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Despite the profession being over 125 years old, only 2% of certified public accountants (CPAs) in the U.S. are Black, according to a report by the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants. With this glaring disparity, the CPA profession might seem like a nontraditional path for any Black person today. However, Ebvomien “Ebe” Osaigbovo, a CPA based in Chicago, prefers to look at the upside: This represents a significant opportunity for diversity and growth in the accounting profession.
A graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, with a bachelor’s degree in both accountancy and finance, Osaigbovo established his own accounting firm, SWM Planning, in 2017. His transition from a side hustler to a full-time solo entrepreneur in five years shows that there are opportunities for any young Black student pursuing a career in accounting.
Osaigbovo says that through programs and initiatives that support education and mentorship among underrepresented communities, there is potential to broaden the talent pool and bring fresh perspectives into the accounting industry. He believes this will not only enhance the profession, but also foster a more inclusive and equitable environment.
“The accounting profession is full of opportunities regardless of color. New businesses open and more and more people enter the job market every day—all of them needing support to plan for tax liabilities, prepare income statements or get sound business and financial advice from professional accountants. There is so much room for growth in this profession,” Osaigbovo says.
From a few dozen clients, Osaigbovo says he has grown SWM Planning’s clientele to nearly 200 businesses and individuals. He credits the company’s growth to hardwork and a commitment to quality services. To become a young CPA with high ratings in online reviews from clients, the 36-year-old entrepreneur has focused on providing value to clients through ethical business practices, which he says has been a cornerstone to his success as an entrepreneur.
Osaigbovo believes it is important for accounting firms to lead by example and show businesses how to operate with integrity and transparency. Adhering to ethical principles helps accounting firms build trust with clients, regulators and the wider community. Osaigbovo says this commitment to ethical accounting practices not only benefits accounting firms and professionals, but it is also a vital component in maintaining the reputation and credibility of the profession itself.
“In a profession where trust is our currency, integrity and transparency aren’t just a responsibility, they’re a necessity. We have all heard reports of manipulation and corruption, but by setting a standard for ethical conduct, we not only fortify our relationships with clients and regulators, but also safeguard the reputation and credibility of our industry. Our commitment to ethical practices serves as the foundation that will propel this industry forward,” he says.
Osaigbovo’s business philosophy has been greatly influenced by his upbringing in Oak Park, a neighborhood near Chicago, where the challenges he faced taught him the importance of resiliency, honesty and a sense of community. More importantly, he credits his parents, immigrants from Nigeria who built a life in Chicago, for instilling in him the values of hard work and accountability. These values, he says, have helped him build a strong foundation for his entrepreneurial endeavors.
Realizing the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on businesses, Osaigbovo decided to specialize in helping struggling companies access relief from the government, such as the Employee Retention Credit (ERC), a tax break for qualified businesses. Remaining true to his ethical ways, Osaigbovo ensures he only helps companies that qualify for the relief program.
“With so many businesses desperate for assistance, it’s easy for some to bend the rules. But in the midst of the scandals that have rocked the industry, it is important to remain true to our ethical ways,” Osaigbovo says. “Our integrity is our most valuable asset.”