The CPA Exam and Diversity in Accounting with Jessica McClain (Part 2)

CPA Podcasts

In this two-part episode, Phil continues his conversation with Jessica McClain, Controller for Brand USA. They talk about Jessica’s career working for a not-for-profit and why she felt she was nominated for CPA Practice Advisor’s “40 under 40” last year. The episode ends Jessica sharing what she is looking for with diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging in the accounting profession.


Narrator [00:00:00] This is the second part of the conversation between Phil and Jessica McClain on the CPA exam and diversity in accounting. If you haven't listened to the first part of this episode, check your podcast feed.

Narrator [00:00:12] Hello and thank you for tuning in to another episode of CPA review and more. We are pleased to bring you the number one podcast for CPAs and CPA candidates. If you'd like to learn more about how Yaeger CPA Review can help you find us on our website at Now here's your host, Phil Yaeger.

Phil [00:00:37] What was your level at Grant Thornton? Manager?

Jessica [00:00:40] I came into the senior associate and was promoted to manager when I was there.

Phil [00:00:45] Oh very good. Then how long were you there before they promoted you?

Jessica [00:00:49] About a year. About a year.

Phil [00:00:51] That's pretty good. I commend you for that.

Jessica [00:00:53] Thank you.

Phil [00:00:54] And as a result of that, being a manager, it was easy to get a position as a controller. Is that correct? Am I wrong?

Jessica [00:01:02] I really believe my public accounting experience definitely helped with my current position. I know it's something that my current employer liked about me. They like the fact that I had spent so much time in public accounting to understand that the training, the hard work that we go through, then that part of the profession. So was that it was a plus for me in getting my current position.

Phil [00:01:20] But you also had a CPA, did you not, when you went into it?

Jessica [00:01:23] Yes. Yes, I did.

Phil [00:01:24] All right. So would you--why would you advise a--lot of people come out of college and they don't want to go for the CPA because of the fifth year or the additional credits? All right. Why would you tell them it's worth going through that? All right. Especially with the you know, the what you need to get into to be in a high level position like controller. What would you tell them about the CPA? All right. Don't go into it if you don't want to, or it's a real good idea to get the CPA in spite of what you end up doing.

Jessica [00:02:00] I always say it's a good idea to get your license, the credibility that comes with the license, the additional job security, the additional money that you can make as well, the additional doors and opportunities. So it's it's good to put the work in early on to get the additional credits to sit for the exam, because once you have that license and of course, keeping up with your CPD, it's a bet that you can always keep it. No one can take from you. And it just brings many, many benefits throughout your career. And so, yes, there's a lot of work in the beginning, but it's so worth it. So worth it.

Phil [00:02:34] Yeah, I think it's the union card. Would you call it that--to get into the profession?

Jessica [00:02:41] I feel like it's the gold stamp of approval.

Phil [00:02:44] The gold stamp of approval. Let me write that down. Yeah, because people are telling me they didn't pass the CPA exam. And every job they go and look at, they say, do you have a CPA? And they say, no. It's hard to get the job.

Jessica [00:03:01] It is. And that's just how that's just how it is. By having that CPA, it can make things easier. Not saying they just get every job you want, but a lot of employers are looking for that. They are.

Phil [00:03:12] Is it trouble getting people with CPAs to work? Is it hard to find CPAs in the employment environment?

Jessica [00:03:20] I wouldn't say it's hard to find them. And also what I've seen that in just a CPA is also the public accounting experience. There are a lot of employers that who are business in the industry, whether it's nonprofit, a public company, private company. They also like candidates that have that public accounting experience as well.

Jessica [00:03:38] But with that, I will say you don't have to go into public accounting to have a great career in our profession. I always say that it's best to do it, best to do what works for you and how you see your career. But there are pluses to to working in public accounting. There definitely is.

Phil [00:03:54] Did you get not for profit experience by working at Grant Thornton?

Jessica [00:03:59] No, I actually was in the federal government space. So being in the D.C. area is, you know, the federal government employees, many people, whether directly or as contractors. So I spent my first eleven years of my career before being financial and I.T. audits for federal government agencies.

Phil [00:04:14] So you did have experience working in government agencies?

Jessica [00:04:18] Yes.

Phil [00:04:18] Okay, all right. Without that experience, how hard do you think it would have been to get your present position as a controller dealing with not-for-profits?

Jessica [00:04:27] What's interesting is because I went from government to nonprofit, definitely to different industries, just the statements work, the accounting, the technical words that are used.

Jessica [00:04:37] But as I mentioned before, my employer, like the fact that I have public accounting experience, is how I think as an auditor, how I look at things as a prior auditor, that was very important to them and something that they saw with value with with me. So I may not have had all the specific industry knowledge. There's other pluses that I brought to the job.

Phil [00:04:57] I've been told by people who are in advisory services that even though they're not doing public accounting anymore in order to do consulting, they need they need that CPA and that public accounting experience, because part of it is they got to read the financial statements. I mean, that's what I mean. The big area now is advisory services consulting.

Jessica [00:05:19] Yes, it is a big market. Yes.

Phil [00:05:21] Yeah. And a lot of accountants are going into that. They want to go into information technology, which is a form of consulting advisory services. But I got I just thought, gee. Well, if. Going into advisory service and it deals with only information technology, do you still think you need the CPA?

Jessica [00:05:44] And I've talked to individuals like that. I know those individuals that actually have the CPA and didn't do much of the financial side and everything is on the technology side. But they still saw benefits to having the CPA license and just in communicating financial data, understanding financial data. So there was still a benefit that many individuals see, although they have a CPA license and spend most of their time doing information technology, advisory and consulting services. They like to--feel it's a great balance to have both.

Phil [00:06:12] Do you feel--does your not-for-profit get involved at all in artificial intelligence spots or even cloud accounting? Are you involved in that?

Jessica [00:06:23] No, not in my current organization, no.

Phil [00:06:25] OK, but you've had that experience from the CPA firms.

Jessica [00:06:30] So within the federal government, that's still a new space. But the federal government, which is a little bit behind when it comes to our commercial counterparts.

Phil [00:06:41] Aw, how can you say that about the federal govenment? Gee.

Jessica [00:06:41] [Laughs] I think I won't say they're--it takes them some time. So what I still read about what's going on in the federal space, what they're doing with RPA and artificial intelligence. And so they're definitely catching up.

Phil [00:06:52] You see them catching up any time soon.

Jessica [00:06:56] There's progress, I mean, there definitely is progress, I wouldn't say that they're on the same level as the Amazons of the world, but they're definitely--the hiring that they're doing with the skill sets they're looking for. Making that emphasis on this emerging technology is definitely something I've seen.

Phil [00:07:11] You are on a it says here in the LinkedIn, you're a board member, a board member of who?

Jessica [00:07:18] So I sit on the board of the Maryland five twenty-nine program, which is the formerly known as the College Savings Plan of Maryland.

Jessica [00:07:24] And I also sit on the AICPA Foundation as a trustee as well. So the AICPA foundation is a--what we do is we give money for many scholarships and I said I'm a trustee for that organization, giving out scholarships for getting doctorates.

Jessica [00:07:42] Part of it is we give money to transfer students at community colleges, four year colleges, high school students, PhDs, CPA, exam review course, financial resources as well. So there's many aspects of individuals we touch within the profession to help them achieve their goals of degrees or CPA licenses.

Phil [00:08:00] Are you have you have a lot of the money from foundations going to people going through the Ph.D. in accounting?

Jessica [00:08:07] Yes, I actually posted on it. The scholarship is actually open now. I think it closes March 1st for money that's being given to CPAs that are looking to get their PhDs.

Phil [00:08:16] Now, tell me, what does someone in the 40 under 40, which you've got that award you mentioned. All right. What exactly stood out with the person who actually sort of nominated you? Why can't they think you would be to go into that or receive that award? All right. What did you show the reason you received that award, the 40 and the 40 in accounting?

Jessica [00:08:40] Well, all I could do is tell you what I've done. And I guess the the editors at the CPA Practice Advisory, a magazine, thought that was worth awarding.

Jessica [00:08:51] But part of it is my involvement with the AICPA, again, several several committees, my involvement and even at the state level with the MACPA, Maryland Association of CPAs as well. Just as my career progression, as well as the community service work that I do again instead of the board from five twenty as a volunteer, I said on their auditing governance committee. So between what I do with the accounting profession, my career progress in what I do in the community gets those things culminated together saying that I was worthy of the award.

Phil [00:09:21] Do you have any hobbies that you have time for with all this? Sounds like how much time in all these organizations. All right. Do you actually are you able to sort of put that aside and do something else? What do you do?

Jessica [00:09:36] I would definitely like to watch Netflix. [Laughs]

Phil [00:09:40] Netflix. Yes, very good.

Jessica [00:09:43] Yes. Yes.

Phil [00:09:44] By the way, their stock is going up tremendously.

Jessica [00:09:48] I got CNBC on right now, so keep an eye on those things so...

Phil [00:09:51] How is the DOW doing as we speak, is it up? It was up like thirty-some-odd points.

Jessica [00:09:56] It's actually up. The Nasdaq is up. The Dow is up 102 as we speak, 31,157 and a record high yesterday.

Phil [00:10:02] I know. And how's the Dow down? Is it down today?

Jessica [00:10:06] Nope. The Dow is up about one hundred points.

Phil [00:10:09] You must have--you're making a killing, aren't you in this market?

Jessica [00:10:12] [Laughs] Well it helps my 401-K, so...

Phil [00:10:15] Yeah, that's what--it's good for everybody, right?

Jessica [00:10:18] Yes.

Phil [00:10:19] In fact, I don't really need to do this podcast now. No, I'm just kidding.

Phil [00:10:23] Anyway, let's the gentleman, Seth Creekmore, who is our producer and engineer, he asks you, I guess these questions, you're passionate about a few things regarding the profession. Talking to students about the CPA licensing process. Well, we discuss that because you said that you were licensed in two states before being accepted to a third state because you didn't understand all the requirements. All right. How do you find out what's the right state for you or they all of that? I mean, you were off one credit. You said, well, but which is so dumb anyway. What did you take that one credit in? I'm just curious.

Jessica [00:11:02] So I actually I didn't have to because when D.C. and Maryland rejected me because of that missing one semester credit hour, I wanted to apply to Virginia and Virginia accepted me. And ten years later, here I am.

Phil [00:11:15] Now, did you call up Maryland and D.C. and tell them what you really thought of them?

Jessica [00:11:20] I definitely called the XY.

Phil [00:11:23] Yeah, that's that's just ridiculous. So how does a student check out the requirements? It's an easy way as they go in every state board of accountancy.

Jessica [00:11:33] So the AICPA, there's a "Start Here, Go Places" website that talks about the profession and even can give you website access to the different states. But I would even say you want to go to the state website just to make sure it's the most accurate and up to date information if there's changes that have been made. I know, for example, several years ago, Virginia changed the requirement, the they allowed you to actually sit for the CPA exam with 120 credits. It used to be the one 50 you could sit with one 20, but you still need to get those 30 semester credit hours and still have time of change if states are changing their requirements. You want to be aware of that. So I would say always take their due diligence and understand what the state or jurisdiction is. Request requiring, but your licensing and your exam taking as well.

Phil [00:12:16] NASBA had a they set up this thing. I don't know if they still have it. Will you pay a certain amount of money? And that's seven or eight states participate in this. All right. They will take your transcript. And even though you don't have the experience necessary, like working under a CPA or not, they'll see if your experience is equivalent to that. And if so, they'll tell you you can take it in a specific state if you know anything about that.

Jessica [00:12:43] No, I wish I had heard about that when I was trying to get license.

Phil [00:12:49] Colorado participates in that, Montana. Hey they're smart. And when you think about it, there's still foreign students taking this exam. They want that license. So I think they set it up for those students like the state of Washington. A lot of foreign students go there because they're very, you know, they work with you as far as we can get your license.

Jessica [00:13:14] Interesting. Okay.

Phil [00:13:14] Right. I hope NASBA's still doing that and they're still adding more states to that. Because being picky that--you know, you can have someone who worked in public accounting for three years and they never graduate beyond the bank rec's, proof of--did you have to do proof of cash? Remember that?

Jessica [00:13:34] Oh my gosh, yeah, you have the bank rec's and tightening up the statements and the red tick marks. When I started public accounting, I was still doing paper audits.

Phil [00:13:41] And you got your box of Crayolas for the different colors?

Jessica [00:13:44] I had my color pencils. Yes.

Phil [00:13:48] You know, I think it's important that people understand you got to do your homework. All right. All right.

Phil [00:13:55] Don't take the exam and then decide, hey, I want what is it? For example, is it true to say if I want to practice as a CPA in Maryland and have my own office, I got to take the exam in Maryland? Right.

Jessica [00:14:09] So it depends because it is also the reciprocity as well. I don't like to say for the D.C.-Maryland area to get license in Virginia and then if they decide they want to go into Maryland they get reciprocity in Maryland or D.C..

Phil [00:14:22] But if they want to just stay in Maryland, then they're going to put an office in Maryland, they're never going to leave Maryland, alright, because they like the crabs. So what happens? Is it true that you should just basically worry about getting licensed in Maryland?

Jessica [00:14:40] If you're going to go to work and have an office at a firm or organization in Maryland? Yes.

Phil [00:14:44] Okay. You could apply for reciprocity in another state, right?

Jessica [00:14:48] Yes. Yes, and I know--and again in our area, we're able to do that. You have to meet the requirements of reciprocity, because there's different requirements as well for that. But yes, you can.

Phil [00:14:57] What's the different requirements? Experience requirements, mainly?

Jessica [00:15:01] And I try to remember because I know some individuals when I get licensed in Virginia to get reciprocity in Maryland, you had to have your active license in another state for so many years.

Jessica [00:15:11] They may have changed, and this was [inaudible]-teen years ago, but they are requirements even to get reciprocity. And you have to be mindful that you're keeping your license current, active with your CPEs in your home state, because if that doesn't stay active and proper, you can lose reciprocity in the other states as well.

Phil [00:15:28] Gee, you know, they should have a uniform accountancy act...

Jessica [00:15:32] To make it easier...

Phil [00:15:33] So that every state is pretty similar. Because it drives the people crazy when they they just figure, well, my friend took it in Colorado and whatever the requirements were, I just assumed the same in every other state. But it isn't.

Jessica [00:15:50] No, it's not.

Phil [00:15:51] It's the same uniform exam.

Jessica [00:15:53] Yes.

Phil [00:15:54] But different requirements.

Jessica [00:15:55] And that's what I tell--as soon as I've mentioned--alright--the exam is uniform. That's what's uniform.

Phil [00:16:02] That's the only thing that's uniform.

Jessica [00:16:03] Yes.

Phil [00:16:05] All right. So do you know if they ever talk about at the AICPA making this uniform so people don't have these problems of one state requires this years of experience? I think the education requirements are basically the same. One hundred and fifty hours.

Jessica [00:16:21] Those are pretty similar. Yes.

Phil [00:16:23] Or you get a bachelor's degree and pick up additional credits at a community college. Right?

Jessica [00:16:27] I've seen some individuals get the masters, some do the 120 and then I get the additional 30 somewhere else. Yes.

Phil [00:16:34] Now you also said one of the things you're interested in is diversity in the accounting profession. I am on the CPA Women's Initiative Executive Committee. What do you mean by diversity in the accounting profession?

Jessica [00:16:49] So it's important to me is actually say diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging within the accounting profession. That brings a diversity of thought mindset as an African-American woman within the accounting profession. There aren't many CPAs that look like me. There aren't many individuals that look like me in the upper echelons of accounting.

Phil [00:17:09] I have a picture. I think you look pretty good. But anyway, yeah, I understand what you're saying.

Jessica [00:17:15] And that's what's important is just when you have diversity and it's not just about race and gender, it's sexual orientation. All of that brings a diversity of thought. And there's been plenty of business studies across any industry that you thought of that talks about the benefits of having that diversity in the wit committees, we call it for short. But our main focal point is women. But we also talk about women of color and how even some of the concerns are topics that we talk about relating to women also relate to men as well. Parenthood. Transitioning into parenthood is it's a big journey. It's a big jump. And it doesn't just impact the mothers and fathers as well. Whether you're adapting, you're having having a baby. And so what we're trying to do is provide the resources, the mentoring and the advocacy for women in the accounting profession.

Phil [00:18:04] Now, last thing, and we discussed a lot of this, there are many opportunities in the profession. Is this with or without a CPA? The different opportunities?

Jessica [00:18:15] Yeah. They are different with or without a CPA, yes. But I would say there's more and greater opportunities with the CPA license.

Phil [00:18:21] Without the CPA, it would be a lower level accounting position. Do you agree?

Jessica [00:18:26] I don't know. I wouldn't say there's a lower level. There are opportunities that you may miss out on certain jobs you may not be able to get if you're a CPA license and something that's required in the accounting firms. You want to make make it to the level of an audit partner? Guess what, you need a CPA license.

Phil [00:18:42] But you can be in the information technology and a consulting group and you don't have the CPA, but you have an information technology degree. That shouldn't make a difference. Am I correct?

Jessica [00:18:55] Correct.

Phil [00:18:56] I am running out of time here and I'm sorry if I talk so--I talk too much--I'm from New York originally and we we never stop talking.

Jessica [00:19:04] Good conversation.

Phil [00:19:07] By the way, I have not seen you during this whole thing because I have from Google and Microsoft that I can't get off the screen. But as long as you are able to see me and we could hear you, that's the most important thing.

Jessica [00:19:22] Perfect.

Phil [00:19:24] I just want to thank you so much for all the information you've given to us. All right. And I, I look at the discussion at the end and I say, was it an interesting discussion? Well, yeah, because one at the time went by very quickly.

Jessica [00:19:42] It did.

Phil [00:19:43] Alright. And I could tell just from the minute that I started speaking to you that you have a lot of personality.

Jessica [00:19:51] Thank you so much.

Phil [00:19:52] And I do wish you lots of luck in your position. May I ask, do you have a family?

Jessica [00:20:00] I do. I have a two year old daughter and I have another baby on the way that gets here in May.

Phil [00:20:05] Oh, I didn't--well I couldn't have seen that. When are you due, if I may ask?

Jessica [00:20:10] I'm due May 23rd. Baby boy.

Phil [00:20:13] Do it April 24th. That would be in your hold or get now that would be too early. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Actually my friend called me this morning. He's my stockbroker and he lives in Florida and his daughter is due today and he called me at 9:30 before I started working and said Jacky's in labor and he says Oh I'm going to be a grandfather today. I said, Oh so what are you going to call, what are you going to have the grandchildren call you. So he says, because my grandchildren call me Poppy, OK? And he said this is going to be "Pop-Up". I think he thinks he's one of those things that you spin around.

Jessica [00:20:58] [Laughs].

Phil [00:20:58] But anyway, Jessica, thank you very much for being on the podcast. I really appreciate it. And as I say, I wish you well and good luck with the baby. You know, that's another thing. Yeah. Obviously, it gets harder, does it not? Or is your firm willing to work with you during this period of time? Did they give you time off?

Jessica [00:21:16] Yes, my employer gives me time off. They're they're very understanding. They know I have a two-year old. Back in August, my daughter's daycare closed for a month. So I was home with her and they were [unintelligible], and they woud see her on the Zoom meetings with me. So they have been definitely compassionate and understanding of the situation and happy for me for my next bundle of joy. So they know I'm still going to be working hard and working at it. Just--they have to change it up a bit, you know, work some sleepless nights.

Phil [00:21:41] Right. It sounds like a great firm to work for. What's the name of the firm again? What's the company?

Jessica [00:21:46] An organization called Brand USA.

Phil [00:21:48] Brand USA. Are you looking for accountants, new accountants? No, not at the moment. Not at the moment.

Phil [00:21:55] Alright because I was going to apply. No just kidding.

Phil [00:21:58] So anyway, you just have a good weekend and stay safe and stay healthy, okay?

Jessica [00:22:04] Please, you too. You too. Thank you so much Phil.

Phil [00:22:07] You're welcome. Thank you, everyone who is listening to this podcast. We hope you enjoyed Jessica. I enjoyed her. And she really gave us a lot of good information. So anyway, remember, every Tuesday we have a new guest and we have a new subject. And if you have any suggestions how or who you want to hear what what area they're in, we will go out of our way to try to find someone in that area.

Phil [00:22:37] And you can reach me. Here's my phone number. It's area code (301) 874-4900, extension 5. And I answer the phone, believe it or not. So take care of one. Stay well, stay safe and wear your masks if you go out. Take care. Thank you.

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