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Florida CPA Spotlight: How Will Specialization and AI Shape Accounting Profession? - Part 4

FLCPA CEO Shelly Weir
FLCPA CEO Shelly Weir



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Shelly Weir [00:00:00 - 00:00:08]

Generative AI will not replace accountants. AI will replace accountants. Not using AI.


Gene Marks [00:00:08 - 00:00:09]

That's great.


Shelly Weir [00:00:09 - 00:00:28]

And that isn't that just. It just sums it up, right. So, I think in short order, we're gonna start to see more and more firms figure out how to use it. Now, whether or not they use it just for internal purposes or, you know, in client interactions will have to be up to each of those firms, obviously.


Announcer [00:00:31 - 00:00:44]

Welcome to Paychex THRIVE, a Business Podcast where you'll hear timely insights to help. You navigate marketplace dynamics and propel your business forward. Here's your host, Gene Marks.


Gene Marks [00:00:45 - 00:01:09]

Hey, everybody, it's Gene Marks, and welcome back to another episode of the Paychex THRIVE podcast. Thank you so much for joining me. We are talking about CPAs. My favorite topic as a CPA is talking about CPAs, and who better to talk about it with today is Shelly Weir. She is the president and CEO of the Florida Institute of Certified Public Accountants. Shelley, first of all, thank you so much for joining.


Shelly Weir [00:01:09 - 00:01:12]

Thank you so much for having me. I'm thrilled to be here.


Gene Marks [00:01:12 - 00:01:54]

Yeah, I am really glad to have you. We have a lot of things to talk about, not only for those accountants that are in the audience listening about what's going on in Florida and the rest of the country, but if you're running a business and you want some advice on working with accountants and choosing accountants, where to find accountants, I'm going to get to that as well with Shelly in this conversation.

But first of all, Shelly, let's give a little bit of a background to yourself. Before you were ... Before we actually started recording, you were telling me how you're illegally running this organization in Florida, even though you're actually a Virginia native. I don't know if this is allowed, and I don't wanna get you in any trouble, but I just have to bring that to the public's attention. Tell me about your background.


Shelly Weir [00:01:54 - 00:02:45]

No, thank you for asking. I was born and raised in the beautiful city of Richmond, Virginia. Lived there all the way through high school, and I was sort of the red-headed stepchild of my family that decided to leave Virginia to go to college. So, I went to college at the Florida State University, die-hard alum. And once I started in college, much like a lot of people, you know, I started working. I got an internship, I started my career, and really just got embedded to the community in Florida. And when my husband and I got married and started having children, we certainly discussed, do we want to stay here permanently or move back? And we both just have grown to love Florida. So now, I've been here for over 20 years and lived here longer than I lived in Virginia, which is a weird feeling, but, yeah, very proudly a Floridian now.


Gene Marks [00:02:45 - 00:02:48]

So, what got you into accounting? Were you an accounting major in college?


Shelly Weir [00:02:49 - 00:03:41]

I was not. I am a lifelong association executive. So, I have one of those sort of traditional stories of, I did an unpaid internship my senior year of college working at the Florida Restaurant Association. I had worked in hospitality, like a lot of college kids do, and was working when Jeb Bush was up for re-election. So that was my first kind of step into the trade and professional association land, and long story short, climbed the ladder there at that association the first 10 years of my career, and then went to work at the federal level for a national association for the next 10 years. Climbed the ranks there, and then got a phone call from the headhunter when they were looking for a new CEO of FICPA, and the rest is history. Lifelong association executive and love it thoroughly with all my being.


Gene Marks [00:03:42 - 00:04:27]

It's really a great approach to things. And people have to realize I speak to other executive directors or CEOs of CPA societies, other professional societies. So, there's one school of thought saying, no, we need to have somebody from the profession because they really, you know, they really know the profession, and I don't know. I mean, you gotta ... I'm sure you agree with me, Shelly.


First of all, you know, I think it's more important to know how to run a good association, I think is your first job regarding of the profession that you're, you know, you're representing. And number two, I mean. I mean, let's not kid ourselves. You can learn the CPA profession, right? It's not. Yeah, it's not rocket science, right? So, it combines those two kind of talents. Don't you think that's like, a good background for somebody to run an association of your size?


Shelly Weir [00:04:27 - 00:05:47]

Yeah, I mean, of course I'm biased, right? I think it's incredibly smart that our board of directors looked for a seasoned association executive. I have a lot of skill sets that if they had simply chosen someone from the profession that had only worked in the profession, maybe wouldn't have had. But the reverse side of that is that I had a tremendous learning curve. You know, I mean, my interactions with CPAs prior to this was my own personal CPA that did my taxes every year. And so, I'm incredibly grateful to the leadership of our organization that really helped to bring me under their wing. And honestly, Gene, one of the first things that I did, I learned by osmosis. So, my first six months on the job, I went out and I traveled 15,000 miles across the state of Florida and did about 75 to 80 firm visits in market, and met with as many managing partners and members as I could just to understand what were the key issues happening in the profession right now, and what did they need from the FICPA as part of that.


So, it was definitely like a jumping into the deep end of the pool kind of approach, but it helped me learn, it helped me get up to speed, and certainly I'm never going to be a highly technical expert in any one particular area of the profession, but that's not what I was hired to do, right? I wasn't hired to do an audit or tax.


Gene Marks [00:05:47 - 00:05:53]

Fair enough. We will talk about the issues affecting the profession. But let me ask you, what'd you learn about CPAs?


Shelly Weir [00:05:54 - 00:05:56]

What did I hear about them before?


Gene Marks [00:05:56 - 00:06:16]

What did you learn about CPAs? I mean, you said you had one CPA that you had worked with before. I mean, you're coming from outside of the profession. After meeting all of those accountants that are managers, partners, and firms all across the state, what did you take away from all of that? What did you learn about the profession and the individuals?


Shelly Weir [00:06:17 - 00:07:16]

I think I had the quintessential impression that I was walking into an association full of number crunchers and bean counters, and that's what a lot of people think CPAs are. And I very quickly realized that I was actually working with people that are strategic thinkers, that are consultants for their clients, that are thinking about every single thing that they can do to, say, improve the profit for their client and what have you.


And I was pleasantly surprised that CPAs, for the most part, are actually people-people, right? I had this image in my mind of, I'm going to be working for number crunchers, bean counters that are going to be so introverted, they're not going to know what to do with me; this girl that's super extroverted and comes from a hospitality association, it's going to be a mismatch, but it really wasn't. And I truly, truly have learned from our CPAs and membership every single day just why they're so needed, you know.


Gene Marks [00:07:16 - 00:08:06]

Talking about people that are in this profession. And I've been in the profession, I mean, I started at KPMG in 1985, so, you know, I've had a lot of exposure to CPAs all around the country. So, one of the sort-of myths about CPAs is what you just said. They're bean counters or they are number crunchers. They don't have personalities. They're Charles Groden types from the movie Dave. And that's not really the case, but I'm curious. You've met so many of us over the past, however many years now that you've known people in this profession, what type of CPA stands out to you? The type of CPA that you know would be successful now and will be successful in the future. What is, what do you, what qualities does that professional have that strikes you?


Shelly Weir [00:08:07 - 00:09:04]

I mean, I think the irony of the whole thing is that the qualities that I, the people that have really impressed me the most are those that have really high-functioning emotional intelligence and critical thinking skills. So, they can, they can read a room, they have self-awareness. They understand what's happening and the noise around them, if you will, and be able to architect that and digest it in such a way, to be able to deliver information to their client in a digestible fashion, to have that critical thinking, that strategic-thinking, consulting-type mindset. To think, you know, critically and smartly about what the solution is, but also be able to articulate it to their clients and communicate it in such a way that helps them understand the why behind it.


And it's a hard thing to teach, just as it is in any profession, but there are a few that just have impressed me from the get-go because they have those types of skills.


Gene Marks [00:09:04 - 00:10:15]

It's a great answer. And, you know, they are few and they are far between. I think if there's anything that I learned about being in the profession because the profession has expanded so much and the expertise has changed so much, is that, you know, I've learned to admit what you don't know, you know?


Like, you know, people think like, being a CPA today is like, people think like a doctor. You're not a doctor anymore. You're a specialist. You're a cardiologist. You know what I mean? You're a dermatologist. Or same thing with the CPA. I mean, there are CPAs that are really amazing at taxes and tax planning. There are others that are financial planners and wealth managers and auditors and all.


I've just, I don't know if you agree with this, but I just learned that as the profession has become so much more specialized that it's important for those of us in the profession to, like, sort of focus on what we do best and admit what we're not good at because we're not trained at it, and to lean on others in the profession that do the same thing. I'm wondering if the association promotes that and if you're, you know, if the association helps other CPAs connect with each other to serve their clients.


Shelly Weir [00:10:15 - 00:11:42]

That's exactly what I was going to say. We absolutely promote it. I mean, first of all, I really appreciate now that I've gotten to know the community a bit better in these last couple of years, you know, there's sort of this inside baseball joke about, well, are you taxed or are you audit, or are you advisory or consulting? And there's a bit of a competition between, you know, those, those vehicles and those verticals, if you will.


But to your point, everybody specializes in something different and whether it's just tax or just audit or what have you, or more specifically, a particular profession or industry that they serve, you know, some of our CPAs focus almost exclusively on servicing nonprofits, for example. But that's what makes the profession so beautiful. We all have a variety of specialties and things that we do well, which is where a professional association can be incredibly helpful because, let's be honest, the demand for business has never been higher for CPAs.


We have CPAs in membership that have grown their entire book of business simply from referrals from other CPAs that have different specialty areas because they're leaning on each other to be able to get clients connected to folks that can best help them, depending on their need or what particular industry they come from. So, to your point, I don't know that folks outside of the profession really understand the rich specializations that exist within the profession, and it's a beautiful thing.


Gene Marks [00:11:42 - 00:12:35]

It is a beautiful thing, and it goes deep, and it's funny, too. So, I speak at about, I don't know, ten to 15 state CPA societies a year. And the audiences that I speak to, and they're usually their general events, is what they are. People have this misnomer that they're all like a bunch of public accountants that are sitting in the room, and it's really not. 70% of the room are CPAs that are in private practice or that are specializing in certain things. I have the former chief marketing officer of The Hartford, who just recently retired, she's a CPA because the world has become so data driven that it requires financial professionals to do things that you wouldn't have expected them to be doing even ten years ago. And I think the profession has changed that much. Have you seen, how many years have you been doing this now in Florida?


Shelly Weir [00:12:35 - 00:12:36]



Gene Marks [00:12:36 - 00:12:45]

Three years. So, in the three years that you have been doing this, have you seen many changes. I mean, you must have arrived right before COVID I'm assuming, right, or during it?


Shelly Weir [00:12:45 - 00:13:48]

Right in the heart. I was actually interviewing. It was about a four month interview process in late 2020 to early 2021. So right in the heart of when everything was just, you know, hunkered down, closed, if you will, across the country. But absolutely, I mean, certainly in the data analytics space. And of course, I'm sure we'll touch on artificial intelligence a bit today, as well, a lot of evolution. CPAs being able to analyze data effectively, being able to articulate that to their clients and use it to service the client that they are working on. But you've seen a lot of innovations there. You've seen a lot of schools respond accordingly.


My favorite example, I always like to brag on him, is Mark Taylor from the University of South Florida in Tampa. They've done some really cool things with merging their master's in accounting program with their master's. And it wasn't called data analytics, but some kind of fancy information systems and analysis title, if you will, because the need and the demand is so high there. So you're definitely seeing a lot of innovations there.


Gene Marks [00:13:49 - 00:14:28]

Yeah, no doubt about it. I thought you were going to say they were, like, creating some accounting program related to Taylor Swift and we were going to end. This is going to be over. Yeah, I'm glad to hear that.


Okay, so you've been doing this in Florida. I do have some issues now in the overall profession I'd like to talk to you about. But before I even go into them, let me ask you this. I mean, you're the CEO of the Florida Institute of CPAs, so you're focused on the state of Florida. You talk with your compatriots all around the country, I know that. You meet sometimes what makes Florida different from other states when it comes to both CPAs and maybe the businesses that employ CPAs? What would you say sort of differentiates you guys?


Shelly Weir [00:14:28 - 00:16:01]

So, I think to answer that question, you have to think about what's happening around the country, and this actually ties into one of the big topical areas of the moment, which is talent and pipeline. But Florida right now, and this isn't a political statement at all, but Florida right now, the number one domestic migration state in the country, and the number one corporate migration state in the country. We have taken over the top spot. So, more individuals and businesses are moving here than any other state, and so by default because of that, it naturally shifts the landscape of the CPA profession. Our CPAs have more demand for their business than ever before.


You've got a lot of licensure implications there that happy to dig into and because of that, you've got firms here in Florida that are truly, truly multinational, multistate firms that are serving clients all over the world, especially in South Florida and Miami and Fort Lauderdale and what have you. And that naturally evolves what the CPAs that live and work here in Florida need to be able to understand and do to do their work. And so, it's really interesting to see this shift sort of start to happen down here. Not sure that we're used to being number one in both of those areas.


Certainly, a lot of ramifications with cost of living and things of that nature as the demand grows, but it'll be interesting to see how it continues in the year ahead.


Gene Marks [00:16:01 - 00:16:36]

Are there any specialties in Florida? I mean, again, I always joke that Florida is God's waiting room. I mean, I've been there a bunch of times and I can attest to that. So, I'm like thinking like, geez, being like a CPA, sounds like if you were doing wealth management, you know what I mean? Or personal financial planning, estates, taxes and management, seems like they would probably kind of be hot areas in the state of Florida. But maybe I'm, maybe I don't know what I'm talking about. Are there any specific specialties that your members are practicing, the sort of you think are unique to the state that you might not find in, say, Minnesota?


Shelly Weir [00:16:37 - 00:17:10]

A couple of things come to mind. First, international tax, really huge in South Florida. Again, South Florida; multicultural, multinational, very much driven on supporting all of south and Central America through Miami. So, a lot around international tax. We also have a lot of CPAs – we actually have an entire committee dedicated towards CPAs that service condos and HOAs because, of course, volume down here, right? We have an entire conference and committee just around our common interest realty association.


Gene Marks [00:17:11 - 00:17:26]

First of all, that is hilarious to hear. And you know, I realize there's probably a lot of issues that are unique to the state of Florida, but now you're perking up my intent because I'm the treasurer of my condo board. Of course, in Pennsylvania. I'm sure there are a lot of similar issues there, as well. Florida is just one big, gated community anyway, so I can see.


Shelly Weir [00:17:26 - 00:17:27]



Gene Marks [00:17:27 - 00:17:28]

Yes, it is.


Shelly Weir [00:17:29 - 00:18:18]

But it's interesting to think about the Sierra angle because think about what happened a couple of years ago with the travesty of the surfside condo collapse. And in the wake of that, there's been a tremendous amount of legislation introduced and passed here in Florida to try to prevent such a thing from happening again, and a lot of it intersects with CPAs. It's not just architects and engineers, it's the financial management of how the condos and the HOAs manage their fiscal reserves and their money and what that looks like. So, a lot of specialty there.


And then the other one that pops to my mind, of course, is hospitality. This is the capital of hospitality down here. We're home to the biggest giants in that space. So, a lot of folks that focus in on that particular niche area, too.


Gene Marks [00:18:19 - 00:18:39]

That is really interesting. Demographics of your membership as well has got to be different than many other states. I mean, Florida has an enormous Hispanic and Latino community, as well. And I'm assuming that impacts your membership demographics, am I right? And is that something other that you think would be sort of unique about your chapter?


Shelly Weir [00:18:39 - 00:19:19]

I think so. I mean, I don't have any hard and fast data on how much different we would be to say Texas or a California or what have you, but absolutely. I mean, you can go - I joke all the time – we have a regional director that manages our Miami and Keys area of the state, and she is a firecracker, Cuban-American, just bundle of energy. Born and raised in Miami and I give her a hard time all the time because I will walk into a firm in Miami, and first of all, they're more excited to see her than they are to see me. Everyone's connected by the same high school and the same family tree and all these things.


Gene Marks [00:19:19 - 00:19:22]

And you're from Virginia.


Shelly Weir [00:19:22 - 00:19:48]

Yeah. You do not fit right. They're so lovely to me, though. No, truly. But case in point, I mean, just a complete. The membership, especially in South Florida, looks completely different than it does in North Florida. And we have to be able to pivot and evolve and be able to meet the needs of each of our demographics equally and, of course, make sure that we've got the right people lined up to be able to service them.


Gene Marks [00:19:48 - 00:21:16]

It's fascinating. Again, when I speak to these CPA societies and also other associations, I talk a lot about the economy, and it's becoming so much harder to generalize about the U.S. economy because the U.S. is so huge. Our economy is by far the biggest in the world. The economy of Florida, Shelly, I don't know if you know this is bigger than the entire economy of Mexico. I mean, the economy of Texas is bigger than Canada. The economy of California is bigger than the UK. North Carolina's economy is bigger than Sweden, And I only mention that because I'm a big fan of ABBA, but it's a big, it's a big country.


And when I talk to different people from different CPA societies around the country, they all have different stories because there's different demographics and different specialties and different markets that they're in now. And I find that fascinating. All right, I got off track here. We want to talk about pipeline and recruiting. I mean, some of the biggest issues now, every profession, every industry that I talk to Shelly, they always, they all are looking for good people and good talent. So, we're not alone in this profession, but we do, it is uniquely harsh in this, in this, you know, in this profession.


And I wonder if you can give our audience, it's just sort of an overview of what the challenges are and what the profession is doing both nationally and in Florida, to try and address these issues. Talk to me a little bit about that.


Shelly Weir [00:21:16 - 00:21:49]

Well, I think holistically at a national level, first of all, you're spot on. This is not unique to us. In fact, it's funny, because I came from the American Hotel and Lodging Association, where I was for 10 years prior, and I was SVP of career development there. So, everything pipeline in education fell under my purview. And as I went through the interview process to get this job, you know, at first I was like, what in the world do the CPAs want with me? And then as I got further and further into it and discovered what a pipeline pinch we were facing, I said, okay, it makes more sense to me.


Gene Marks [00:21:49 - 00:22:10]

Now, but I have to interrupt you. So, that, that is absolutely fascinating. You're right. Like the powers that be that decided to hire you, I think one of the, one of the important factors was that, oh, this is a woman with basically an HR background, and we have a big HR issue going on, this talent. And that was, that's very indicative of how big that problem is, you know, for this profession.


Shelly Weir [00:22:11 - 00:23:24]

No question about it. I mean, they really had the foresight to say, this is the single biggest issue that we're facing right now, let's make sure that we get a seasoned person in that can help navigate through it. So, but I think to your question about what's, what's driving it, there's really two major issues driving it at a big 30,000-foot-view level. The first, of course, is just the numbers don't add up, right? So, you've got more people retiring out of the profession than we are replacing them with young people. And a lot of that has to do with things that are outside our control; birth rates, college enrollment rates, things of that nature. But then you've also got this perception issue, right?


I mean, you've got, look at me, I came in thinking that I was going to be servicing a membership of bean counters and number crunchers and just kind of like stay in my box and I don't do anything outside this box lane, and that's unfortunately the impression that we have. With young people now is it's boring or it's math or this isn't going to give me the lifestyle that I want or the career that I want. And we got to do a lot to overcome that. So, from a solutions perspective, I mean, Gene, we could probably talk about this for 6 hours, my friend. But at a high level, I always, I try to break things into buckets.


 [00:23:24 - 00:25:26]

My mind really buckets things. I think there's four large buckets that we're doing at a state level and I can speak with confidence that my peers around the country are doing as well. The first is that awareness bucket. We have got to do a better job of growing awareness and addressing the perception issue that exists for young people to become interested in this profession. So, we're doing a lot of work at the state and local level.


As an example, in the fall we had a series of events where we impacted over 1,000 students. We went out to high schools. We brought freshman and sophomore college age students that had not yet declared to major and got them connected with member firms and member organizations to help understand the industry. We sent CPAs out to the high school. We are also fiscally supporting the Center for Audit Qualities Accounting, plus social media campaign, which we are so excited about because it is a research, data driven campaign that is reaching the students where they are, on places like TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, with the messages that are going to resonate with that younger generation. And there are times where I see posts from that campaign and I'm like, oh gosh, is that the right approach? And I have to remind myself, gosh, this is rooted in research and this is how the kids need to see it now. And this is the vehicle that they're on – on TikTok – to decide what they want to do in their career.


So, we've got this sort of awareness perception bucket. Then we've got what I would refer to as, you know, the direct recruitment opportunities. So, here at FICPA, when I came in, we have over 3,000 student members in membership and we go out and do about 40 to 50 campus visits a year, but there was a disconnect between that work and connecting them directly to our employers that were in membership.


[00:25:26 - 00:27:39]

So, we have made a very intentional effort to execute grassroots and statewide events that bridge those two divides. So, whether it's honoring our scholarship recipients from our scholarship foundation and directly connecting them to employers, or hosting socials with Beta Alpha Psi, and again, directly connecting them to employers, all of that is a role that we absolutely should be playing as a professional association. We've got to be that convener between industry and education. Then there is the broader advocacy bucket. So, what I mean by this, Gene, is whether it's a legislative or regulatory issue, bill, stature, whatever it is, to really promote the profession, we have to do our part.


I, myself, am heavily, heavily involved in this right now. So, as an example, we have the AICPA National Pipeline Advisory group that's working to cultivate solutions all the way from middle school through post licensure, that can help to address these talent challenges. And I am leading the licensure group. How should we, in the long term and the short term, be thinking about our licensure pathways, and how does that impact positively or negatively, the ability for us to cultivate more CPAs?


And all of that ties into advocacy, because it's all regulatory in nature and will require legislation to change or fix or adapt. And then, of course, there's programmatic things. So, as an example, we have a leadership academy that helps to cultivate leadership and managerial skills for, like, the five- to seven-year experience level. And then we have another program called Bridge the Gap, which is for the zero-to-two-year experience-level folks. And don't tell them that I said this, but it's really, it's like adulting 101 for young CPAs. You know, how do we set them up for soft skills success? So, all of those things fall into those kind of four big buckets of recruitment, awareness, advocacy, and programs, and we have a whole suite of them that we do here at FICPA.


Gene Marks [00:27:39 - 00:27:53]

Are your certification requirements in Florida similar to other places in the country, like in Pennsylvania? It's no longer 120 credits that are needed. I think it's 150 credits to even sit for the CPA exam. Is that the same in Florida?


Shelly Weir [00:27:53 - 00:28:33]

Yeah, so all 50 states right now all have the same three Es, the 150 for education, the exam, and the one year of experience. Most states allow the students to sit for the CPA exam at 120. Some states do not, and I don't know off the top of my head how many are still left in that bucket, but there's a lot of conversation happening around the profession right now around whether or not those education requirements specifically should be adjusted, and that's a big part of the discussion. So, there are states that have introduced legislation to potentially change that in their state because we are a state regulated profession. So, lots going on there, too.


Gene Marks [00:28:33 - 00:29:50]

I have to say, again, I can only say this. I'm a member of the profession, so I'll say right out, I don't like the increased certification requirements. I don't think they're necessary. My son is a CPA. He works at PwC. So, he had to spend an extra year in college to get those credits. That was an extra $30,000 that had to be spent to do that, which is just adding yet another barrier to do something like this.


I actually think that the actual real world experience is better and more valuable, and even the CPE that you get afterwards can be more valuable than what you're learning in colleges anyway, if it helps at all, and you're having that discussion, I am one person to just say, like, we should be reducing that barrier to entry, I think would certainly help quite a lot to attract kids.


Do you, as a state organization, how do you get along? Maybe that's not the right term, but how do you play nice with the Big Four accounting firms? The larger, I mean, you guys really ... when I was at KPMG, Shelley, I mean, I belong to the PICPA because the firm paid for it, but I had no involvement with that in the AICPA because everything was dealt with in the bubble of my firm. Do you know what I mean? How do you guys play with the big guys?


Shelly Weir [00:29:51 - 00:30:58]

Well, we are very blessed in Florida, while the majority of our membership, because it's the majority of the profession, is small and medium-sized firms. And of course, our members in corporate finance as well, we have a fantastic relationship with the Big Four. And frankly, the top ten firms in the country keep in mind, they all have very big offices in Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, etc.


So, we have a representative from each of the Big Four that sits on our governing board and council. We have a lot of representation across committees, especially our legislative committees, but you just, you know, stated there, one of the big challenges is that in a situation like that, or even with one of our smaller firms where the firm pays for their membership dues, we have to work that much harder to make sure that we engage, especially that younger generation in the organization early, so that it's not just something that's done for them, but something that they really feel value from and that they'll stay with us throughout the lifespan of their career.


Gene Marks [00:30:58 - 00:31:36]

Great. We have so much more to talk about, and I only have about, like another 10 minutes, you know, of your time. So, I do want to cover at least this issue you just mentioned, like the Big Four, they got big offices in Miami and Jacksonville and, you know, other parts of Florida, which are most likely two-thirds empty right now, as you and I are talking, because people are working from home. So, talk to me a little bit about that. You had mentioned before we started recording that Florida was ahead of the curve a little bit on this whole work-from-home thing. Talk to me about what you've seen in the profession with work from home because it impacts so many others. Listening, trying to figure out what the right balance is for their employees.


Shelly Weir [00:31:36 - 00:32:09]

It's such an interesting question. I actually just saw yesterday, and I may misquote, I believe it was a CNBC article that came out a couple of weeks ago, and it said, the title of it, Gene, was something like the number one in demand remote job is not what you think. And so, I clicked on it, and the number one in demand remote job, according to this particular article, was accounting. And so, it really kind of captured my interest. I was like, gosh, I want to read more about this, but to your point, Florida's been a little bit unique in that regard.


And again, this is not a political statement, whether you agree or disagree with Florida kind of opening up first after COVID is not really here for me to debate, if you will. But we really, from a statewide perspective, were only sheltered in place and kind of shuttered down for a few months. We were one of the first, if not the first state to open back up and wanting to get people back to work. And so broadly across the state, you definitely saw differences, Gene, in certain markets, you know, big city like Miami, where you've got commuting issues and public transportation and what have you, those firms were slower to force people to come back in the office than, say, our firms up in Panama City, you know, area of the state. Very, very different needs and culture there if you will.


[00:33:01 - 00:35:00]

But holistically, it's actually kind of interesting because I don't know of any firms in Florida now, and I'm sure there are a few, but I don't know of any that are still fully remote. The majority of our firms are either back to work full time five days a week, or probably more accurately stated, they're in hybrid mode. So, they're having people come in two or three days and then work from home two or three days. So, now the challenge becomes real estate, because so many of our large firms, the Big Four, for example, you know, kind of downsized their offices during this transition, and now everybody's coming back, and they don't have anywhere to put them. And so, I have conversations with our managing partners in Miami and Tampa and whatnot all the time.


A lot of them have opened up new headquarters, offices, or are adding additional offices in neighboring cities. So, maybe there's one in Coral Gables and then another one in Hialeah or in downtown Miami or what have you to address it. But the most beautiful thing I saw, and, Gene, I wish that I would have recorded it, because it just touched my soul, truly. I was down visiting with one of our regional members in South Florida a couple of weeks ago, and I walked in, and every single one of their employees was in the office that day. And not only were they in the office, they were eating lunch together in the lunchroom and conversing back and forth, like, eager to talk to each other. So, I made a joke to the managing partner. I said, did you have them do that just because I was coming in today? Like, was this something that you wanted to kind of set the inspiration, if you will, or have me have a certain perception of the culture of your firm? And the guy looked at me like I had three heads. He was like, no, this is how it is every day. They want to come into the office, they want to be around each other, and they want to be together. So, it's just a different mentality. So, that real estate thing becomes kind of challenging now, down here, you know.


Gene Marks [00:35:00 - 00:35:21]

You were saying that you saw something that touched your soul. Here I am thinking that you saw somebody helping out, somebody in need or a puppy that was drowning, something that a soldier that got home from two years being away, seeing the first time, seeing their child. But no, Shelly, what touched your soul was a bunch of accountants having lunch together in their office. That's how you operate.


Shelly Weir [00:35:21 - 00:35:28]

I'm telling you truly, and wanting to be together like a family, it was a beautiful, beautiful thing to see. Kudos. Kudos.


Gene Marks [00:35:29 - 00:36:28]

I have to also say that. So, since 2005, I've run. I have a 10-person firm. We've been fully remote since 2005, so way ahead of the curve. And I can tell you, Shelly, that my company is the world's most dysfunctional company. I mean, the fact that we don't see each other face to face. I mean, my overhead's low, but it has a big impact on our culture and innovation and ideas and all that kind. It's a little too late to change that this now.


But I couldn't agree with you more. I mean, I think that most of the partners that I talk to that are running CPA firms and other businesses realize that you got to have your people come in the office. I mean, three days a week, four days a week, and I will still also hold firm that if we were to say to our employees back in 2019, hey, you know what, you can work two days a week from home in three days in the office, they would have been jumping for joy, you know? Like the greatest thing ever. So, I just don't think it's that much to ask to have them spend the majority of their time in the office because it helps the firm so much and their clients.


Shelly Weir [00:36:28 - 00:37:01]

You know, I know it's interesting, but if you think about the fact that Florida was one of the first states to open up again holistically across the entire state, all businesses, I always think about it as if, I think Florida is about a year or two ahead of where other states might be. So, if I'm seeing this now, you know, Jen Cryder, my dear friend that runs PICPA, might be seeing this a year or two later in Pennsylvania, because we were just. We were earlier in the process to reopen everything. So, it'll be interesting to see how it all pans out.


Gene Marks [00:37:02 - 00:37:56]

Yeah, you're giving me an idea to write about. I think that's really, really interesting because that's a great angle on work from home, is that if you really want to get a foresight into where things are going, keep an eye on Florida, because they're just that year ahead of the curve. I think it will tell us a lot. It's really cool.

Okay, couple minutes left. Let me get your thoughts on AI. Listen again. I know a lot of CPAs that work for both regional and larger firms. There's a lot of noise out there about AI. I'm not seeing it put into practice yet. It's almost like the iPhone in 2007. It came out, all these apps were out. And then it's like, it takes a little while before, like, the cream rises to the top and people start really adopting good stuff. And I kind of feel like we're in that phase right now. What are you seeing and what do you think will happen with AI in this profession?


Shelly Weir [00:37:56 - 00:38:15]

No, I think you're spot on. I think it's overwhelming, right? Everybody knows that it's cool and it's going to help, but it's overwhelming to even know where to begin. My favorite quote on AI in terms of the profession itself came from Barry Melancon a couple of months ago, and I've shared it a few times since then because it really resonates.


Gene Marks [00:38:15 - 00:38:18]

Yeah. CEO of AICPA. Everybody who's not in the know, go ahead.


Shelly Weir [00:38:18 - 00:38:34]

Not in the know it. All right. Only the most influential person in the profession. But he said, during a presentation that I was in, he said, generative AI will not replace accountants. AI will replace accountants  not using AI.


Gene Marks [00:38:34 - 00:38:35]

That's great.


Shelly Weir [00:38:35 - 00:40:35]

And that quote, isn't that just. It just sums it up, right. I think in short order, we're going to start to see more and more firms figure out how to use it. Now, whether or not they use it just for internal purposes or in client interactions will have to be up to each of those firms, obviously. But I really think in short order, what we're going to see is it's going to evolve the role of the entry-level employee. It'll eliminate, or all but eliminate some of the work that our entry-level folks would have traditionally done, and so it'll free people up to be more strategic and apply their knowledge in that trusted advisor role.


What gets me excited about that is if you go back to the pipeline challenge that we have, you know, as a profession, some of the research that CAQ has done with their campaign talks about what really intrigues young people right now is this idea of entrepreneurship. So, the more that the entry-level roles become less mundane and more strategic thinking and more entrepreneurial in spirit, I think that actually helps us to sell a better story to the younger generation. But I think that's kind of the thing that we're going to see first.


And then I do kind of wonder about the business models inside firms, you know, and selecting what services might integrate AI and what the type of work will be in that client interaction. And, and even thinking further from that, when I first saw a demo on ChatGPT, and I saw the risk in terms of it is relying on, it's only as good as the information that feeds it, right? So, there's a risk there. And my first thought was, are we going to become the auditors of ChatGPT? Like, are we going to be the auditors of this curated data, if you will? So, it's interesting to think about. Hard to predict right now, but interesting. Interesting to think about.


Gene Marks [00:40:35 - 00:41:25]

So, I heard Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, who ChatGPT's the company that makes ChatGPT. And Altman was saying that even as AI gets better and more accurate, and more reliable. People don't like talking to robots. They like talking to other people. He believes it will only make relationships stronger.


And to use the example in the accounting profession, it's like H&R Block just introduced an AI model to help do generative AI on tax for tax research. Imagine you put 100 years of tax law and tax code into a large language model, it gets trained, it gets better and better and better and better. Now, if you're a really good CPA, you can be doing the research in a fraction of the time and then spending more time with your clients. Your clients are not going to do the research, and they don't want to even know how to apply the results of that research. You know, they need you and they want to have that relationship with you. I think it only just not only makes you a better advisor to your clients, but I think it goes a long way to solving that pipeline problem because you'll be able to get a lot more done in a shorter amount of time. That's my point of view, you know?


Shelly Weir [00:41:45 - 00:42:00]

Yeah, I agree. Do I think it's the single source solution for the pipeline problem? Certainly not. But I think it could play a really amazing, you know, factor and impact, if you will, into what we could do to attract that younger generation.


Gene Marks [00:42:00 - 00:42:13]

Okay, fair enough. Well, Shelly, it's been great speaking with you. I really appreciate you spending the time with us, and you've enlightened us a lot on some of the issues affecting the profession and CPAs in the state of Florida. So, thank you so much for joining me.


Shelly Weir [00:42:13 - 00:42:18]

It's my pleasure. And hopefully this won't be the first time we get to chat. I look forward to doing it again, hopefully.


Gene Marks [00:42:18 - 00:43:22]

Me too. It was a lot of fun. Everybody, I've been speaking to Shelly Weir. Somehow, she has fooled the system and become president CEO of the Florida Institute of CPAs, even though she's originally from Virginia. But I'm told it's fine. But Shelly, thank you again. She is running a great organization in Florida and is doing a great job, and we look forward to having you on again.

My name is Gene Marks. You have been watching and listening to the Paychecks THRIVE podcast. Thank you so much for joining me. I'll see you again soon with another great guest, hopefully as good as Shelly. Take care.


Do you have a topic or a guest that you would like to hear on THRIVE? Please let us know. Visit and send us your ideas or matters of interest. Also, if your business is looking to simplify your HR, payroll, benefits, or insurance services. See how Paychex can help, visit the resource hub That's W-O-R-X. Paychex can help manage those complexities while you focus on all the ways you want your business to thrive. I'm your host, Gene Marks, and thanks for joining us. Till next time, take care.


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