Retirement tips from retired CPAs

When it comes to retirement, no one size fits all.
By Maria L. Murphy, CPA

During the many years that CPAs work long hours with little downtime, they may dream of retirement. They think about the days when they can do what they want when they want, spend more time with friends and families, work on hobbies, and read books and watch movies they never have time for.

Why, then, do some CPAs worry about what to do with the rest of their lives as retirement gets closer? This transition can be difficult, but with thoughtful planning, the shift into retirement can be relatively smooth and even exciting.

The transition may be difficult for some because of the sudden loss of routine and demands of daily work. Jean-Luc Bourdon, CPA/PFS, a financial planner at BrightPath Wealth Planning LLC, said his experience is that retirement can have several stages, including some initial depression and issues of personal identity loss for some CPAs. "Rebuilding a sense of identity is important," he said. "Re-ask the question 'What am I going to be when I grow up?' to be, 'What am I going to be when I grow older?'"

Additionally, CPAs may experience the loss of valuable social contacts and close personal relationships formed over the years. "People outside the profession don't understand the human aspect," Bourdon said, "that CPAs handle more than numbers. CPAs get to know their clients' spouses, children, grandchildren, and family histories, and retirement can be very emotional."

The following tips can help CPAs make an easier transition to retirement:

Evaluate your budget realities and plan early. The transition to retirement can differ depending on the stage of a CPA's career and mandatory retirement age at the firm. Personal circumstances and financial obligations, including spending on children, parents, or health, may also affect when CPAs are able to retire. To have time to revise spending and savings budgets, it is important to make a retirement plan early. Planned retirement activities will affect the resources required; worldwide travel plans require different resources from those needed for staying at home reading.

For instance, Howard Weiser is a retired partner from PwC who was at the firm for 34 years before he retired early at age 55. He decided to leave while he was at the prime of his career and at a point when he could travel frequently and spend a lot of time with his children and grandchildren. Other CPAs may choose to work until later in their lives, which may result in different retirement plans.

Weiser encourages CPAs to evaluate well in advance how they plan to live after retirement, and to discuss financial needs and resources with their spouse to make sure he or she is on the same page. Weiser prepared himself for retirement and developed his plan early by using financial planning tools and attending retirement planning workshops.

Meet with a financial planner. If you are not a financial planner, meet with one. Bourdon suggested that CPAs work with financial planners who have experience with retirees and understand their situation. "Don't only focus on what to do to get there, but also on what to do when you get there," he said. "Financial planners fill an essential diagnostic and informational function by going into a fact-finding phase and asking the right questions. There is something compelling about having another person ask us important questions about what really matters to us."

Consider working part time. CPAs may fear losing relevant technical knowledge in retirement. CPAs value their roles as trusted advisers to their clients and respected subject matter experts in their fields. It is natural for some retired CPAs to continue working and keeping current on technical topics. CPAs' knowledge and experience solving problems are always in demand, which may create opportunities for part-time or contract work. It may be possible to do personal financial planning for existing tax or audit clients or to work for a former firm on a reduced schedule. Other options include consulting on a part-time basis or teaching at a college or university.

Stay involved with professional organizations. Retired CPAs can also offer technical expertise by continuing to be involved with the AICPA and state societies, serving as a committee member or writing content for professional bodies to publish. Retired CPAs can maintain their licenses and take continuing professional education courses. They also may be invited to stay in contact with their former firms through alumni and retired partner events.

Mentor younger professionals. Mentoring is another way to stay involved in work activities after retirement. "I made it a point to keep in touch with some of the younger partners and staff at my former firm," Weiser said. "It gives me a lot of satisfaction to help them develop and advance. Also, it helps me to maintain the interactions with many different people that I was used to having every day." For information about mentoring opportunities within the profession, visit

Volunteer for causes you care about. Weiser was involved in not-for-profit work and served on boards while working. He finds great fulfillment in spending additional time with his many volunteer activities now, and he said that helping others makes him realize how fortunate he is. "You need to think about your priorities and what fulfills you, and find causes that you are passionate about," he said.

Searching the web for "volunteer opportunities" or on websites such as Volunteer Match and including your volunteer interests and experiences on your LinkedIn profile are ways Weiser suggested to connect to organizations that need help. Bourdon recommended researching organizations in areas that interest you and then contacting them and telling them you are available to volunteer.

Create and enjoy your new life. Robert Fleming, a retired partner of RSM US LLP (formerly McGladrey LLP), spent almost 50 years in public accounting. He thinks that the trepidation over not feeling valuable anymore can be overstated and that the focus should be less about the adjustment and more about the lifestyle to be enjoyed after retirement. "People underestimate the softer side of life," he said. "It is a wonderful phase of life, when you look forward to doing what you couldn't do while you were working. There are so many things to do every day."

For Fleming, the greatest joys in retirement are travel with his wife, spending time with grandchildren, playing golf, and just relaxing. Both Fleming and Weiser enjoy the sense of freedom, the ability to create the structure of their days, and managing their own time. "Retirement is an opportunity to unshelve unfulfilled goals and dreams," Bourdon said. "There's an excitement to letting things go while retaining some aspect of what made us happiest."

Maria L. Murphy is a freelance writer based in Wilmington, N.C. To comment on this article, contact Chris Baysden, senior manager–newsletters.

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