His forward-thinking mindset and insightful decision-making abilities have lead Austin Wachter to a successful and fulfilling career. Now, as we celebrate NCACPA’s centennial anniversary, we have the distinct privilege of Austin’s leadership as we embark on the next 100 years.
Entering the Profession
A third-generation graduate of Duquesne University, Austin was the student all undecided-majors envied. From day one at college, he knew he wanted to major in accounting, but like most undergrad students, Austin didn’t fully understand what it meant to be a CPA. That’s where his mentors came in to play.
“I had some people along the way who really took an interest in me, and for one reason or another, helped me in my career,” says Austin. One of those mentors was Ray Cegelski, a professor at Duquesne, who introduced Austin to the accounting fraternity, Beta Alpha Psi. It seems Austin has always had a knack for leadership as it wasn’t long before he became president of the fraternity. Ray’s influence didn’t stop there. He later invited Austin to attend a Beta Alpha Psi conference at Disney World. “I’ll never forget, he gave me (a broke college student) an envelope with cash in it and said, ‘Go have a good time at the parks.’ He probably didn’t realize how much of an impression that had, but it was great in terms of his commitment,” recalls Austin.
Austin became more immersed in the accounting world while working as an intern at Deloitte in Pittsburgh. Because of his time interning at Deloitte, it didn’t come as a great surprise when the recruiting director asked Austin to lunch and presented him with an offer letter. What was surprising, was that Austin hadn’t even applied for the position! Rather than accepting the offer, Austin countered by asking if he could interview in Baltimore.
Disney to Deloitte
College students aren’t notorious for making the best decisions, but that couldn’t be any farther from the truth when it comes to Austin. His decision to reject his offer in Pittsburgh, in hopes of launching his career in a prospering new city, paid off.
The night before his interview, Austin was invited to attend a dinner cruise with employees of the Baltimore office. He connected with one of the partners and they spent the evening talking. Later on, Austin received an offer letter he wouldn’t pass up. It wasn’t until after he began working that he learned the partner, who he had bonded with on the cruise, had been adamantly in favor of Austin being hired. What’s more, he requested that Austin work with his client—who happened to be the biggest client in the office!
Feeling pretty on top of the world having landed an incredible job at a thriving company, Austin and his wife, Nicole enjoyed living in the DC area during the mid-90s—when the tech boom was at its peak. “It was a really neat time to be there because there was a lot of energy and action, so a fun place to start my career,” recalls Austin.
However, it wasn’t long before the pace of growth and cost of living took its toll on Austin and his family. Rather than settle and hope for a change, the young couple took action. Following a trip to Lake Norman with their infant daughter, Austin—like anyone who visits—fell in love with North Carolina. In 2004, Austin asked Deloitte to transfer him—and they did! It turned out the Charlotte Deloitte office was growing and needed more people.
Trusting Instincts, Making Moves
Settling into his new life, Austin began to more seriously consider becoming a partner. But, newly a father and with changes to how public accounting was operating with the big four at the time, Austin struggled to find the motivation. Still, he kept his eyes open and eventually took an opportunity doing financial reporting for a department store chain. It wasn’t long before Austin realized it was not the place for him. He quit his job, a decision that would propel his career forward once again, and in less than a year was back at Deloitte.
Still settling back in, Austin couldn’t shake the idea of opportunities outside of public accounting. “But before I even started looking, I got a call from a recruiter about an opportunity at TIAA. I didn’t know much about TIAA at the time, but once I started to learn about it, it seemed pretty amazing,” says Austin, adding that he “was going to do financial reporting for their largest real estate fund.”
During his time at TIAA, Austin assumed the financial reporting for multiple products, oversaw real estate accounting and reporting, and took on the role of funds treasurer for the mutual fund business. Eleven years and five positions later, Austin is now the controller of Nuveen (which was bought out by TIAA in 2014) and head of TIAA Corporate Accounting.
As controller for the combined business, Austin enjoys the challenges that come with the job, like creating new accounting processes and building consolidated financial statements. “I think that’s one of the things I’ve found to be so much fun—getting to build things and create stuff…that’s what does it for me,” says Austin.
From Young CPA to Chair
Austin credits his mentors with playing an integral role in his career trajectory. Now, he has the opportunity to be on the mentoring side of the table—which he views as even more advantageous. “I find that I probably get more out of the mentoring than the mentee does. I love those relationships where I learn from folks how to think about things differently,” adds Austin.
In addition to his informal mentoring involvement, Austin has been a member of NCACPA for fifteen years. “I joined when I moved to the state, but I got involved when I saw information for the Young CPA Cabinet. I didn’t know anybody on it or much about it at all, but I always wanted to get involved. So one day, I said, ‘I’m going to do this and I’ll figure it out.’ And it has been such an awesome ride since then,” says Austin who is now the second Young CPA Cabinet alumni to become chair.
While involved with the YCPA Cabinet, Austin also joined the Charlotte Chapter and served on several of its subcommittees. “I was president of the Charlotte Chapter and was involved in a number of taskforce and committees along the way. I actually helped work on the taskforce to think about what we were going to do with chapters.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Austin’s volunteering doesn’t end there. He has also been a Financial Literacy volunteer; Chapter Advisory Group member and Vice Chair; Young CPA Cabinet Alumni Group member; Trends Team Strategy Group member; Connections Committee member; Chapter Advisory Group Chair; Executive Committee member; 2015 Chapter Task Force member; and Board of Directors’ member, Chair-Elect, and now Chair.
Austin also served as president of the Foundation Board of Directors. His enthusiasm for the Foundation is infectious as he boasts about the impact the Foundation made this past year, “I’ve had this awesome opportunity to be part of giving out over $100,000 in scholarships to make a difference in the lives of these students. Hopefully, it will really push them into the accounting profession.”
As evident from his current and prior positions, Austin has been exceptionally involved with NCACPA. He realizes that “not everybody has time or wants to commit the time to being on a committee,” but this year, Austin aims to increase member engagement and provide greater value to all members.
When you consider Austin’s current commitments, it’s hard to imagine that our new chair has even an ounce of free time—but he makes sure he does! Spending time with family and friends is a priority for Austin who looks forward to his kids’ events—whether that’s watching his daughter, Mia perform as a competitive dancer or cheering on his son, Leo as he races to beat his record swimming time. Mia and Leo seem to have developed their love and talent for sports from their dad who is an active cyclist. Though, you might not catch a glimpse of Austin riding during your daily commute as he prefers the challenge of cycling through the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains.
Following their kids activities, Austin and Nicole look forward to relaxing evenings by the fire, enjoying wine from one of their visits to Napa Valley. Traveling and experiencing new places together is important to Austin and his family who cherish the opportunity to explore various areas of the country, specifically major US cities. “We really want our kids to see how varied this great country can be,” says Austin in regards to his family’s adventures.
Leaning Into Change
Based on his career history and fervent involvement with NCACPA, you’d think Austin comes from a lineage of accountants. However, it wasn’t his family who sparked his interest in the profession, but his father’s friend, a CPA, who Austin jokingly recalls, “drove a much nicer car than my dad.”
Austin’s introduction to the profession might not be the most traditional, but it does go to show the importance of influencing students early on—one of the many goals he intends to focus on during his term.
As passionate as he is about attracting people into the pipeline, Austin is equally interested in helping senior professionals exit the pipeline through quality succession planning. “We need to be focused on getting people into the profession, but there are so many people who are getting ready to retire. A lot of them don’t have a plan of what to do about their practice. So that’s something I want us to be focused on as well,” says Austin.
While increasing member engagement and aiding in succession planning are top priorities for Austin during his term, the challenge of digital disruption still overshadows them. Austin believes “the biggest challenge we’re going to have is our ability to move as quickly as the pace of technology. The profession has evolved, but at a slow pace. And so I think one of the big challenges is going to be figuring out how to support CPAs through this change.”
Still, with the hurdles technology poses to CPAs, Austin believes “it’s the most exciting time to enter the profession,” adding that, “the profession is ripe for a tremendous amount of change.“
“Studies out there say accounting jobs are going to be on the decline, but I think it actually means that the more traditional—or the more manual accounting job—is going to change. I think somebody coming into the profession is going to get a chance to be more involved in the business, and see so much more about what’s happening, than I certainly did as a junior accountant,” continues Austin. “Technology isn’t something we should be afraid of. We can be part of it and help make it work for business and accounting. My advice would be to lean into all the change and technology. Be part of it, be somebody who is, as we like to call it, a disruptor,” advises Austin.
100 Years Forward
The significance of becoming chair during NCACPA’s centennial year is not lost on Austin who recognizes this unique opportunity to “look back at all the great things we’ve done, and also recognize that we need to look forward toward the great things we want to do.
I am just so excited about what lies ahead. I know it’s going to be a ton of work, but it’s so rewarding, every part of it.”