CPA INSIDER

7 strategies for a great retirement

Taking steps in advance can lead to a more satisfying next phase.
By Anita Dennis

You've built a successful career, and you're starting to think ahead to your next challenge. Will you be ready to retire when you decide the time has come? CPAs who have already blazed a trail into retirement offer advice on how to lay the groundwork for a satisfying future:

Don't let work get in the way of planning. It's important to avoid getting so caught up in work that you fail to focus on your future, advised Bob Goldfarb, CPA, who retired after merging his 15-person Long Island, N.Y., firm with Janover LLC. "Decide what you want and be set to start once you retire," he advised.

Manage the transition at work. It should be easier to relax in retirement if you're confident your organization is in good shape.

In public accounting, that can mean ensuring your clients are taken care of. A well-executed transition period is "very important for client retention," said Larry Lioz, CPA, a former tax partner and administrative partner-in-charge of the tax department at Margolin, Winer & Evens LLP, based in the New York City area. There is always the risk that your former clients will be uncomfortable with your successor's approach or philosophy or lack chemistry with them.

Lioz said he had attended one major client's board meetings and become an integral part of their team. They were worried about losing him, "but they ended up being very happy with the new partner because I was there to reassure them," he said. "We let all my clients know about the transition early and encouraged them to call me if they had any concerns or issues."

Jim Blake, the former vice president/treasurer and CFO at The Morey Organization in Wildwood, N.J., who had been with his organization for 22 years in various roles, focused on helping his replacement get settled. During the last year, "at first, he worked with me and got the lay of the land," said Blake, a CPA with inactive status. In the final six months, "I told him to move into my office and take over. I was available for counsel and advice."

If you continue to work, don't be afraid to set limits. The day after he retired as CFO of Global Impact, an Alexandria, Va.-based not-for-profit, Stan Berman, CPA, CGMA, opened his own dream business: offering CFO-level services to small charities that needed that level of expertise but on a limited and low-cost basis.

"I didn't want a career's worth of experience to just disappear, particularly given that I enjoyed what I was doing, and I felt I could offer more than fair value to the organizations I served," he said.

He and his wife also wanted to travel, however, so he works part time on a retainer basis. "My limited professional practice forces me to keep professionally sharp, and I enjoy the added incentive it provides to keep on learning," he said.

Follow your passions. Retirement is the end of one story, but CPAs can still remain active in their communities while using their newfound freedom for dream activities.

"My associates told me I'd be pulling my hair out in retirement," said Blake, who had been involved with many professional boards and associations, in addition to his job, during his career. But, after relocating, he immediately was elected to the board of his homeowners' association and enjoys the chance to pick and choose his commitments.

"My wife and I traveled before, but now there are no restrictions on our time," Blake said. In the four years since his retirement, they have visited Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Germany and seen the northern lights in Norway. They also enjoy taking their grandchildren crabbing or kayaking. "Spending time with them is precious," he said.

Make sure you're financially ready. CPAs should follow the same good advice they offer to clients about ensuring retirement income security. "It's a myth that expenses will go down significantly in retirement," Lioz said. With that in mind, "be sure you have enough to live comfortably the way you've lived in the past." That includes taking into account the financial implications of any expected relocation or significant travel plans, as well as potential health care costs or market fluctuations. "Make sure you've reviewed your assets and have your affairs in control," he said. 

Be prepared for the unexpected. As Blake observed, "You won't know how you'll feel about retirement until you do it. Your preconceived ideas may not work." Many CPAs count on working on not-for-profit boards, for example, but may not necessarily find satisfactory options.

After his firm's merger, Goldfarb had planned to remain with the new firm as a principal, a role that would give him management responsibility but not ownership. "It was exactly what I wanted," he said. But his wife became ill, and he found that he needed to take time off and ultimately retire sooner than he anticipated.

He seized the chance to stay active and involved by raising a service dog in honor of his wife, who has since died. "It was a labor of love," he said. He also is a running coach working with participants in fundraising marathons for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and he works about eight hours a week with his former firm. "It wasn't what I expected," he said of his retirement, but he is happy with the merger and his new pursuits. 

Consider staying connected to the profession. Many accountants choose to remain connected to professional organizations in retirement. Lioz, Goldfarb, and Berman have maintained their CPA license and AICPA membership.

"The CPE requirement to maintain my license gives me a good excuse to get together with my CPA colleagues and helps me keep up with what is going on in our profession," Lioz said. 

Berman said that he keeps his license active partly because his clients expect it, but also because he finds the CGMA and Not-for-Profit Section resources valuable. Goldfarb stays active as a member of many accounting-related organizations, including the New York State Society of CPAs and the National Conference of CPA Practitioners (NCCPAP), and the New York State Board for Public Accountancy and continues to chair the Long Island Tax Professionals Symposium, which is co-sponsored by NCCPAP and the Internal Revenue Service. 

Embracing change may be the biggest challenge in retirement, but it can lead to new adventures. "A lot of people define themselves by what they do at work," Berman concluded, and they should anticipate adjustments when they leave that role. "Think about your next phase and how you are going to make it as fulfilling and exciting as you can."

Find resources on retirement in the AICPA Private Companies Practice Section's Succession Planning Center.

Anita Dennis is a New Jersey-based freelance writer. 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.

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