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Discovering accounting

Frank Maisano explains how he was able to merge his love for both accounting and academia, and embark on the research journey of an understudied field.

Discovering accounting
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There’s something special about the accounting world that has always intrigued Frank Maisano. 

It’s a factor so fascinating that it led him to pursue a full-time education in accounting, even while his days were busy enough running his own small business.

“What drew me to accounting was the profession as a whole and the influence it has on the world. Accounting and the profession of accounting has a say in everything around the world, financial or otherwise,” Mr Maisano says.

“It always intrigued me in regard to that. I decided that I wanted to pursue a career around accounting in some way, shape or form.”

But after graduating with his degree, Mr Maisano had another realisation: a love for academia.

It has seen him return to university to earn an honours degree, and later pursue a PhD in accounting, which Mr Maisano expects to complete in the coming months. Today, he also works as a lecturer at RMIT University, where he teaches students hoping to work as accountants.

While most graduate accountants dream of starting their own practices, Mr Maisano had other dreams.

“I did own my own business for 10 years. While owning an [accounting] practice is not exactly the same as owning a business that’s not tied to a profession, I was ready for something different,” he says.

“After my accounting degree, I did work for a couple of years in a small accounting firm. But while I definitely enjoyed the work, academia has always been something that I excelled at. I wanted to combine my interest for accounting and academia, so I pursued a PhD.

“I get to work with my research. I get to work with professional accountants. I get to teach upcoming accounting professionals, which I enjoy immensely. It just all works. It’s extremely satisfying for me.”

A focus on small practice

While Mr Maisano didn’t start his own small practice, he does spend his days studying them.

He has dedicated his research to understanding the small practice accountant better, which he believes is understudied despite making up the majority of the accounting industry in Australia.

“In academia, in regard to the accounting profession, the large majority of research is done on large companies, the large accounting firms, the big four. They’re done on financial statements, analysing regression statistics. And that’s all important, obviously,” he says.

“But very little is done, in comparison, on the small practice accountant. In Australia, and in probably many other countries, the predominant accountant is a small practice accountant. But very little is done in regard to research on how they charge their services, what’s their day-to-day working life like, what sort of challenges they have. Your psyche, your mentality is different to a corporate accountant. So, I’m trying to research it and get an understanding out there in academic literature.”

Mr Maisano says one of the most interesting findings to come from his research is how pre-conceived notions about small practice accountants’ identities are no longer relevant. He says prior literature states that to perform at the highest ethical standard, accountants must have a high professional identity.

“You need to identify with a profession higher than your practice and your clients because if you identify too closely with your clients, you could have an ethical problem. You might feel pressured by your clients and do things you’re not supposed to do,” Mr Maisano says.

“Whereas, I have found in my research that the small practice accountant has a low professional identity, but it does not impede on their professionalism. They have a low professional identity  due to factors in regard to how they enter the profession. They have a high client identity because that’s the nature of a small business. But it doesn’t impede on their professionalism.

“Their professionalism and how they conduct their services are still of the highest standard. I think that’s a really big finding because it goes against what’s been said in prior literature.”

Mr Maisano recently won the Institute of Public Accountants-Deakin University SEAANZ PhD Competition. The award was presented by the IPA-Deakin SME Research Centre, which conducts multidisciplinary research on small and medium size private businesses and not-for-profit enterprises. The centre focuses on bringing together practitioner insights with world-class research as well as provide informed comment for substantive policy development.

Mr Maisano says working closely with the IPA has enabled him to effectively conduct his research.

“I’ve got a good relationship with the IPA. Their members are predominantly small practice,” he says.

Adapting to change

When it comes to change and innovation in the accounting profession, Mr Maisano has had to adapt. He says the methods for teaching continue to change as the profession morphs, and professional bodies such as the IPA are helpful in determining how to tailor the accounting courses.

“Our methods for teaching have vastly changed, even in my relatively short academic career. I’ve been in academia now for five years. Even in that time, there have been pretty big changes in the way we deliver content to the students and the way we assess students,” Mr Maisano says. 

“Now, we’re more fluid in our assessments and our assessments are more practical to align the expectations of students when they move into the workforce. No longer do we do the old-fashioned types of tests and assessments. Now, we’re more dynamic in regard to delivery of content using technology. A lot of the professional bodies, such as IPA, we ask what they need from graduates. So, we’re tailoring our courses to that.”

As for the future, Mr Maisano hopes to expand his research after completing his PhD. He plans to continue on this merged path of academia and accounting, and continue delving into the world of the small practice accountant. He also plans to stay ahead of change and innovation through teaching.

“In the next five to 10 years, I would like to continue on the path that I’m on at the moment. I’m thoroughly enjoying it. I want to push the envelope in regard to research and understanding the small practice accountant,” he says.

“That’s my main goal, to continue on the innovation curve in regard to accounting and linking that to teaching and the coursework for students. Research is the key thing for me to become an expert and to have a nice theoretical footprint of the understanding of the small practice accountant.” 

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