According to the most recent enrollment data from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Black/African American and Latino/Hispanic students only make up 7% of students pursuing Accounting at the undergraduate or graduate level.
But what could the lack of diversity in the accounting field mean for its future? What do those working in the industry today suggest to help attract millennials or Gen-Zers to the profession? We discuss with Associate Professor Cory Ng and Anthony Copeman, BBA ’14.
Cory Ng is an associate professor of instruction and undergraduate program coordinator in the Department of Accounting and serves as the faculty advisor to the Fox Accounting Association. He recently wrote an article published in the Pennsylvania CPA Journal entitled, “Accounting, Millennials and the Accounting Profession.”
Anthony Copeman works for the City of Philadelphia by day and offers financial coaching by night. Originally having entered the accounting profession for personal gain but developed a passion for community service during his time at Temple, Copeman has founded a non-profit, an animated financial literacy YouTube series and coaching program called Financial Lituation.
Ng: My undergraduate degree was in economics and although I thoroughly enjoyed the subject matter, I found that there were limited opportunities to find a job as an economist with a BS in economics.
Meanwhile, many of my friends who were accounting majors were able to secure multiple job offers.
Soon after landing my first job as a financial analyst, I realized that I needed to develop my accounting knowledge. I also gained an appreciation for the fact that every business needs an accountant.
So after a couple of years in the workforce, I decided to pursue a Master of Science degree in Accounting. After graduation I worked for a public accounting firm and then earned by CPA license. After more than a decade of practicing accounting, I now have the privilege to teach the next generation of accountants here at Temple University.
So, why did you decide to pursue accounting at Fox?
Copeman: Initially I chose the accounting field because I wanted to make a lot of money—that was my pursuit. I’ve always been a money-curious individual.
While I was at Temple, I developed my passion for community service. I was the president of an organization for community service called Having Ambition N’ Devotion for Service (H.A.N.D.S.).
So my focus really shifted from making a lot of money to being of service to others by helping them shift their mindsets about money.
Ng: What inspired you to use your accounting knowledge to help millennials’ financial matters?
Copeman: I thought my accounting knowledge was very important, because a lot of people, especially in the Black community, have a difficult time analyzing financial data. I wanted to use the skill sets that I learned to help people analyze their own finances and manage their money.
I wanted to simplify their financial journey in a way that they can understand how to use money as a tool—when I meet with people, I’ll expand on the ways that money can be used as a tool from their point of view. I wanted to empower others to do things like invest versus just spending.
Ng: You use the internet in a variety of ways to teach millennials about money from a YouTube series, Instagram and a platform for one-on-one coaching. What have you learned from the people consuming your content or hearing your advice?
Copeman: Over the years, I’ve learned that a lot of young people, especially millennials and Generation Zers, are visual learners. We want to take in entertaining, relatable, simple content that can be used to enhance our lives. That’s why I was empowered to start Financial Lituation and create an animated series to help young people understand financial literacy in simpler terms.
Ng: Whether it’s through teaching or research, my goal is to make a positive difference in my community and in my state, the nation, and around the world.
I teach a subject matter that has very practical applications in life and in business, and therefore offers a pathway to a good career and a good income. Having grown up in a lower-middle class household, having a stable job with good earning potential was an important factor for me. I’ve had the privilege to teach thousands of students since I began teaching over 11 years ago. I have seen many of my students become successful accounting professionals and have rewarding careers.
My research focuses on the practical aspects of the future of the profession which involves technology, education and the talent pipeline. The catalyst behind my article on accounting diversity and millennials stemmed from a few things. One is the pipeline of the profession—our profession needs to make sure that it is producing enough graduates who are capable of performing the work and have the necessary skill sets, including critical thinking skills, technology skills, interpersonal skills, global awareness and cultural sensitivity. Also, the accounting profession, historically, is not as diverse as the rest of the nation and, in my opinion, it should be.
Ng: The catalyst behind my article on accounting diversity and millennials stemmed from a few things. One is the pipeline of the profession—you want to make sure that you’re producing enough graduates who are capable of performing the work and have the necessary skill sets, including critical thinking skills, technology skills, interpersonal skills, global awareness and cultural sensitivity. Also, the accounting profession, historically, is not as diverse as the rest of the nation and, in my opinion, it should be.
There are compelling business reasons, ethical and societal reasons why the profession must strive to be more equitable. From a business perspective, having a diverse workforce fosters innovation in problem solving by leveraging talent and perspectives from a wide range of backgrounds. And further, diverse staff will attract a more diverse client base as clients like to work with people that are relatable. The accounting profession should reward talent ideas proficiency and problem solving, regardless of someone’s background. So that’s how I came to start researching that area.
How do you think accounting firms can attract diversity and millennials to the profession?
Copeman: I think a lot of millennials and people of color want to be a part of companies that they can trust. They want to be a part of companies where they feel as though they can matriculate to the next level without having a different experience than other people.
Being trustworthy is something that a lot of corporations and companies can illustrate to millennials and people of color to let them know that you can trust us to work here and we can help you take the next step in your career. I think that’s the primary incentive—being able to work for a company that you can trust. Being able to work for a place that has your best interests at heart and not having to work tirelessly compared to someone else and not seeing those results.
Ng: What was your experience in gaining financial literacy? How do you want to change that experience for other people?
For me, part of the reason why I chose my degree in economics was because I felt like I just didn’t understand how the economy worked, or really anything about personal finance, so I took economics as an elective. It sparked my interest and I wanted to learn more.
Through that formal education of an economics degree, I gained financial literacy on a personal level, from the perspective of a business, and at a macro-economic level.
Copeman: I was raised in a household and community that actually talked about money. My grandmother was the first person who kind of indirectly introduced me into the personal finance world. At a very young age, she was the one who opened a joint savings account for me. She guided me along the way, in terms of just managing my money properly and helped me save intentionally for goals.
How do I want to change that experience for other people? First and foremost, I strongly believe that our mindsets are the primary currency of building wealth–not money. In order for us to be financially savvy and meet our goals and our expectations, we have to first shift our mindset from being simply consumers to also being owners. So that is very important for me.
It’s also important for me to empower people to tap into their gifts and talents outside of work. Many of us are very talented when it comes to creating right and we can harness that power of creating to develop additional streams of income for ourselves.
Tapping into that power of ownership, that power of talent and skill set, helps to create a life that you want to live.
Research IRL (In Real Life) is an ongoing series from the Fox School of Business. In a Q&A style format, researchers and members of the business community, including alumni and corporate partners, come together to discuss the intersection of research and its real-world implications. In the first article in the Research IRL series, Fox professor Patrick McKay and alumnus Amber Wynne discussed the business case for diversity.