Americans with roots in Spanish-speaking regions such as Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Cuba not only make up the second-largest and one of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in the United States, but they are also looking to expand their footprint in accounting and finance.
Latino accounting and finance professionals have come a long way since 19 Latino CPAs formed a professional accounting organization in 1972, now known as the Association of Latino Professionals for America (ALPFA).
Celebrating its 50th anniversary, ALPFA today is one of the largest minority-based business and accounting organizations. The organization’s history goes back to Gilbert R. Vasquez and 18 other Latino CPAs pooling their resources to increase Latino representation in the AICPA. Today, ALPFA has more than 95,000 student and professional members. (See the sidebar, “ALPFA Milestones.”) In addition to being a vehicle of social change within the accounting and finance community, ALPFA has become a networking forum for Latino students, professionals, and businesses through its membership and annual conventions.
Fifty years ago, the founders came together with aspirations to compete for government contracts, encourage other Latinos to pursue accounting careers, and make significant and progressive changes in a field where they had little representation. They did not realize their actions would have a lasting and powerful influence on the Latino business community.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
In 1969, President Richard Nixon established the Office of Minority Business Enterprise (OMBE), now the Minority Business Development Agency, as part of the U.S. Department of Commerce. At the time, about 322,000 businesses generating $10.6 billion in revenue were minority-owned. Nearly one-third (about 100,000) of them were Spanish-speaking minority-owned businesses that generated about $3.3 billion in revenue.
Vasquez, who became an AICPA member in 1970 and later chaired the AICPA’s Minority Recruitment and Equal Opportunity Committee, said he was able to identify 16 Latino CPA firms among those Spanish-speaking minority-owned businesses. These firms were in Arizona, California, Louisiana, New Mexico, Texas, and Utah.
He then organized and incorporated an organization called the American Association of Spanish Speaking Certified Public Accountants (AASSCPA) at his own expense, he said. When he received funding from the Commerce Department, he used the OMBE grant for the newly formed organization. In honor of his efforts, Vasquez received a certificate in 1977 naming him the AASSCPA’s Charter Member No. 1 and a plaque naming him founder.
At the AASSCPA’s first, informal meeting in September 1972, Gustavo Gonzalez, one of the 19 founding members, said he made a motion to only do business with Spanish-speaking people, but Vasquez successfully argued for the use of English.
The organization initially was considered a Latino CPA trade organization and recruited only Hispanic CPAs who were partners in their own firms — a condition of the OMBE grant. Once the grant ran out, the AASSCPA allowed all CPAs with a Hispanic surname to join.
WHY ORGANIZATIONS LIKE ALPFA STILL MATTER
Becoming a member of the AASSCPA was important to him, Gonzalez said in a 2012 interview with author Sydnee Manley, because it promised to be beneficial right away.
In March 1972, he had received a contract to audit Region VI of the U.S. Small Business Administration. But Gonzalez needed assistance because he was a sole practitioner and Region VI consisted of five states. In Robert Marquez, another founding member of the AASSCPA, and others he found people he could trust to work with.
“It was a beautiful thing that the group worked out,” Gonzalez stated. “I would have been nothing without them [the AASSCPA], or at least worse off.”
Being part of the AASSCPA also allowed him to successfully bid on federal contracts with the U.S. Departments of Labor and Agriculture. “We were young, energetic, and hungry,” Gonzalez said. “And the government felt better about [awarding us contracts], because they were dealing with an association and not just sole practitioners.” Previously, large national accounting firms known as the Big Eight had held a tight grip on federal contracts.
Once members became more experienced with auditing large governmental agencies, they were able to score more federal contracts, Marquez said in a 2012 interview with author Sydnee Manley. Eventually, however, many members moved away from federal government contracts toward more work with local governments and not-for-profit organizations.
The strength the first members found in coming together in the AASSCPA has since been bolstered by the growth and increased economic impact of the Latino population in the United States.
The number of Latinos in the United States has risen nearly seven-fold since 1970, when they made up about 5% of the U.S. population, according to U.S. Census data. In 2021, they represented 19% of the U.S. population and were the second-largest ethnic or racial group after non-Hispanic whites.
The market value of all the goods and services Latinos produced increased to $2.7 trillion in 2019 (the most recent year for which data is available), up from $1.7 trillion in 2010. Based on U.S. Census data, that’s 57% faster than U.S. GDP grew during the same period.
Also, Latinos have invested more in education than other U.S. population groups, according to U.S. Census data. The number of Latinos earning college degrees between 2010 and 2019 increased 2.8 times faster than among non-Latinos.
And the gains in educational attainment and personal income, as well as a strong participation in the labor force, have allowed Latinos to spend more. Their real consumption growth was more than double the U.S. consumption growth between 2010 and 2019. But challenges remain. While Latinos are represented in all occupations and industries, they are underrepresented in management and professional jobs in general and business and financial occupations in specific, U.S. Census data suggests.
BOOSTING THE NEXT GENERATION
Recruitment and mentorship are crucial to raise Latino representation in accounting and finance jobs as retiring Baby Boomers are increasingly replaced by Millennials and Generation Z, two generations with large numbers of Latinos. According to the Pew Research Center, 6 in 10 Latinos are Millennials or younger, compared to 5 in 10 Black Americans, about 5 in 10 Asian Americans, and 4 in 10 white Americans.
A majority of the jobs coming available, not just in business and finance, are considered “knowledge work,” meaning they require extensive theoretical education and experience to be carried out successfully. Latinos are in an excellent position to pursue more knowledge work because of their growing percentage of the population and the labor force. However, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that although the gap in high school completion rates between the white and Latino population has narrowed, high school graduation rates for Latino students still lagged behind white and Asian students for the 2018–2019 school year.
The high school graduation gap is compounded by rising college tuition costs, which require many Latino students to take on ever-increasing amounts of debt, and by culture shock when they make it to a four-year institution, because of the lack of Latino professors. A 2020 study by the not-for-profit Excelencia in Education found that Latino students’ graduation rates from two-year and four-year institutions lagged behind white students: 33% of Latino students graduate from a two-year higher education institution compared with 35% of white students; and 51% of Latino students graduate from a four-year institution compared with 63% of white students.
ALPFA and other, similar organizations are committed to improving these statistics. ALPFA student membership includes access to scholarship opportunities, skills development workshops, networking with key hiring professionals and sponsors, and discounts on various ALPFA events. Other advantages are the Career Fairs and Expos sponsored by ALPFA as well as virtual student symposiums.
ALPFA also works to address challenges Latino professionals face. Professional ALPFA chapters in 37 locations across the United States make access to role models and mentors among Latino accountants and finance professionals easier. ALPFA also offers professional development and career-building opportunities such as continuing professional education courses, local chapter networking events, receptions, and career fairs that aid in the retention of Latinos.
In its 50 years, the organization that started with 19 members celebrated several historic milestones. Here are some of them:
1972 The American Association of Spanish Speaking Certified Public Accountants (AASSCPA) is established in Los Angeles.
1972 First official AASSCPA meeting at the Ambassador Hotel in Washington with an attendance of six. Gilbert Vasquez is appointed the first president, a position he held for five years.
1973 First AASSCPA convention is held in Las Vegas. Wallace “Wally” Olsen, then president of the AICPA, was the keynote speaker.
1974–1975 Frances Garcia, CPA, becomes the first woman associate member. She would go on to become the AASSCPA’s first woman president and be named inspector general of the U.S. Government Accountability Office. She was voted an honorary member in 2017.
1977 Gilbert Vasquez was honored and recognized as founder at the convention in New Orleans.
1978–1980 Organization is renamed American Association of Hispanic Certified Public Accountants (AAHCPA).
2001 The organization changes its name to the Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting (ALPFA) to expand membership to finance professionals.
2009 ALPFA merges with the National Hispanic Business Association to create an organization of more than 14,000 members.
2010 The organization changes its name to ALPFA Inc.
2022 The organization has more than 95,000 members with professional chapters in 37 locations and student chapters at about 100 universities and colleges.
About the authors
Sydnee C. Manley, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of accounting at Providence College in Providence, R.I. Dale L. Flesher, Ph.D., is Associate Dean Emeritus of accounting at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Miss. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.
“Promoting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion,” AICPA Insights, Oct. 24, 2022
“CPA Firms Show Progress in Diversity Amid Pipeline Issues,” JofA, April 6, 2022
“Accounting Profession Continues to Zero In on DEI Issues,” JofA, May 24, 2021
“A Pioneering CPA Reflects on a 50-Year Journey,” JofA, Oct. 7, 2022