member engagement and the importance of financial literacy in an exclusive Association Adviser interview.
Association Adviser: Scott, on top of your duties at the Ohio Society of CPAs, you’re the newly elected chair of the ASAE Board. What do you hope to accomplish in your first 100 days in that high visibility role?
Scott Wiley, CAE: ASAE’s culture embraces and frankly expects great governance. Associations today are operating in a unique environment — one in which risk and opportunity exist side by side. As chair, it’s my responsibility to understand the challenges that our members are dealing with. I will be talking to as many of them as I can both in the first 100 days and throughout the next year. I want to hear their ideas about how ASAE can better serve their needs.
AA: Can you share any specifics?
SW: Sure. As a visible leader in the ASAE community, I will be a strong advocate for associations. We must do more than just safeguard and defend associations from the unintended consequences of uninformed policy decisions. Making sure that public policy makers and key influencers understand more than what we are not and what we do not do will be critical to shaping our future. Associations must continue to advance America’s economic competitiveness through a renewed research and innovation agenda, through workforce development initiatives and the creation of global communities that invite and embrace diverse people, ideas and opinions.
AA: How would you describe your leadership style?
SW: My staff will tell you that I’m determined and that I drive hard for results. My peers at ASAE will say I am a consensus builder and passionate about telling our story. In today’s environment, you have to keep driving forward because change is a constant for associations and for all professionals. We need to keep moving the ball down the court aggressively for our members and for the industries we serve. At the end of the day, I hope people will say I’m passionate about what associations do; that I provided the leadership and vision to motivate my peers to seek real results, and that we did it together.
AA: Which aspects of your OSCPA role do you hope to bring to the association world at large?
SW: CPAs in business face more demands than they did in the past. At the same time, their services are more in-demand by companies of all sizes and in all sectors. Like many associations, The Ohio Society of CPAs is proactively responding to an evolving business environment by ensuring that our members have the resources they need to thrive in this new business reality. Our role is to help members anticipate what’s coming down the road before its right in front of them and to tell the rest of the world the critical role CPAs are playing as business drivers in our state.
AA: Do you have any examples?
SW: Sure. The talent gap is hitting Ohio firms and businesses hard as more Boomers retire. We’ve always had a strong student outreach program to educate college students about the CPA career. Now we’re doing the same at the high school level. We’re also planning to address new curriculum needs to address some of the non-technical skills that the marketplace is demanding that CPAs have today. This comprehensive talent management program could be a model for other professions and associations struggling with the same challenges.
AA: OSCPA has a reputation for being very innovative. Do you have a formal process for innovation or do ideas come up ad hoc when opportunities arise?
SW: At OSCPA, we encourage ideas from all parts of the organization, but we also recognize the need process. We want to avoid innovation overload and ensure that our resources are directed where they will generate the greatest member value. To that end, we’ve created a Program Assessment Team that evaluates every proposal for a new program or service. The aim is to sunset programs and products that have reached the end of their life cycle while green-lighting new and innovative ideas that we believe have great potential.
AA: CPAs has long championed efforts to raise America’s financial literacy. What can non-financial organizations do to raise their own members’ financial literacy?
SW: It’s important for associations to determine what programs and services are mission-centric and if financial literacy should be part of the mix. At a minimum, every employer should educate staff about financial benefits [they offer] and encourage them to take advantage of the company 401(k) or other retirement savings programs. Associations are doing great work to recruit the next generation of leaders. But many young professionals are dealing with crushing student loan debt. It’s a huge problem in our country that’s delaying young people’s plans for starting families, buying homes and saving for retirement. Associations can help by tapping their retirement benefit consultants and by holding on-site meetings for employees to learn the basics of saving and investing at an early age. Two great resources associations can share are the AICPA’s 360 degrees of financial literacy website and FeedthePig.org. These sites have resources by topic and by stage of life.
AA: What’s the best way to figure out what members need?
SW: It starts with really knowing your members. At OSCPA, we recently unveiled a new mission, vision and brand based on over two years of extensive member research. But our research is never really done. We have a dedicated business development team whose primary responsibility is to build relationships with members and understand their challenges and any gaps in service that we can fill. The team regularly brings that information back to our staff so that our strategic priorities and the work we do are directly aligned with solving members’ pain points.
AA: Does OSCPA have any special strategies for connecting with NextGen?
SW: We do. In just the past year, we’ve more the doubled the number of OSCPA student members. Over the summer we expanded membership to include high school students for the first time. We’re meeting students on the campus and in the classroom. We have a dedicated team of staff working to help future CPAs understand the value of affiliating with OSCPA. We’re reaching further into diverse communities as part of this effort so we can ensure that the future accounting workforce reflects the changing demographics in America.
AA: How about after young staff are hired or become OSCPA members?
SW: We’re developing a comprehensive onboarding process to welcome our student and young professional members and to keep them engaged with OSCPA as they advance through their careers. We recognize that this audience has unique needs, so we’re customizing resources specific to their needs at different stages.
AA: Millennials get most of the attention these days. What can associations do to better serve their mid-career and late-stage career members?
SW: At OSCPA, we’ve launched a new robust career center that provides resources to CPAs at all career stages. It includes customized articles and videos and the opportunity to work with a career coach. We find that many of our members will consider a transition from public accounting to industry at some point in their careers. Our career center and customized learning solutions ease this transition and add value for our members that are further along in their careers.
AA: What are your members’ biggest issues and how is OSCPA helping them?
SW: The top issues facing our members today are recruiting and developing top talent, keeping up with laws and regulations that drive up the cost of business and helping CPAs perform at a higher level. That means we’re taking a more customized approach to helping CPAs develop their teams. We are reinventing CPA learning programs to be more targeted and flexible. We are producing custom programs for employers that align learning outcomes directly to the organization’s business goals. This is key for staff retention and leadership succession. We are connecting CPAs with more opportunities to grow their businesses and we are expanding the pipeline of future accounting professionals. At the same time, we are maintaining a strong focus on our leading advocacy initiatives that protect the public interest and promote a pro-business environment in Ohio.
AA: In addition to student outreach, how is OSCPA attracting young people to the accounting profession?
We’re sharing real stories about CPAs who are driving business, building cool careers and demonstrating the ROI of majoring in accounting. We’ve also expanded diversity and inclusion programs, putting dedicated resources behind initiatives that encourage high-performing minority students to consider an accounting career. Most important, we are changing the message around what it means to be a CPA. Accounting has too long been known as the introvert’s profession. We are positioning accounting as the new STEM — a great career choice for those who have good math AND people skills and who are strategic thinkers. Plus, we’re making sure parents and teachers are aware of the ROI of an accounting degree. Starting salaries for accountants and auditors are on par with many STEM majors. That’s a powerful story for parents worried about how their kids will pay back their college loans. We are telling that story.
AA: Any final thoughts for our readers and followers?
SW: Engage with us. ASAE is out front shaping the future of the association management profession. We are deploying the best content for association professionals, accelerating their careers in new ways and have built a robust community that is growing the reach, relevance and impact of associations in the U.S. and across the globe. The year ahead is one that will be filled with new opportunities and we’d love to have you join us in that effort.