Realizing My American Dream: It’s Amazing What CPAs Can Do

By Ramona Cedeno, founder of Fibrick Financial Services 

I will forever say that accounting is the best profession in the world and I am grateful to be a part of it. Some will think I’m exaggerating, but I get up every morning looking forward to the next accounting puzzle I will solve that day.

Growing Up

I was born in what was at the time a lightly populated area of the Dominican Republic called Veron (although for many years I thought it was called Beron), a small community in the resort town of Punta Cana. We had no roads and few neighbors, so my childhood was full of pretend games with my three sisters; our favorite was “grocery shopping.” One of us owned the grocery store and the others played housewives who had to do the shopping. By the time I was 7 years old, other people had moved to the area, roads had been built, and the first resort had opened at the nearest beach. We still had no local electricity (the resort had its own generator), but we had a battery-operated, stick antenna television, which allowed us to watch the soap operas and cartoons from the Puerto Rican network.

Veron didn’t have a school either; I believe I attended school for the first time when I was almost 8, when the first single-room elementary school was opened. We all started in the first grade; luckily, I was able to move up to the second grade the next year. All through elementary school, I sat in the same classroom as kids from every other grade below me, hearing the lessons from grades I had completed previously.

Once I completed elementary school, I had to commute every day to the nearest town, La Otra Banda, to attend middle school. At the time, this seemed like going from New York City to Pennsylvania today. It was a big deal for a 14-year-old. When the time came to attend high school, I had to move out of my house to live with my aunt in the nearest city, Higuey. Although my parents would have been fine if I stopped at the fifth grade, I was determined to go all the way. While in high school, I also worked half days drafting property titles at the city hall.

After graduating high school, I moved to Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, to find a job. I found a woman who was looking to share her studio apartment with a roommate, then found a job within my first week in the city. Only then did I start looking at colleges; that’s a far cry from how it usually goes in the United States! Without even thinking about my future career, I asked my roommate what she did for a living and her answer was “I’m an accountant.” As she told me more about her profession, I felt that accounting was something I’d be good at; after all, my mom always told me I was good with money.

Coming to America and Becoming a CPA

Before I could sign up for college in Santo Domingo, my mom, my sisters, and I moved to New York City, thanks to my grandparents who had immigrated several years earlier. I attended Bronx Community College, where I first earned my associate’s degree, and then Baruch College, where I received a bachelor’s of science in accounting. After Baruch, I enrolled in a master’s program at Fairleigh Dickinson University; I thought it was time to mix it up a little, so I got my master’s in finance. I was also working full time (first as a billing clerk at Gensler architects, then as a finance manager at People en Español). During the last year of my MBA program, I joined Geller & Company and held different positions on their controllership team for one of their largest clients.

I had decided while attending Baruch that I did not want to work for one of the Big Four due to the very long hours required and the fact that I was expecting my first child. The birth of my son not long after I finished my bachelor’s put getting my CPA license on hold. After many years at Geller and having my second son, I felt something was missing from my career. I was not a CPA, and whenever I was around CPAs, I felt out of place. It had been almost 10 years since I graduated from Baruch, but I studied day and night with only one objective: to pass the exam. And I did.

Now that I had my CPA license, I wanted more. Geller is a great company, and I could have easily stayed there longer, but I was looking for that next move up the ladder. I decided to join a startup, and became the director of accounting and financial operations at Handy HQ, an online marketplace for home services (i.e., cleaning, repair, electrical, plumbing). The position only lasted a little over a year; I really admired the founders, but the work-life balance was off. I left Handy officially, but remained as a consultant for a short period. That gave me the idea for the next step in my career: starting my own business.

Starting My Own Company

With the encouragement and help of friends and family, I began brainstorming how to go into business for myself. “This won’t be hard for me,” I’d say, noting what a good CPA I was and how good I am with people and networking. It may sound cocky, but when I believe something, I believe it wholeheartedly.

During this time, I got a call from David Smooha of Business Solution Partners, who was the NetSuite implementation partner at Handy. He had heard about a CFO position that he thought would be a good fit for me. The company was looking for a NetSuite expert with an accounting background, which described me perfectly. I said I would speak with them, but only as a consultant—and just like that, I had my first client.

My company is FiBrick Financial Services, an accounting firm that provides consulting and outsourced accounting and finance services to startups and mid-size firms. For startups, we serve as their home-away-from-home controllership function. We run their full financial reporting processes, implement accounting systems and applications, and provide business coaching. I meet and speak with the founders of my startup clients on a regular basis, just to say hello or to follow up on a personal issue they were concerned about the last time we spoke. I like them to feel like they have a friend in me, someone who understands what they are going through. For midsize firms, we fill the need for expert input on complex transactions if they don’t have an in-house CPA, and we also provide temporary resources for special projects or during high–employee turnover phases.

I enjoy being a partner to my amazing startup clients, building accounting processes, and implementing accounting systems for them. I love technology and automation, and it’s fun to be able to speak about the systems side of accounting to tech startup founders and get their input. I also enjoy staying connected to mature midsize and large corporations in order to stay current on some of the complex accounting transactions that startups might not experience for a while.

Doing What I Love

Becoming a CPA gave me a sense of assurance that I don’t think I would have had otherwise. It still makes a difference in my career. I believe that a big part of being good at what you do is not only knowing how to do it, but also having the confidence that you can do it. That confidence sometimes comes with experience and education, but in the case of accounting, earning a CPA is like having a passport to confidence.

Running my own business while having a family has made my life busy, but I’m doing what I love to do and helping clients who love the fact that I love doing something they don’t. What better combination can I ask for?

This article was originally published in The CPA Journal.

February 12th, 2018|General|0 Comments

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“Entrepreneur Spotlight: Ramona Cedeno”

This month I had the pleasure of being featured in Baruch College’s Entrepreneur spotlight, speaking about my transition from the corporate world to the start up world. As a fellow alumni (go Bearcats!), I’m happy to share my story so far and hopefully inspire others to pursue their dreams.

Check out the article here.

November 19th, 2017|General|0 Comments

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Five Simple Steps to Creating a Personal Income Statement

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Don’t you love the idea of being able to go to a single document to quickly see where your money is going? I know you are probably thinking, “There’s no way I want to see how much money I’m spending, let alone see that my income does not cover my expenses!”  But trust me, preparing and analyzing your personal income statement at least once a month will give you visibility into expenses that are more wants than needs. It will also open your eyes to the fact that maybe this is not the right time to lease that nice car on your wish-list.

I began preparing my personal income statement when I was 19. Since then, I have played with multiple versions and although I’m not sure I have mastered the skill of staying within my personal budget, I sure know where my money goes and where it should not.

Here are my 5 quick and easy steps to preparing a personal income statement and use it effectively.

Countdown to the Year-End Close

If you are looking forward to taking some time off during the holidays, you will probably be concerned with the long list of tasks you need to complete before and after your vacation, such as those related to the year-end close. Your ability to enjoy that time off might also be tainted by the fact that you’re worrying about work to-dos. In my career as an accounting professional, I have always been involved in the year-end close, yet managed to stay away from the office during the holidays. Before asking for the days off, I refined what I thought was the perfect plan to ensure the year-end close would not fall apart. But, it wasn’t only about convincing my boss that I had everything under control, it was more about my peace of mind. I did not want to be at the dinner table with my family having a conversation about my employer’s external audit team, or the massive data I had to work with to reconcile the accrued expenses account. I wanted to leave the office around December 20th and not have to think about it until January 3rd. Here is my perfect plan for accomplishing my mission:

November 8th, 2016|Accounting, General|0 Comments

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Adventures in Entrepreneurship: Business Formation & Branding

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October was National Women’s Small Business Month! Let’s join in the celebration by connecting with our fellow entrepreneurs, while also gaining some insightful tips so that we can continue to grow in the business world. We will do just that at our next meetup! In addition to meeting other members of our group, we will have our first guest speaker, Marina Warner, from The Warner Firm, who will share with us everything we need to know about business formation and branding.

October 14th, 2016|General|0 Comments

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