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AICPA Member Spotlight: Sarah Hughes

Sarah HughesThe AICPA has many talented members with unique stories. This new Member Spotlight series will showcase the stories of members throughout the organization. We sat down with Sarah Hughes, CPA/PFS, executive director of EY’s Private Client Services in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. For more than 15 years, Sarah has worked on her clients’ holistic personal financial and business planning needs. Below she shares some of her knowledge and experience

AICPA: In 2001, you were a tax accountant for a local firm; what motivated you to move to EY?

Sarah Hughes: The regional firm that I worked for was where I really learned the fundamentals of taxation on partnerships, S corporations, individuals, tax-exempt organizations, estates, and other areas. I found myself gravitating toward the individual trust and estate planning area, and relatively speaking, that was a small area of focus at the regional firm. EY had, and still has, a large group solely dedicated to these areas, so I have the support and am able to focus on a part of the accounting profession I find really interesting. Many of my clients are also connected to family-owned and private businesses; the background I brought with me to EY has helped in these areas as well.

AICPA: How do you articulate the valuing of the planning services EY offers, while converting tax clients into PFP clients?

Hughes: When doing planning for individuals, we are typically working with high-level executives or those with high net worth. This provides a critical relationship for potentially launching into more broad opportunities with families and businesses. Furthermore, in the case of family owned businesses, it is tough to separate the business from the family in almost all aspects, so having a planner who understands the big picture can assist with decision making. We consider all the puzzle pieces as they relate to the big picture.

AICPA: In 2004, you worked with EY in Bangalore, India, for three months—something that seems unusual for most CPA financial planners. Was this a good experience?

Hughes: This was one of the best experiences of my life! Not only did I get to teach, which I truly enjoy, but I also made lifelong friends I still keep in touch with today. I think that any opportunity to get out of our comfort zone and live in another culture should be embraced; I wish I could go back and do it again! In this day and age, I think global experiences are critical to truly understanding what the world we now live in is like—all of our young CPAs should look for these types of opportunities.

AICPA: You’re a past member of the AICPA’s PFP Executive Committee. What kind of projects were you involved with while on the Executive Committee?

Hughes: One of the most exciting things I worked on was helping to set the strategy for the next few years for the Committee. We spent several hours in our January meeting a few years ago really pushing, and challenging ourselves on, our priorities. It is always exciting to be a part of that kind of work. Most recently, I’ve been helping out on a project that ties into the AICPA’s Future of Learning Initiative that is designed to provide competency-based learning (a combination of what you need to know and the skills needed to apply the knowledge) in personal financial planning, among other disciplines. I think this will be an exciting tool.

AICPA: What is your advice for young CPAs interested in practicing in financial planning?

Hughes: Young CPAs should look into finding mentors and people they can learn from. They should ask for opportunities to sit in on client meetings and calls. Honestly, the way I learned the most was by listening to more experienced colleagues ask questions and talk to clients. Financial planning is so personal to our clients; it is critical that young CPAs learn how to help clients define their goals and objectives, and further, learn how to flex as client priorities change.

AICPA: How have you been able to balance your career while raising two young children?

Hughes: That is a great question!

First, I certainly couldn’t be successful without my wonderful husband and family. Second, flexibility and communication are key. EY is a great firm to work for when it comes to flexibility. As I’ve gone through different seasons of life and my situation has changed —including having young children—so has my need for flexibility. My teams and the leadership at EY have always been supportive. While everyone has needs in their lives, I take a special pride in helping parents at EY find the flexibility that works for them and for the firm. I consider it part of my job to be a role model and to teach people how to own their career and personal lives. It can be done even in the challenging business we are in, but people need to own it.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Hughes.

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