Volumes of research suggest that volunteering in retirement is one of the best ways to feel connected, and keep your brain sharp. It can also give you a sense of purpose, as longtime volunteer George Krull, CPA, CGMA, Ph.D., can attest.
Though Krull retired from Grant Thornton LLP in 2000, he has remained very active in the profession, serving on several AACSB committees and task forces, as a trustee and now a past president of the AICPA Foundation, and as an executive-in-residence for 11 years at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill. His retirement also has included supporting the beginnings of the Pathways Commission as an AICPA sponsoring representative, working with the AICPA Foundation's Accounting Doctoral Scholars program, and serving on several university advisory boards and not-for-profit boards. In between, he "answered calls from academic friends" to serve as the interim head of three AACSB-accredited schools of accounting.
"Obviously, I have failed many times at my retirement by taking full-time positions at the request of some friends," Krull quipped, "Currently, I do not hold a day job, and I am not accepting any requests."
Many CPAs find retirement is an ideal time to give back to the accounting profession. Krull and two other retired CPAs who have stayed connected to accounting through volunteer work explain why giving back is important to them and offer advice on transitioning from full-speed careers to the different pace of retirement.
First, take a break. When the big day comes, it's best to take a break before immersing yourself in something brand-new, several retirees advised.
When you're used to working long days, stopping your work abruptly can be jarring, said Krull.
"Retirees need to take time before and definitely after the retirement date to decompress," he said. "My advice is not to be too anxious to accept new responsibilities too quickly. There will be plenty of time and likely many opportunities to volunteer."
John Schiffman, a CPA who retired in 2007 after more than 20 years of running his own firm, suggests taking several months to reflect before committing to any major projects or new roles.
"Don't commit to anything for at least six months to a year before you figure out what you really want to do, because all of a sudden, you're older than you think you are, and that can be inhibiting," Schiffman said.
Develop leads in advance. As he got closer to retirement, Randy Fletchall, CPA, didn't have detailed plans for his newfound spare time, other than being with family and perfecting his golf swing. He knew he didn't want to launch a second career but also knew he didn't want to suddenly be cut off from his professional activities.
"Fortunately for me, some new opportunities were surfacing," he said.
Shortly before retiring in 2012, Fletchall, an EY vice chairman and former chairman and six-year member of the AICPA Board of Directors, became involved with the AICPA Foundation Board of Trustees (later serving as president for four years) and then in helping the AICPA and American Accounting Association implement the Pathways Commission recommendations to improve accounting higher education. Having some ideas for ways he could give back through education-related activities helped make the transition easier.
"Retirement can be a life-changing event," said Fletchall, "In my case, it was reassuring to have some continuity from pre-retirement to post-retirement in the form of professional activities geared toward the next generation of CPAs."
Find a passion project. There's likely a long list of organizations that would relish the help of a retired CPA, and they're not hard to find, Fletchall said. While many of his retired colleagues have volunteered within the profession or in higher education, others have offered their time to passions outside of the profession, such as reading to children or helping train and place service dogs, he said.
Schiffman found a project where he could use his skills as a CPA and be around one of his lifelong passions: skiing.
Six years ago, Schiffman began working to preserve Whaleback Mountain, a public ski area and ski school near his New Hampshire home. The 85-acre ski area dates to the 1950s and was on the verge of shutting down in foreclosure. Schiffman worked with other skilled retirees to form a nonprofit organization and raise money to keep the ski area open to the public and affordable for families.
"You find many things to do in your retirement," Schiffman said. "You don't always know what they're going to be, but you're always looking for something to challenge you intellectually. And if you can use your CPA analytical skills, all the better."
Shape the future of the profession you love. Retired CPAs have decades of experience, insights and relationships that position them to shape the future of the profession, whether by advising on the accounting curriculum at colleges and universities or encouraging young adults to consider accounting careers.
"If I were to offer any general advice, it would be to not underestimate how worthwhile staying/getting involved in the CPA profession can be," said Fletchall, who in addition to his national work related to the AICPA, has served on the advisory council for his alma mater Kansas State University and on the board of directors of the Arizona Society of CPAs.
Fletchall said that most of his volunteer work did not make use of his technical accounting and auditing skills. "And that was fine with me because I had used those skills every day for 36 years," he said. "But a broad knowledge of the profession and the leadership and problem-solving skills that evolved over a career certainly helped me provide benefit as a volunteer in retirement."
Krull said that volunteering can be extremely rewarding and describes his contribution to his various efforts as "my way of paying it forward to a profession that has been and continues to be so good for myself and my family."
"I have always thought and said that for younger or older professionals to consider themselves 'professionals,' they need to give back to their communities as much as they take," he observed.
— Samiha Khanna is a freelance writer based in North Carolina. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, a JofA senior editor, at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.