Communication Skills for Accountants: Lessons from GGU’s Director of Accounting Programs

cropped-ggu-outside3.jpgRic Jazaie has given presentations throughout his career to senior leadership at the CIA, FBI, in judicial proceedings, and at his own Forensic Accounting practice. “You are always presenting as an accountant to large and small groups and communicating with people one-on-one. The era of the guy in the green visor and the lamp is over,” he says.

Accountants and auditors communicate daily with their clients and constituents. Jazaie says: “Communication skills, analytical skills, and critical thinking are the most important skills accountants can possess and develop—in that order. Clients look to us for answers to help clients achieve their goals.”

Jazaie has used his communication skills to influence successful prosecutions of terrorist financiers as an FBI agent/analyst, loan servicing companies at the FBI, and even small Bay Area nonprofits as the head of a consulting firm. Students get a direct pipeline to these techniques in Jazaie’s Communication and Analysis of Financial Information for Accountants course.

“One of my students in the communications class came back from an interview at a Big4 accounting firm,” he says. “He told me that he asked the interviewers what they seek in a candidate. They said critical-thinking skills and communication. He could put a tangible work product from the communication class on the table and discuss those principles. They were very impressed. He was beyond himself with excitement.”

We asked Jazaie to list his 10 most important communication skills…

  • Storytelling: “You want to get your audience excited and tell them a story. The presentation should be as interesting as a hearing about an interesting first date from a friend. Tell the story through your analysis of financial information.”
  • Eye Contact: “For example, when you answer a question in court, you turn and look directly at the jurors in the eyes. They love that.”
  • Be Credible: “If you are asked a question, it’s OK to say, ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I took a different approach.’ Never, ever, lie about the facts. Our credibility in this profession is of utmost importance.”
  • Understand their point of view: “It is also important to be an active listener and hear the other points of views in a discussion with the people you are presenting to.”
  • Pace Yourself: “Your audience, especially a jury, needs time to process the information so you don’t need to talk quickly.”
  • Clear visuals: “Accountants for the prosecution on a grand jury were able to make a two-slide presentation that connected essential numbers (slide one) to the law (slide two). They proved that the prosecution had a strong case.”
  • Communicate the solution: “Clients that hire auditors/accountants want to know what controls should be in place to prevent fraud. You need to have a simple answer.”
  • Be friendly: “Your audience, whether clients or jurors, want to see a friendly and generally happy accountant. Your audience will not respond well to you when they see an angry and argumentative person in front of  them.”
  • Confidence: “It is important to be confident when you present. Confidence does not mean arrogance. In fact, to the contrary, a confident accountant is one who has done his or her homework and is prepared to respond to questions.”
  • Feedback: “Being able to appropriately give and receive feedback is an important communication skill.”

Before job interviews or professional presentations, students must get past Jazaie as an audience. When they present their analyses and recommendations to the class, he deducts points for loss of eye contact and wants to see them apply what they learned from his experience. He says: “They need to make mistakes at GGU because at the Big4 they expect you to be a pro by the time you get there.”

“[My Student]…could put a tangible work product from the communication class on the table and discuss those principles [at an interview]. They were very impressed. He was beyond himself with excitement.”

Jazaie continuously looks for ways to provide his students with constructive feedback during and after presentations: “Giving feedback involves giving praise as well – something as simple as saying ‘good job’ or ‘thanks for such a great presentation’ to a student can greatly increase motivation.” Jazaie’s students have impressed him with their ability to apply what he teaches: “They continue to amaze me with their creativity and analysis of difficult financial information and their ability to present their points of views.”

One-On-One

Communicating one-on-one is crucial to audits and investigations. By taking the attitude of a helper, a series of conversations can make a difference. “The process of Forensic Accounting is to keep turning rocks until you run out of rocks. Then you look for patterns in the soil. Then you find another rock. Somewhere in there you find your next lead. That’s where the excitement is. Forensic accounting is like solving a large jigsaw puzzle. That is, you have clues everywhere, but you have to think logically and methodically and try to fit the pieces perfectly to build the bigger picture.”

Ric Jazaie has a master’s degree in Accounting from Golden Gate University (’15) with a concentration in Forensic Accounting.


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Accomplished Finance Professional Stays on Top of His Game at GGU

“Why would I go back to school? That’s what everyone asks me!” It’s a legitimate question for Marc Loupé, who has more than 25 years of experience and has worked in global-level roles in accounting and finance. After a few years at Deloitte as an external auditor, he progressed from positions in internal auditing, financial planning and analysis, and controllership roles. Most recently, he was CFO of AAA of Northern California, Nevada & Utah. As he transitions from corporate financial management to a consulting practice, he wants more education to keep performing at the highest level.

“When people are younger,” Loupé says, “they think they get a degree and finish their education. As people mature, they have a better appreciation that learning is continuous. You always want to stay on the top of your game, and the best way to do that is to be in (or close to) classroom interaction with other students and business counterparts.”

There is an ongoing requirement in business to communicate effectively and use current and proven tools to accentuate a presentation. There is always a missed opportunity to improve communication skills. You don’t want to fall back into habits that may not be effective.

GGU’s reputation in the accounting field—as well as its instructors who demonstrate their real-world application of theory—persuaded Loupé to start its master’s degree in accounting program. For example, the Accounting Research and Communication course informs students how to make presentations more effective by using technical tools with clarity. Loupé also notes: “It also helps one to consider the audience’s background and familiarity with the presented content.”

Loupé’s team was challenged to present a written and oral presentation about how Chipotle could raise its stock price after the E. Coli scandal. The group presented a solution that addressed marketing, supply chain, public relations, and product development. “We were taught the specific Excel automation commands that are useful to summarize data for an audience,” says Loupé. “I also learned from other students who used some of the newer tools, such as Prezi.”

Communication in Real-World Situations

Loupé says good communication is about being clear and succinct, noting: “A presenter should never conclude with the audience saying: ‘You lost me in translation.’” To present effectively, you need to listen and communicate so clients can engage in a conversation to achieve the ultimate answer. Ultimately, as financial and business consultants, we are solution providers.”


More about Mark Loupé

Marc Loupé is a Partner at CFOs2Go, which provides CFO advisory services in finance and accounting on an interim and consulting basis and recruitment for direct hire positions.


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Golden Gate University Ranked #1 in US for Adult Learners for Second Consecutive Year

For the second consecutive year, Washington Monthly ranks Golden Gate University America’s #1 School for Adult Learners in its annual College Guide and Rankings.

How GGU Was Chosen

To compile the rankings, Washington Monthly reviewed data from the Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) survey, the department’s new College Scorecard database and the College Board’s Annual Survey of Colleges.

The metrics that determined GGU’s rating include:

  • ease of transfer/enrollment
  • flexibility of programs
  • services available for adult learners
  • percent of adult students (age 25+)
  • mean earnings of adult students ten years after entering college
  • loan repayment of adult students five years after entering repayment
  • tuition and fees for in-district students

Read the article in Washington Monthly >>

Starting a Forensic Accounting Career at Golden Gate University

By Joey Byers
Bachelor of Science in Business, Accounting Concentration (’17)

I decided that I wanted to be an accountant a year before my exit out of military service. My aspirations were either to become a CPA and open a firm or to become a forensic accountant for a government agency that pursues fraud investigations. I have always wanted to get into some type of investigative field. This began in my youth when I thought being a crime scene investigator or detective would be fun. As an adult, my interest shifted to forensic accounting which is essentially a field of “number detectives.” After watching a few episodes of the TV show American Greed, my interest solidified.

I’m currently completing an undergraduate business degree at GGU with a concentration in Accounting. I shopped around for accounting master’s programs in the Bay Area, but other schools didn’t have as many specialized classes in accounting like GGU offers. The curriculum was the same reason I chose GGU for an undergraduate degree in the first place. GGU not only offers a competitive Master of Science in Accounting (MSA), but also offers a concentration in forensics which happens to be in line with one of my career goals.

The Path2CPA Program

I am taking advantage of the Path2CPA program to finish the MSA program in just one year after finishing my undergraduate business degree. Students like me can get a head start in an accounting career and save time and money in the process. If you were to apply in earnest to the master’s degree program without having an accounting-focused undergraduate degree, the amount of time to complete the program effectively doubles. Fortunately, GGU lets you reduce the time-frame to one year. It’s worth noting that you’re able to take upper-level courses in the undergraduate program.

At my current job, I wear several hats. I own the Accounts Receivable process; reconcile numerous General Ledger accounts at month, quarter, and year end; review and approve expense reports after the departmental managers; and work a lot with compliance issues relating to sales, use, or local taxes. I also have cross-functional roles working closely with the legal and sales operations departments. Now that I am approaching the next phase of my accounting career, it has become apparent that becoming a CPA is a must.

I am taking advantage of the Path2CPA program to finish the Master of Science in Accounting program in just one year after finishing my undergraduate business degree. Students like me can get a head start in an accounting career and save time and money in the process.
—Joey Byers, BSB (’17)

My Advice for Future CPAs

In addition to my educational path, I would like to share some things that I think will help other people who want to start an accounting career.

Being adaptable. Expense reporting systems, accounting systems, month-end close applications, etc., are always changing, so you have to keep up. Also, you might be tasked with managing implementation projects, comparing different systems and then training colleagues on them, doing a month-end close, researching compliance, and gathering audit evidence all on the same day. You should be adaptable and learn to accept the change and the growing pains that might result from it.

Having Technological Intelligence. Knowing Microsoft Word and Excel inside and out will help you immensely. Knowing complex and generic formulas are a must. In some instances, you could be manipulating a General Ledger or other data dump with tens of thousands of line items. If you don’t know your way around Excel, it will eat up hours which doesn’t look good to employers in a time crunch.

Knowing It’s Never Too Late. My message for people who may want to start a career in accounting is that it is never too late. But after you start, don’t stop and understand that sacrifices might have to be made. As an adult coming out of the military, I couldn’t wait for long to begin my career; and a degree is mandatory in the accounting profession. If you can get an entry-level accounting position, accept it. Certain accounting topics in school might become easier for you if you’re getting real-world experience.

If you’re planning on getting your CPA, doing a 1-year Path2CPA stint to get a master’s degree at GGU is the way to go. While getting the degree, I will sit for the CPA exam. The MSA Forensic Accounting concentration is focused on real-world applications and case studies. It is a specialized field, and the program is designed with the Certified Fraud Forensics (CFF) exam in mind. Once I have completed all the requirements for the CPA and go on to test for the CFF designation, my career trajectory is relatively limitless.


LEARN MORE ABOUT STUDYING ACCOUNTING AT GOLDEN GATE UNIVERSITY >>

A Master’s Degree in Accounting in One Year? GGU Offers New Path2CPA Program

GGU-outsideGolden Gate University now gives its undergraduate students the ability to earn a Master of Science in Accounting (MSA) in as little as one year after completing a bachelor’s degree with an accounting concentration. The new Path2CPA program lets students apply a number of their undergraduate courses to an MSA – making the “step up” to a graduate degree both quicker and less expensive.  The bachelor’s-to-MSA route also removes the hurdles of taking the GRE and completing an application for grad school.

GGU’s accounting programs are recognized as some of the best in the nation. Students get an edge in a crowded job market by choosing a specialized accounting concentrations. Most of GGU’s accounting courses are taught by instructors who are also practicing professionals — many working at “Big Four” firms in San Francisco’s Financial District.

For many students, the MSA will satisfy the 150-hour education requirement to become a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Other students can take electives that deepen their knowledge and help them get to the next step.

Four In-Depth Specializations

GGU provides concentrations that allow graduates to enter the job market with relevant, in-demand skills. These areas of focus offer students the uncommon opportunity to choose the most rewarding path for them.

Financial Accounting & Reporting: Theory and principles that frame a wide range of problems and issues encountered in the accounting profession.

Forensic Accounting: Courses in fraud auditing, financial statement investigations, complex discovery and data management, the role of the expert and expert report, bankruptcy and insolvency, economic damages, valuation, and lost profits.

Internal Auditing: Assisting students to become Certified Internal Auditors (CIA) as defined by the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA).

Management Accounting: Positions students to achieve the Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) and/or the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) designations.

If students are not sure which specialty is right for them, staff advisors and faculty mentors can help them find the specialization works best for their career goals.

I am taking advantage of the opportunity to finish the MSA in just one year after getting my undergraduate business degree at GGU. Students like me can get a head start in an accounting career and save time and money in the process.
—Joey Byers (Bachelor of Science in Business, ’17)

Why GGU is the Best Option

In a competitive job market, a degree from an accredited university with a national reputation is an advantage. GGU has been part of the accounting community in the San Francisco’s Financial District for decades. The relationships among local students, faculty, and alumni have formed a natural pipeline from classroom to the executive suite. Local firms also look to GGU for new talent to fill positions in a growing field with increasing need for specialized skills.

Path2CPA Highlights
Earn an MSA in as little as a year
Apply undergrad credit to your grad degree
Skip the GRE and grad school application
Get real-world skills from in-depth concentrations


Are you a Golden Gate University graduate?
Alumni receive a 30% discount for the Path2CPA Program.


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San Francisco is the Place to Be for Graduates Looking for a Job

A casual search of LinkedIn uncovers thousands of high-paying tech and business jobs in San Francisco. Shortages in the healthcare management and business analytics fields, combined with rapid growth in the tech sector, have driven abundant work opportunities.

Despite this promising outlook, recent graduates of any field face competition from their peers and those with greater experience. Choosing the right city to start a career can give graduates an edge in finding a great job.

It comes as no surprise that San Francisco has been named the best city in the US for recent graduates to find a job by the highly respected American Institute of Economic Research (AIER). The study looked at a number of factors, including unemployment rate, labor force participation, and how many people worked in emerging industries.

Located in San Francisco’s Financial District, Golden Gate University is situated as an ideal launch pad for graduates looking to advance a business career or break into a new one. GGU’s faculty often make a short walk – some literally across the street – to teach courses. Many currently work for international companies with a worldwide impact such as Google. Direct exposure to working professionals creates valuable networking and mentoring opportunities for students. Golden Gate University’s roots in the Bay Area business community go back more than 120 years, a history that has created a natural pipeline from the classroom to the executive suite.


“San Francisco is a great place to look to for work. There are a lot of magnificent local companies like Uber, Google, Facebook, Salesforce, Apple, Microsoft, Charles & Schwab—and the list goes on. I believe this city has opportunities for everyone, whether a graduate is looking for a career in Marketing, Human Resources, IT, Finance or Accounting. As the technology hub of the world, the number of startups growing every day.”

—Jatin Jaiswal (MBA candidate, ’18)
President Student Government Association


The Best City, Period

AIER also named San Francisco as the best city in the world for higher education when considering both quality of life and practical considerations. The survey found that the factors prospective students value most – the percentage of an educated population and diversity – are hallmarks of what locals call The City. AIER researchers also considered factors such as employment rate (a low 3.1% in San Francisco); arts and entertainment; the presence of science, technology, medical, and engineering workers; biking and walking options; and public transportation. As far as getting around, the new transit station a block from campus and its 4.5-acre rooftop park only adds to the appeal of GGU’s downtown location.

If you are interested in learning about San Francisco’s reputation and position in the business world, we invite you to watch this video with Dr. Gordon Swartz, Dean of GGU’s Ageno School of Business.


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Video: Data Security Primer for Accountants

Certified Public Accountants handle, store, and transmit huge volumes of confidential client information. The news is filled with stories about cyber hackers, but something as simple as a misdirected email can create enormous damage.

As CPAs, we have legal and professional obligations to protect our clients’ information. In this video, Prof. Ric Jazaie provides a brief overview of our obligations, and the basic steps accountants should take to protect confidential client information.

Prof. Jazaie and Dean Fred Sroka then go on to discuss how data protection reviews, consulting and audits can be a great value-added service for CPA firms. This video is ideal for accountants who want to take advantage of one of the many blossoming niches within the accounting profession—and learn to avoid data security trouble of their own.

If you have any questions about adding these services or researching data security issues feel free to reach out to Ric Jazaie at RJazaie@ggu.edu.


About Ric Jazaie

Professor Ric Jazaie has over 17 years of progressive auditing and investigating leadership experience. He is an experienced internal auditor and a fraud investigator with extensive experience in computer forensics and in law enforcement. His areas of expertise include fiscal audits, internal performance and operational audits, forensic accounting and litigation support, as well as, information technology audits and investigations of federal, state, local government organizations, as well as, medium sized privately held companies. Jazaie holds a Master of Accountancy in Forensic Accounting from Golden Gate University.

Video: Advice from GGU Alumni on Careers in Tax

GGU’s Master of Science in Taxation program is ranked as the top tax program in the U.S. according to a 2017 report by TaxTalent.com. Our alumni go on to great careers at:

• “Big Four” accounting firms – Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, and KPMG;
• Other public accounting firms (global, regional, and local) – BDO, Andersen Tax, Moss Adams, Marcum, and Eisner Amper;
• Private industry – Oracle and almost every publically traded technology company; and
• Government – IRS, Franchise Tax Board, and Board of Equalization.

This video features four GGU tax alumni who work at PwC, EY, Cisco Systems and Apercen Partners. They discuss how they chose their career path, give advice to prospective tax students, explain the many job skills that are required, and debunk stereotypes. They also explain how academics must be combined with real-world knowledge for professionals to succeed.

What Graduates Say

“I am a very proud of getting my degree at Golden Gate University…I used my school materials on the job to answer questions I had before meetings.”
Suzy Maalouf, Project Manager at Cisco Systems

“I had the flexibility to do online courses because I travel for work…Now I get to work with great tech companies in San Francisco like Uber, Zendesk, and Reddit”
Christopher Abad, Senior Tax Manager at Ernst & Young“I finished in 9 months and I met the firms and could network with companies and firms at GGU Lunch and Learn Sessions. When I had interviews, they recognized me and I recognized them.”
Daniel Sanchez, Tax Associate, PricewaterhouseCoopers

“At GGU I learned how to do public speaking that is useful for talking to clients. Being able to come up with an idea and present to the client was huge.”
Wylan Lau, Tax Senior, Ernst & Young

“I was already working in the field for a number of years and was looking to ‘up my game.”
Charlotte Hoppe, Tax Manager, Apercen Partners


More about the Master of Science in Taxation program >>

Accountant Stereotypes are Just Plain Wrong—Or, What a Career in Accounting is Really Like

By Fred Sroka, Dean of the GGU School of Accounting & Bruce F. Braden School of Taxation

When most people hear the word accountant, they think of the guy in the corner adding up numbers and not talking to anyone. Perhaps the way accountants are portrayed in movies is part of it. Consider the neurotic nerd Gene Wilder in the Producers (1968) or the completely unsocial Ben Affleck in the Accountant (2016). Like most stereotypes, they are just plain wrong. Let’s help bust some myths.

Myth #1: Accountants are antisocial.

Because accounting is a service business, we need to stay close to the needs and ultimate goals of our clients or employers. This kind of interpersonal connection is vital to doing a good job and part of the satisfaction. Anyone who’s worked in a public accounting firm knows that it’s a team sport. There are simply too many rules for anyone to do it all themselves.

The nerdy stereotype of a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is simply not the image desired and held by the accounting profession. The typical stereotype depicts accountants as cold, aloof, and impersonal. In contrast, CPAs consider themselves skilled in the interpersonal abilities necessary to maintain successful client relationships. Large public accounting firms are increasing their investments in “emotional intelligence” training to better connect their people with one another and with their clients. If you want to hide behind a computer screen all day, your value to your clients won’t be much higher than QuickBooks™ or TurboTax™ .

Myth #2: Accountants are “math people” and “bean counters.”

Whereas the field was largely computational in the past, changes in technology have made this just one component in what happens. Nowadays, computers do most of the computational work, while accountants synthesize massive amounts of data into a simple picture of a company’s financial position. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a chart is worth a thousand numbers.

CPAs consider themselves skilled in the interpersonal abilities necessary to maintain successful client relationships. Large public accounting firms are increasing their investments in “emotional intelligence” training to better connect their people with one another and with their clients.

Myth #3: Accountants are not creative.

Many of our successful accounting alumni have a background in liberal arts. We have many music majors that have thrived in the GGU Master of Accountancy program, because musical literacy rests on an understanding of patterns and structures, along with a strong creative streak!

In the related field of Taxation, laws are always changing and are subject to interpretation. Our graduates describe how they enjoy collaborating with executives to analyze situations and decide what moves to make.

Myth #4: Accounting is not fun.

Accountants love solving puzzles. They live for those exciting “AHA moments” when you figure out a pattern or insight behind the numbers, much like finishing a New York Times Sunday crossword or even “finding Waldo.” That’s an accountant’s moment to celebrate.

At GGU, we create problem solvers who are proud to call themselves accountants. Our alumni are active at the best tech companies, accounting firms, governments, and non-profits, smashing stereotypes along the way.

Myth#5: Accountants do not serve the public good.

Many of our graduates are in the forensic accounting field and can use these gaming skills to nail the bad guys who cook the books or embezzle funds. Accountants also believe in giving back to the communities they serve. For example, CPA firms challenge their staff to work with Habitat for Humanity, Food Banks, and schools with financial literacy programs.

Myth #6: Accountants are all the same type of person.

Not all of us look like Gene Wilder or Ben Affleck. GGU’s diverse student body shows that accounting attracts people from all walks of life, ethnicities, and countries of origin. We have extroverts as well as introverts, those just out of college and those with many years of experience starting a new career or adding to their skills.

Myth #7: Accounting isn’t relevant to business goals.

Think of an accountant like a FitBit® for management and investors. Accountants give a quick, easy-to-understand picture of the company’s current financial health, clear guidance on how to improve this health, and solid metrics as the company develops.

At GGU, we create problem solvers who are proud to call themselves accountants. Our alumni are active at the best tech companies, accounting firms, governments, and non-profits, smashing stereotypes along the way.


About Fred Sroka

Fred Sroka, JD is the Dean of the GGU School of Accounting & Bruce F. Braden School of Taxation. Fred Sroka received his JD from UCLA, practiced as a tax lawyer for 18 years, worked as a tax accountant for 18 years, and managed a couple of years as a management consultant! He has been a member of the GGU adjunct tax faculty since 1983, and a member of the tax advisory board. Fred retired from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in 2014 and has served as the Dean of the Bruce F. Braden School of Tax since October 2014.

He holds an active CPA license in California and Colorado and is an inactive member of the California State Bar. Fred and his wife Ronda have two kids (both off in grad school), who provide constant coaching on the world from a millennial student’s perspective. Fred loves to play tennis and golf and is constantly puttering around the house with his tools.


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