They came. They (financially) planned. They conquered.

The 2013 AICPA Accounting Competition gave students a shot at advising James, a bass-playing computer science grad who wanted to get a grip on his finances, pursue his dream of building a music-based mobile app. Teams with the most impressive personal financial plans presented them in Washington, D.C., and one team walked away with $10K.

This is the original lowdown from the 2013 competition. The specifics change every year, but the general structure will still be helpful if you’re prepping for a current competition. You can see what came when, and what it took for the most brilliant teams to make it to D.C.

  • The Finalists

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    Competitive Pilot Accountants

    University of Portland

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    SV Consulting

    Santa Clara University

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    Screaming Eagles

    University of Southern Indiana

  • The Assignment

    2013 AICPA Accounting Competition: Personal Financial Planning
    Making other people’s business the cornerstone of yours.

    James Gutierrez is the bassist for an indie rock band called Rusty Chinchilla. He grew up in Laredo, Texas, where both of his parents worked full time to support James and his three siblings. While they never had much money, they always had enough to get by. As a result, James’ parents stressed the importance of education to their children and pushed each of them to go to college.

    After graduating from high school with honors, James attended a university in Austin, Texas, on a partial academic scholarship. While working on his bachelor’s in computer science, he fell in love with the city—and the music scene—so James decided to make Austin his home after graduation. He was stoked to find a job as a computer engineer at a large local software company and even more excited that he could continue booking gigs around town with Rusty Chinchilla.

    On top of that, he’s got a great idea for a mobile app he’d love to pursue. One that would allow users to search for music shows based on a wide variety of criteria, such as venue, genre, distance, price, related bands, surprise shows, and so forth. The app would also allow users to buy tickets, listen to previews of songs and share pictures and reviews of shows. Of course, building this app will take not only a lot of hard work, but also some monetary investment.

    In his 26 years, James has excelled in many areas. Unfortunately, his personal finances haven’t been one of them. James went out to eat often (he’s never been a fan of cooking—or doing dishes) and made some not-so-savvy purchases throughout college, all of which ended up on his credit card. But now that he has a steady job making good money and big plans for his future, James knows he needs to get his finances under control.

    That’s where you come in. James has reached out to your firm for some much needed advice and guidance. As part of a successful CPA firm that specializes in personal financial planning, you and your partners have the insight and experience to help James understand and tackle his fiscal affairs. Once you agree to take James on as a client (by forming or joining a team—of three or four students), you’ll get more specific info about him and his situation. Then your firm will devise a plan to help James get a grip on his finances and advise him on the best way to pursue his dreams in your 1,000-word-max written proposal.

    *Note: Teams got the full version of the case upon registration.

  • How It Worked

    **Note all information below is from the 2013 AICPA Accounting Competition

    It's official

    The 2013 AICPA Accounting Competition is a case competition open to currently-enrolled undergraduate students at two-year and four-year colleges, community colleges, and universities in the fifty United States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa and/or the U.S. Virgin Islands (collectively, the “Eligible Jurisdictions”). You cannot participate in the Competition if you are not a permanent legal resident of an Eligible Jurisdiction. You need to be a Student Affiliate member of the AICPA (it’s free to signup) and at least 18 years of age (and if the age of majority in your state or territory is older than 18, you must submit a completed Parental Release Form with your first round proposal in order to be eligible to participate.)

    The competition will be open to teams of three or four students: two students on each team must be currently enrolled accounting students, and the other one or two may be currently-enrolled undergraduates from any discipline. All teams will have a Team Captain. The Captain will be responsible for turning in all submissions and all direct communications with the AICPA during the competition. The Team Captain must be a declared accounting major.

    Students may also choose to have an Advisor. This Advisor can help guide you or give you feedback on your responses, but they may not provide any of the final deliverable work. Advisors can be a full-time Faculty member, a graduate student at a two-year or four-year college, community college, or university who is at least 21 years old or a licensed CPA practitioner that has a current and active membership with the AICPA.

    The competition comprises three rounds. The first round will involve a short written executive summary (1,000 words or less) that more broadly helps us understand your team’s take on the situation.

    In the second round, or Semi-finals, the top 15 teams will be selected to participate. Qualifying teams will be asked to create a video presentation (5-6 minutes) and supporting documentation (1-3 pages).

    Three of the top 15 teams will be selected to present again in front of an executive judging panel in Washington, D.C. This will be an in-person presentation, and all finalist team members and their Advisors will receive travel and hotel accommodations in our nation’s capital. Each finalist presentation will be 10 minutes in duration (and you may elect to use additional media for the specific audience), with an additional Q&A period.


    Who can compete in this competition? The 2013 AICPA Accounting Competition is open to currently-enrolled undergraduate students at two-year and four-year colleges, community colleges, and universities in the United States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa and/or the U.S. Virgin Islands. You must be at least eighteen (18) years old and a current AICPA Student Affiliate Member as of date of entry to be eligible to enter. If the age of majority in your state or territory is older than 18, you must submit a completed Parental Release Form with your first round proposal in order to be eligible to participate.

    How do we sign up? Simple: just go to the Team Dashboard page and start building your team.

    Do I have to be an AICPA Student Affiliate Member to participate? Yes. Student membership is required to participate in the competition. But the truth is membership is free to all currently enrolled students at two-year and four-year colleges, community colleges, and universities. Not to mention you’ll also get a ton of perks like access to AICPA scholarships and discounts on conferences, events, and other resources.

    Can multiple teams from the same school submit? Yes.

    What are the awards? See below. Awards are split equally among each finalist team member, depending on placement.

    First Place: $10,000
    Second Place: $5,000
    Third Place: $2,500

    Where does the award money come from? The AICPA Foundation provided the funds for the finalist prize money for the 2013 AICPA Accounting Competition.

    Who is eligible for the trip package? The top 3 teams (all finalist team members and their accompanying advisor) are eligible for the trip package to the final presentation location. See the Official Rules, Section 5 for trip package information.

    I want to participate but need help rounding out a team. Can you help? Yes. In the Team Dashboard page you can browse the existing teams to see if there’s one you’d like to join, or start your own and invite other students to participate. As the founder of the team, you’ll automatically be the Team Captain, but you can elect to make another member Captain later if you choose. Remember, your Team Captain must be an accounting-related major.

    One of our teammates will no longer be able to participate. May we make a substitution?  You can alter your team members until the close of the first round and you have submitted your case. Teams are required to have at least 3 and up to 4 members. No team member substitutions are allowed after you have made your submission.

    Why three or four team members? The simple answer is that the AICPA wants to help develop the next generation of CPAs and we want you to work with others to do it. The more detailed answer is that we hope you’ll learn important concepts during the competition, including analysis of difficult and novel issues, communicating your thoughts clearly and compellingly, and – you guessed it – teamwork. Whether you're in a team of three members or four, you'll be putting your brains together to submit a proposal that showcases your combined talent.  In the real world your fate is entwined with that of your team, and the better you are at collaborating with them, the better. This competition is no different.

    Can I serve on two different teams? No. Besides, don’t you ever sleep?

    If I leave a team, can I join another team that needs a member? You can bounce from team to team as much as you like prior to submitting your first round proposal. Once that is done, you’re locked in for the duration of the competition, so be nice to your teammates.

    How come the team captain gets to keep the video camera, and not me? Well, they’ve got considerably more work to deal with than the rest of the team, including increased communications, coordination of members and submissions, and representing/introducing the team at the finals. We offer them the camera as a token of gratitude. But they can still decide to give it to you if they want.

    Is there a required format for the video presentation? No. You have some creative license here, but all team members must appear in it at least once and you must use the AICPA provided video device to create the video footage for your video submission.

    Will my team’s written submission be judged on its style? While there is no official scoring mechanism for the style of the document, do bear in mind that a well-crafted, professional document for the competition only works in your favor – just as it would in a business environment.

    One of my team members is a graphic design major; may we submit the written portion in a different format? So: Want to expand beyond the boundaries of Microsoft Word 2003 or 2007, do you? That’s fine; just have your gorgeously designed case in a format that’s readable by Adobe Acrobat.

    Who can act as our advisor? Advisors must either (a) be employed full-time in an undergraduate teaching capacity with a community college or four-year university within an Eligible Jurisdiction (b) be enrolled as a full-time graduate degree student at a university within an Eligible Jurisdiction, or (c) be a licensed CPA practitioner that has a current and active membership with the AICPA within an Eligible Jurisdiction. You can even find a CPA Personal Financial Specialist (CPA/PFS) in your area here.

    Advisor must also register on the Website and be included on your team roster by the close of the first round, just like your Team members.

    Can our advisor advise more than one team? Yes.

    What is your definition of a graduate student? For the purposes of this competition, graduate degree students are defined as students who are currently enrolled at a college or university taking coursework consisting of 50% or more graduate-level classes, which will result in the receipt of a graduate level degree upon their graduation from that college or university.

    Does my CPA advisor have to be a member of the AICPA? Yes. Advisors who aren't fulltime faculty or graduate students must have an active CPA license and be a current member of the AICPA. Need help finding one?  Use our search function and ask nicely.

    Do we have to have an advisor? Not at all. It’s up to your team, and in particular the team captain, whether to solicit the advice of a faculty member, graduate student, or regular AICPA member, but we do recommend it. Just like in class, this advisor can help guide you and give feedback on your responses, but they can’t provide any of the final deliverable work (of course).

    What does a good executive summary (like what’s being asked in Round 1) look like? Good question. An executive summary is used to help decision makers (or judges) understand your perspective before going into the second round. So your response is basically a summary of findings, including:

    • Overview – Executive summaries are often looking for a high-level explanation and analysis that could be read by both business people and an average Joe. Keep your language simple, and be clear about your ideas and major points.
    • Recommendations – This includes both new ideas from your team and responses to direct questions from decision makers.
    • Justification – Like any good investigator, use the facts to get to the bottom of things. Present evidence or clues, then use reasoning to connect the dots for the judges.
    • Brevity – As a general rule, executive summaries should be pretty short and sweet. Remember there is a 1,000-word maximum on your Round 1 submission.

    How many teams will be admitted into the Semi-finals?
    15 teams.

    How many teams will be admitted into the Finals? 3 teams.

    We’ve been selected as finalists! What’s the dress code for the final presentation and networking dinner? Students will be expected to dress business formal (suit and tie, pantsuit, or skirt suit) for the presentation, as well as for the awards announcement.

    How will our response be judged? All entries will be judged on a scorecard metric. Each round will be judged on several factors. If you like, you can read all of the Judging Criteria in the Official Rules, Section 4.

    Will my school affiliation give me an advantage during the judging process? No. Judges will come from various parts of the AICPA and business world, so nobody’s out there looking to heap awards on their alma mater. What they are looking to do is score each team’s submission based upon the quality of the response.

    One of my relatives is a member of AICPA—will I still be able to compete? Yes. The AICPA is a professional association with nearly 386,000 members, so you can see that if we limited entries on the basis of family membership, we’d be excluding a lot of students. So unless your relative is on the judging panel, you’re good. We’d like to keep the opportunity to compete as open as possible.