NJCPA Members: Making a Difference and Building Career Skills

 – July 24, 2020
NJCPA Members: Making a Difference and Building Career Skills

More than 2,000 members volunteer their time and talents to the NJCPA each year. Firm leaders and members often ask the best way to get their people or them­selves involved. Common ways include participating in committees/interest groups; getting involved at the chapter level; being a content contributor (e.g., speaking, writing articles or blogs, videos); and supporting our student programs (e.g., mentoring, college cam­pus visits, high school career awareness presentations).

These opportunities can all help members build their skills as professionals, but how do they impact the profession or make a difference for the general public? We reached out to a few members who have recently had some success in these areas.

Alan Sobel, NJCPA President and Managing Partner of SobelCo on the Pass-Through Business Alternative Income Tax Act

NJCPA: Alan you worked very closely with the NJCPA’s advocacy team on getting this Act signed into law. How did this come about?

Alan: The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act limited the state and local tax (SALT) deduction available to taxpayers. In a high-property-tax state like New Jersey, this disproportionately impacted our clients. I wrote a letter to Governor Murphy’s office proposing to allow businesses to pay income taxes at the entity level instead of the personal level. This helps business owners mitigate the negative impact of the SALT deduction cap since there is no cap on SALT deductions for businesses. It’s estimated to save New Jersey business owners $200 to $400 million annually, and it won’t cost New Jersey a dime because it’s revenue neutral for the state. It was really exciting to see an idea I had go through the process and be enacted as a state law.

Learn more about the Pass-Through Business Alternative Income Tax Act at njcpa.org/pass-through.

Zach Cohen, Prudential Financial, Inc., and Melissa Dardani, Baker Tilly, on the Student Loan Debt Task Force

NJCPA: Zach and Melissa, your involve­ment with student loan debt stemmed from a personal desire to help others avoid this trap. You’ve met with lawmakers about possible legislation, consulted with senior staff at the Department of Higher Education about ensuring students have all the facts before taking on student loans, and produced a webinar on the topic that we shared with students and educators. You both understand firsthand the impeding nature of student loan debt on college graduates’ livelihoods. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got involved with this initiative?

Melissa: In 2018, I completed an NJCPA survey sent to emerging lead­ers that asked about student loan debt. I was working with a group in central New Jersey to deliver student loan and debt education. So, I reached out to the Society and volunteered to help in any way I could.

Zach: Melissa came to an Emerging Leaders Council meeting in November 2018 and discussed her involvement in Credit Abuse Resistance Education (CARE), a program that brings financial literacy programming to high schools throughout the state. She suggested partnering with the Council to bring awareness to the issue of student loan debt to our members, and I volunteered to be the Council’s point person.

Learn more about the NJCPA’s student loan debt initiatives at njcpa.org/studentloans.

Sean Stein Smith, Lehman College, and Mark Eckerle, Withum, on the Emerging Technologies Interest Group (ETIG)

NJCPA: You have both had a productive year as leaders of the ETIG. What inspired you to get involved with this group and help move its mission forward?

Sean: I have always had an interest in how accountants could make better use of technology tools to make our work lives easier and allow us to focus on tasks that were more rewarding and — frankly — more fun. Once Bitcoin entered the mainstream accounting/finance conversation in 2016, I knew that the combination of blockchain, crypto and automation at large were topics we needed to be proactively addressing. When the opportunity was presented to become leader of the ETIG, I immediately jumped at it. The group provides an open forum where members from across the accounting landscape — private industry, audit, tax, advisory and academia — can swap notes, compare ideas and discuss just how to leverage the emerging technology tools that we hear about on a daily basis. Technology changes fast, and the ripple effects of these changes are always difficult to foresee perfectly, but the enthusiasm and expertise of the interest group, alongside the support of members and the Society team, have made the group a success and a fun part of my NJCPA experience.

Mark: I was looking for a group that shares my interest in the current emerging growth marketplace and learned that the Society was forming the ETIG. During our meetings, we discuss a variety of topics from blockchain technology and robotic process automation to data analytics and process efficiencies. Our goal is to bring our ideas and thoughts in the accounting and finance world to NJCPA members in order to help educate our members on the emerging technology industry. It’s a great environ­ment to brainstorm ideas that we can then utilize in our everyday lives within the workplace.

Join the Emerging Technologies Interest Group at njcpa.org/groups.

Susan Firriolo, CPA, CITP, CGMA, CISA, president of Tax Correspondence Service and a leader of the Technology Work Group within the NJCPA Accounting & Auditing Standards Interest Group.

NJCPA: As a leader of the Technology Work Group, you are working on a comment letter to the AICPA on the 2019 Practice Analysis (PA) which is different from CPA Evolution. Can you tell us a little bit about what the PA and CPA Evolution are trying to accomplish?

Susan: A PA happens regularly to improve the CPA Exam. The 2019 PA was started to examine the effect technology is having on the work CPAs are expected to do. It is proposing changing Exam sections to include advances in technology and remove sections where the Exam has become too general. Changes from the PA will affect the Exam in 2021.

CPA Evolution was organized by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA). The project is concerned with changing the whole licensing format, including the structure of the exam and education requirements. It may recommend a licensing approach similar to that of professional engineers. This includes testing a basic understanding of accounting, auditing, tax and technology. Then candidates would choose another exam area to test in either, business reporting; information systems or tax to get their CPA license. CPA Evolution is a big job and will take years to accomplish.

Learn more about CPA Evolution at evolutionofcpa.org.



Get involved: Visit njcpa.org/volunteer and complete your volunteer interest profile to learn about the opportunities that align with your interests, talents and goals. 

Alan D. Sobel

Alan D. Sobel

Alan D. Sobel, CPA, CGMA, is the managing member of SobelCo where he is responsible for facilitating the strategic direction and day-to-day management of the firm. He provides expertise to clients in the areas of financial reporting, tax planning for businesses and high net worth individuals, and strategic business planning. Alan was the 2020/21 president of the NJCPA. He developed the concept for the Pass-Through Business Alternative Income Tax Act and played the lead role in writing the legislation and making it fit within New Jersey’s tax structure.

More content by Alan D. Sobel:

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Mark W. Eckerle

Mark W. Eckerle

Mark Eckerle, CPA, is a senior manager at Withum. He is the leader of the NJCPA Emerging Technololgies Interest Group (#NJCPATech).

More content by Mark W. Eckerle:

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Melissa A. Dardani

Melissa A. Dardani

Melissa Dardani, CPA, MAcc, is the founder and managing member of MD Advisory, a boutique forensic firm. She is the leader of the NJCPA Cannabis Interest Group and a member of the Student Loan Debt Task Force and the Emerging Leaders Council. She can be reached at melissa.dardani@mdas.cpa.

More content by Melissa A. Dardani:

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Sean D. Stein Smith

Sean D. Stein Smith

Dr. Sean Stein Smith, CPA, DBA, CMA, CGMA, CFE, is a professor at the City University of New York – Lehman College. He is a member of the NJCPA Board of Trustees and participates on several interest groups.He can be reached at sean.steinsmith@lehman.cuny.edu.

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Susan  Firriolo

Susan Firriolo

Susan Firriolo, CPA, CISA, is the director and founder of Pet Rescue 990 Project, which provides online tax and advisory services for pet rescue 501(c)3 organizations. She is a leader of the Technology Work Group within the NJCPA Accounting & Auditing Standards Interest Group and is a member of several other NJCPA interest groups, including Emerging Technologies, Business & Industry Professionals, Federal Taxation and State Taxation.

More content by Susan Firriolo:

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Zachary B. Cohen

Zachary B. Cohen

Zack Cohen, CPA, is a manager with CFGI. He is a member of the NJCPA Student Loan Debt Task Force and the Emerging Leaders Council.

Learn more from Zachary B. Cohen:

This article appeared in the July/August 2020 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine. Read the full issue.