The AICPA recently honored Sidney Kess, CPA, J.D., LL.M., by establishing the Sidney Kess Award for Excellence in Continuing Education. Sidney Kess was the first recipient of this award, which recognizes individual CPAs who have made significant and outstanding contributions in tax and financial planning and whose public service exemplifies the CPA profession's values and ethics. Having lectured to more than 720,000 practitioners on tax, financial and estate planning, Kess is one of the nation's best-known lecturers in continuing professional education. More than a million CPAs have taken Kess courses.
More than anything, Kess is an idea guy, with all the enthusiasm of a triathlete. He is the consulting editor of CCH Incorporated's Financial and Estate Planning Reporter and consultant for the CCH Estate Planning Guide. He was chairman of the advisory board of Tax Hotline and is a member of the PPC Tax Action Panel. Kess has edited a column on "Tax Tips" for the New York Law Journal for the past 41 years. He edits the AICPA's CPA Client Bulletin and CPA Client Tax Letter. He is the recipient of the AICPA Distinguished Lecturer Award. Kess is often quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and other national publications. He was included in Accounting Today's "100 Most Influential CPAs in the U.S." for several years, as well as CPA Magazine's "Most Influential CPAs in the U.S."
Kess was elected to the Estate Planning Hall of Fame by the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils for his service to the field of estate planning. He also was inducted into the New York State Society of CPA's Hall of Fame.
CPA Magazine caught up with Kess after he had just completed a breakfast meeting with reporters from The Wall Street Journal. The Webcast was hosted by the New York Society of CPAs and is available at http://www.totalwebcasting.com/view/?id=nysscpa.
We asked Kess about his advice for others entering the profession. "What they should realize is that there are so many things that happen of such a major magnitude that a young person has the chance to move ahead more rapidly than ever," he said. "Take the Health Care Act; it is a revolution. Everyone is at the same starting line. The one that masters this is able to run ahead of everyone and become an expert in the field."
"When there are major advancements in the law, whatever area you are involved in, you can develop an expertise and advance quickly," Kess emphasized.
"That's why you should read the articles; and with technology, you can study the committee reports and get access for nothing. You can be aware of changes as soon as the legislation is enacted.
"The world has changed, but with computer technology, everyone can keep up-to-date.
"There is tremendous uncertainty right now creating havoc for everyone: the extender bill, the estate controversy and the small business bill. They might or might not be extended," Kess said, referring to the tax legislation conundrum.
"Then there are the changes that will take place in the Health Care Act. The whole business of health care has changed, and the CPA is the interpreter. There are so many changes that the average practitioners do not know what to do if they don't keep up.
"That is why CPA Magazine is so important. We are pointing out the changes in legislation and the planning opportunities."
Asked about the highlights and fascinating events during his career, Kess responded: "The interesting thing for me was always coming up with new things. To see the ideas come to reality has always been intriguing to me.
"When they first started doing computerized tax returns, I told the people at CCH that people are not going to use it unless you show them how to use it. After that, I introduced them to audio learning, tapes, CDs. The next idea was a newsletter. They didn't have those. Then I came up with the Estate Planning Guide that is now in 16 editions. I then followed up with an Estate Planning Service. At the time, most lawyers and CPAs did not have estate planning."
The Sid Kess Estate Planning conference is now in its 41st year. He ran the tax practice for Main Hurdman — the ninth largest firm in the country at the time.
"I always created new ideas," Kess said. "I prepared self-study CPA exam guides that predicted which questions would be on the exam. I hit seven of the eight law questions on that CPA exam.
"I am still doing the same. This is the 35th year for the videos for the AICPA for Individual and Corporate Tax Updates on how to prepare tax returns."
Concerning advice to practitioners, Kess said: "There are more opportunities than we have ever had. The transactions in the business world require more than accounting knowledge. The future is very bright for very bright people. Not everyone can understand the vast implications of business transactions. Technology has changed everything. It has changed how people are learning and keeping up-to-date."
Concerning the future, Kess said that Congress might be acting irresponsibly: "You can't even complete the book or video because you don't know what the tax treatment will be because of the uncertainty of the legislation. A man died in Texas with a $9 billion estate and paid no estate taxes. Right now, there is no step-up in basis."
His advice to small practitioners is that it is important to realize that you must invest with time and tools to keep up-to-date. "You can't get by just bluffing," he said. "It's a tough job. It became a difficult profession because of the constant changes. It is almost impossible to keep up. The feeling in the past was that agents did not know what was going on, and people played the audit lottery. Success now is to the practitioners that master the changes."