Shifting Trends in the Accounting Profession with Dan DeLau (Part 2)

Hosts & Guests

Tram Le, State and Local Tax Senior Manager

Meredith Smith, State and Local Tax Senior Manager

Daniel DeLau, former co-founder of TaxOps and Associate Professor of Accounting at Colorado Christian University


[00:00:00] Meredith Smith: Welcome to SALTovation. The SALTovation Show is a podcast series featuring the leading voices in salt, where we talk about the issues and strategies to help you make sense of state and local tax. Welcome back to part two of our conversation with Dan Delau and guest host Tram Le. That explores declining enrollment within the accounting profession and the efforts underway to reverse this trend.

[00:00:25] Meredith Smith: I'm kind of an anomaly. I walked out of high school. I took my introductory accounting in high school and walked out and I was like, I'm going to be an accountant. And I was 17, right? But that maybe there's been a little bit of like a loss of prestige associated with the profession. Like kind of when I, when I think back, I was like, okay, you've got like doctors, lawyers, and accountants.

[00:00:46] Meredith Smith: They're kind of like, kind of these. prestigious titles, professions, and then, you know, going forward, it's like, well, you know, I can be an IT and that's way more glamorous, or I can be a coder, I can [00:01:00] be in tech, you know, I can do something a little more glamorous, maybe make a little bit more money, or if I've got to do, you know, five years of school, why not do Eight or seven and I'll be a lawyer and I'll make three times as much money right out of law school.

[00:01:18] Meredith Smith: Still have to take an exam, still have to do all these entrance components, but I get to make more money and be debt free faster potentially. Like, do you think there's any kind of shift in just the outward perception of the accounting title, accountant title, CPA,

[00:01:36] Daniel DeLau: whatnot? I think, I think over time that that's certainly a, a consideration.

[00:01:41] Daniel DeLau: You know, um, I, I don't see so many of the students I work with are already business students. It's a question of are they gonna be business administration? Are they gonna be marketing? Are they gonna be finance? Are they gonna be an entrepreneur, entrepreneur major, uh, or an accounting major? Uh. And so I don't see people [00:02:00] that are necessarily pre med, pre law, those kinds of things, so I don't have those conversations.

[00:02:06] Daniel DeLau: But for all of those business students that I do work with, many of them, kind of as a default, go with, I'm going to become a business administration major. And so, Those are probably the best students that I have an ability to have a conversation with, an extended conversation about, hey, if you're good at accounting, this could be a particular avenue for you.

[00:02:34] Daniel DeLau: Uh, or maybe you're not ready to pull the trigger on an accounting major, but hey, if you want to go into entrepreneurship, you still need to know about accounting. So, maybe you need to pull the trigger on an accounting minor. Now, that's not going to help the overall, but CPA profession because they're not ultimately going to become a CPA, uh, but it will help them prepare for what they're going to see as an entrepreneur, uh, right in [00:03:00] running an actual business because there are a whole host of accounting issues that you need to understand.

[00:03:06] Daniel DeLau: Maybe you're not going to be Doing them, but at least you should have an understanding of managerial accounting concepts or taxation concepts, because those are all going to have an implication. If you think you're going to be an entrepreneur as you move forward in your career.

[00:03:22] Meredith Smith: Yeah. Well, and it's, it's funny when my husband and I, I'll be talking about something, he'll be like, well, I'll say something.

[00:03:29] Meredith Smith: We're like, well, I don't know how to do that. And he's like, aren't you want to count? And it's like,

[00:03:32] Daniel DeLau: well, you're supposed to know everything

[00:03:35] Meredith Smith: where I'm at. Like and kind of where tram lives, although she's an anomaly because she's both a lawyer and a CPA, I almost live more on the side of law than I live on the side of numbers.

[00:03:48] Meredith Smith: And so I think to that we can open up and I don't know how to do this because I'm I don't. I was going to make a joke that I'm just an accountant, right? [00:04:00] That it's not just green visor playing with numbers and like auditing bank records, right? Sure. Sure. We have something that's kept me in the profession and kept me in like public accounting is just auditing.

[00:04:16] Meredith Smith: All of these different businesses that I get to work with that we get to work with on a daily basis between, you know, we've just industry wise

[00:04:23] Daniel DeLau: just and not just work with, but to make a significant contribution to those organizations because more often than not. A good tax advisor can pay well more back to the company than whatever fees the company is paying to them, because we know the tax law, we can apply the tax law, we can keep them out of audits, if there is an audit, we know the rules so we can minimize the tax, we have Alright.

[00:04:58] Daniel DeLau: Thank you. Thanks 24 Understanding of [00:05:00] transactions so that we can recommend certain transactions be entered into one way versus another, which ultimately save a significant amount of tax. And so that to me is one of the advantages of going into the tax realm is to be able to provide guidance and insight to help Taxpayers save money, and most would be happy to pay me 20, 000 if I can save them 150, 000 in taxes, right?

[00:05:32] Tram Le: So, so Dan, that, I mean, you're speaking to that value proposition that, as tax advisors, as CPAs, and accountants, for, For companies and for their clients. I mean, is that something do you think the future of the accountants? Do you think that that's what they also value? Because I feel like that's the thing that would be the important kind of the factor in whether a student decides to become an accountant or [00:06:00] not.

[00:06:00] Tram Le: Is there that, are they clear on that value proposition?

[00:06:04] Daniel DeLau: I'm not sure if they're thinking much at this point that far down the road. I don't, I think they're more conceptually thinking of, hey, I just want to get a. Job, right? And I try to focus on the fact that a job is different than a career, and you're actually going into a career of accounting, and so there's a difference between that, because it's not just Going in from eight to five and then after you leave at five o'clock, you're done because after five o'clock in a career You're reading updates on tax law or accounting pronouncements or doing ever other things to keep up within the profession So there's definitely a difference between a job and a career but at this point, I think all they're thinking of is how do I start to work after graduation and start to make money and I can start to pay back my student [00:07:00] loans or Buy a new car and, and those kinds of things.

[00:07:03] Daniel DeLau: So I, I think that's where they're thinking at right now. And it's probably another five or seven years before they're going to start thinking, okay, well, how is this accounting from structured and should I be doing value based billing versus just billing for my time? Uh, and I think that's certainly changing.

[00:07:21] Daniel DeLau: I hear more and more companies talking about doing value based billing versus, uh, uh, just billing based on time. So I think that's good for the industry. I think that'll be. Beneficial to the industry overall. Yeah. I can appreciate that

[00:07:33] Meredith Smith: the 18 year old's not really going to, and also it's hard to think like, all right, well, if I first walk out of college and I'm 22 and I get my first job and I'm call it an auditor, I think we would always joke that really the first two years of your auditing career, you're, you know, reconciling cash.

[00:07:50] Meredith Smith: So it's hard to maybe think about like, Oh, yeah, you know, I have a client every other, you know, I have a standing call at 8 a. m. My client in the [00:08:00] UK and half the time we're just. Talking about what's going on on each side of our each side of the ocean, right? It's like you can't when you're 22 really think about like the relationships that you're going to have with people just as like, you know, a human outside of work, then I think that's right.

[00:08:18] Meredith Smith: So, but I think that's probably. My favorite part about my job is just being able to formulate those relationships and come back to them and just be really not only ingrained and part of like their business, but part of their lives and like, get that, that human aspect of it, that, that we, that we often get as that kind of advisor and being there and, you know, we've had, even this last couple of weeks, A lot of recurring clients come back where it's like, they've left their company and they're like, well, we're going to go to tax ops because we know that they can either do it or they know how, or they can point us in the right direction.

[00:08:58] Meredith Smith: And so that's kind of been [00:09:00] just my favorite part about being, being an accountant and being

[00:09:03] Daniel DeLau: here. Yeah. Oh, absolutely. Just the ability to interact with, uh, with clients to get to know them on somewhat of a personal level, but at the end of the day, be able to provide them excellent tax advice, uh, that they can ultimately benefit.

[00:09:22] Daniel DeLau: So, and, and you end up seeing it in the final product and the tax return and reduced amount of tax, uh, that they have to pay on a transaction or structuring it so that it's tax free, whatever it happens to be. But I think that too, you know, those additional complexities is something that, again, is, is pushing some people away from the profession.

[00:09:44] Daniel DeLau: I mean, I think if you look at just within tax law, I didn't, I really didn't mind reading regulations from the 1970s, 1980s, because they might be 20, 30, 40 pages long. And it's more along the lines of, hey, [00:10:00] here's, here's the concept. Here's what you aren't supposed to do. Here's what you can do. And over time, we've had creative individuals, very ingenious individuals who would read those 30, 40 pages of regulations and go, Oh, well, it doesn't specifically say that I can't do that.

[00:10:21] Daniel DeLau: And so they would do it, they would take the position on the tax return, it would go through the court system and eventually they might get a judge that says, Hey, you're right. It doesn't exactly say that you can't do that. And so taxpayer wins. And so now we have a situation where every time there's a change in Congress.

[00:10:41] Daniel DeLau: Treasury Department issues regulations, but they're not 20 or 30 pages, they're three or four or 500 pages.

[00:10:48] Meredith Smith: add a couple of zeros to

[00:10:50] Daniel DeLau: the backend. To respond to every potential evasion that might happen, trying to plug up this hole, [00:11:00] cast out that net, to be in a situation where We're outlining specifically what it is you can or can't do.

[00:11:08] Daniel DeLau: Well, now you got 400 pages that you have to read. So that's just adding that much more complexity. And that's just one example. I mean, the whole thing has happened on, uh, the accounting side as well, right? I mean, we had FAS 109, we had FIN 48, got codified into ASC 740, uh, but it's just more and more and more, uh, rules and complexities that accountants have to deal with.

[00:11:33] Daniel DeLau: Whether they're focused on auditing, whether they're focused on tax work, those additional complexities are part of the reason why we need more and more people going into the profession to respond to those situations that our clients might be up against. Yeah, and

[00:11:51] Tram Le: I think if you consider state and local tax, you add a few more zeros to the

[00:11:56] Daniel DeLau: jurisdictions and complexities.

[00:11:57] Daniel DeLau: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, the, [00:12:00] the, the company, the organizations, it's like a pie and every state wants a little piece of the pie and there's only so much pie to divvy up and, uh, the, the state and local taxes just exploded over the last 15 years. It's, it's not just. Sales and use tax, but from an income tax perspective, but again, that gets back to globalization and the internet and how we are engaging in business And the implication of engaging in that business in other jurisdictions, right?

[00:12:32] Daniel DeLau: And now we're adding more complexity because i've got that little company in colorado Let's say but now they're because of their footprint. They're creating exposures Maybe it's economic exposure. Maybe now that I've got economic exposure, how do I source my revenues? How do I source my sales? Is it cost of performance?

[00:12:56] Daniel DeLau: Is it market based? I mean, the rules are just adding on and on and [00:13:00] on, and that additional complexity, right? We all get it. We deal with it on a day to day basis, but when you start presenting all of those in the classroom, people, some students Are pushing back a bit. I mean I do I do have some students they've gone through they got their accounting major but they're not using it as as Going into public accounting or doing debits and credits at a particular organization I've got individuals that have gone into financial institutions and are doing other work With their accounting major not actually doing accounting work so I don't, they've not come back to me and said, Hey, I don't, I'm, I wish I hadn't gotten an accounting major because I think it's, it's, it's exposed them to information that they can use within, within the business environment.

[00:13:50] Daniel DeLau: But at the same time, some people are frustrated with the complexity and they don't want to continue focusing on that, uh, after they, after [00:14:00] they do graduate. Right.

[00:14:01] Meredith Smith: It's that push pull of. The, you know, dynamic nature of what we do because everything is changing and being kind of passionate about. It's like, yes, like I'm constantly learning and I'm going to be knowing new things at the same time.

[00:14:17] Meredith Smith: It's like, well, if I can't know everything, I'm going to know nothing. And it's just too much to how can I ever be good at something if it's always changing. So I can understand how there could be some tension created between that, like, want for static in a dynamic world.

[00:14:35] Daniel DeLau: Yeah. Yeah. At the same time, for people that are a bit more seasoned, we understand that that's the process.

[00:14:44] Daniel DeLau: And so we kind of thrive on that change and we understood how the rules worked. For example, pre Wayfair, but now we understand how the rules have to work after Wayfair. And so we have to implement those and that provides additional [00:15:00] opportunities for us. And to some extent, we thrive on that ability to be able to understand those rules and apply it to our clients, right?

[00:15:08] Daniel DeLau: So that can be. Yeah. Well,

[00:15:11] Meredith Smith: and it's like that opportunity of collaboration, right? You know, as you kind of move forward, it's like, you meet people, you know, people kind of going back to that connection piece, but it's like, Hey, what did Illinois just do to their law? Like what. On like, what does that even mean?

[00:15:28] Meredith Smith: They're like, Well, I have no idea. Like Colorado and their delivery fee. What did they do? And so we have other practitioners reaching out and saying, Hey, what, what, what's happening in your state? And so it's also kind of just like another way of of collaborating and staying in touch with just, you know, others around you.

[00:15:50] Meredith Smith: And again, I can, I can appreciate that it's hard for an 18 year old to see the forest through the trees,

[00:15:55] Daniel DeLau: right? Yes. But at the same time, [00:16:00] those, you know, when, when, uh, Colorado puts that Rule in place, uh, then you're going to get piggyback. And so now you're going to have other organs or other states that are going to be looking at that and go, Oh, well, that's a good idea.

[00:16:12] Daniel DeLau: We'll do that too. Right. Yeah. So that just fosters additional complexity down the road. I

[00:16:20] Meredith Smith: guess it does take a, a special one to be an accountant,

[00:16:24] Daniel DeLau: huh? For sure.

[00:16:27] Meredith Smith: Well, Dan, we really appreciate the conversation. Is there anything kind of, you think that. The profession can do as we wrap up any sort of, you know, last thoughts, any brainstorming ideas to kind of pull people back

[00:16:45] Daniel DeLau: in?

[00:16:46] Daniel DeLau: Yeah, I think if we want to increase the pipeline of individuals going into accounting, we probably need to start well before the college [00:17:00] level. I've got a lot of students that Might already come in with 30 credits, right, and they're trying to get out in three years. And so to be able to pull the trigger on an accounting degree, if they hadn't already thought of that before they came in is, is pretty hard.

[00:17:21] Daniel DeLau: So I think we need to hit the high schools and have the high schools highlight what the benefits are. Of an accounting profession can be. I think people are more familiar with lawyers and doctors and other professions. So I think we need to focus on what is it that an accountant really does. I still get students that go, well, I'm not good at math.

[00:17:48] Daniel DeLau: And so I don't want to be an accountant. Don't worry about that. We've got calculators. We've got Excel. You don't have to be good at math. You've got the law

[00:17:57] Meredith Smith: side. Exactly. Probably play more of a lawyer [00:18:00] than I do

[00:18:00] Daniel DeLau: a mathematician. Absolutely. Right. That's very true as well. Uh, in addition, oh, I don't want to be sitting at my desk.

[00:18:07] Daniel DeLau: Computer in a little cubicle doing debits and credits for the next 40 years. So I think there's a misconception in terms of what accountants do because it is very dynamic Yeah, you've got to do a bit of that to understand the nuts and bolts But it's not long before you're going out meeting with clients and working with them and understanding their business backgrounds and being able to Present advisory, uh, ideas so that they can run their business better.

[00:18:38] Daniel DeLau: And so, and that can be on the accounting side. It could be on the tax side, whatever it happens to be. So we need to do a better job at, uh, sooner, right. In the high school level to present. These opportunities. And so that can either happen within individual schools, maybe something from the AICPA, uh, [00:19:00] something in order to get to students sooner so that they're either thinking about, Hey, I think I might want to go into accounting.

[00:19:06] Daniel DeLau: I've got these types of skills. And so I want to apply those, uh, but somehow to, to present them with, this is another avenue for somebody that has these particular traits.

[00:19:18] Tram Le: So, Dan, what do you think about even reaching students earlier, like grade school, middle school? Because, um, I'm, I'm, I take a lot of, uh, leadership roles.

[00:19:29] Tram Le: I'm a part of a lot of initiatives here in Texas, and we've done a lot of leg work working with AICPA and some of the trends or some of the, the research and, and, um, um, um, Information that we're gathering says students by the eighth grade are making career choices. So it's almost like as they choose classes to take in high school, they already are making those choices.

[00:19:54] Daniel DeLau: If your evidence is suggesting that they're already considering that at the grade school level, then that's [00:20:00] where we probably need to start implementing some concepts of this is another avenue. Yeah. And it's not for everybody, but at least it's something that you should consider, right? And so, uh, the earlier the better because I think you're probably right.

[00:20:15] Daniel DeLau: I think for, and then the high schools need to be able to respond with, okay, well, let's, let's, uh, have some initial bookkeeping slash accounting courses that people can take to introduce them to the concepts, right? And then also

[00:20:31] Tram Le: the dual credits too, because, um, like. You know, all the AP or dual credits. I think there are a lot of schools and school districts and in Texas, we have, I don't know, 1700 school districts, something crazy and outrageous, but every school district has their own program.

[00:20:46] Tram Le: And so there are, um, certain programs that do focus on accounting and finance and bookkeeping, but others don't, and so where I think there should be some, um, Big, you know, push [00:21:00] for having more of that and allowing students to, you know, bring or at least provide them the opportunity to get the dual credit to get ahead of the game to have those opportunities to earn college credits so that they, you know, kind of what you're saying by the time you get them, they've got these credits and other things that really don't count or, you know, won't further their accounting degree.

[00:21:22] Tram Le: Um, so it's almost like kind of strategically planting those seeds, uh, to, to help

[00:21:28] Daniel DeLau: them succeed. Yes, I think that that's a perfect way to summarize it. We need to get to them sooner so that they're at least thinking about that might be an avenue. And right now, I think that it's kind of off the table.

[00:21:42] Daniel DeLau: They're not thinking, oh, I, an accounting profession is something that I should at least consider. And so we have to do something and if that's at the grade school level, at the high school level, uh, we have to. Work towards providing them information so that they can make a good decision as to what they [00:22:00] want to do for a career Well

[00:22:02] Meredith Smith: dan, this is excellent Insight and appreciate your time and also kind of the pivot away from some more technical law case review just to kind of take a step back and Always good to see you Thanks, you know, for those listeners.

[00:22:19] Meredith Smith: Dan hired me almost 12 years ago at tax ops. And so it's been fun to come back full circle on this. So thank you for

[00:22:25] Daniel DeLau: being here. Uh, it's definitely been good to see you as well. Good to catch up. Wish you the best, Meredith, Trim, look forward to our next meeting as well and wish you a wonderful day. All right.

[00:22:36] Daniel DeLau: And this

[00:22:36] Meredith Smith: is another episode of SALTovation till next time. This podcast is for educational purposes only and is not intended nor should it be relied upon as legal tax accounting or investment advice. You should consult with a competent professional to discuss specifics of your situation and the applicability of the information.

[00:22:56] Meredith Smith: and I hope you enjoyed the impressions, for this exhibition. You[00:23:00]

Topics Discussed in this Episode:

  • Attributes of successful accountants
  • Recruiting high schoolers into accounting programs 
  • Misconceptions about what accountants do

What You Will Discover:

  • [01:34] Daniel DeLau on advising students pursuing business majors
  • [11:38] The need for accountants as complexities in state and local tax grow
  • [18:29] Presenting accounting opportunities to students before college


  • “It is not just green visors, playing with numbers, and auditing bank records. Something that has kept me in the accounting profession is all the different types of businesses and industries I get to work with on a daily basis.” – Meredith Smith [04:04]
  • “There are more and more rules and complexities that accountants have to deal with. Whether they are focused on tax work or auditing, those additional complexities are the reason we need more and more people going into the profession to respond to the situations that our clients might be up against.” – Daniel DeLau [11:30]
  • “Data is showing that students by the eighth grade are making career choices. As they choose classes to take in high school they are already deciding what career path they desire.” – Tram Le [19:45]
  • If we want to increase the pipeline of individuals going into accounting, we need to start well before the college level. We need to hit the high schools and have the high schools highlight the benefits of what an accounting profession can be.” – Daniel DeLau [16:48]

Relevant Links: