Michael is an accountant and financial literacy teacher
Michael Durant, CPA at Prager Metis CPAs LLC, found a passion in teaching children financial literacy after getting involved in outreach programs while taking accounting classes. He saw a need for this when realizing that children did not understand important aspects like the effects of interest rates over time and more! Michael tells us how this passion is very different from his accounting job despite still dealing with finances, and how participating in these programs helps build his network as an accountant!
• Getting into teaching financial literacy
• Talking about his teaching at the workplace
• How Prager Metis encourages the participation of teaching financial literacy
• How teaching and participating in outreach programs have benefitted his career
Please take 2 minutes
to do John’s anonymous survey
about Corporate Culture!
More pictures of Michael
(click to enlarge)
- Read Full TranscriptOpen or Close
Welcome to Episode 186 of the Green Apple Podcast. This is John Garrett. Each Wednesday I interview a professional who, just like me, is known for a hobby or a passion or an interest outside of work, and just like sharing that with their colleagues and clients, it makes them stand out like a green apple in a pretty boring red apple world. To put it another way, it’s encouraging people to find their and. As in my guest, Michael Durant is an accountant and teaches financial literacy which seems like they would go together, but it’s definitely easier said than done on teaching people how to be more financially literate, for sure.
But first, I’ve got a quick favor to ask if you liked the show and are listening on iTunes or your favorite Android app. Don’t forget to hit Subscribe so you don’t miss any of the future episodes because I love sharing such interesting stories each and every week. This week is no different with my guest, Michael Durant. He’s a trust and estates accountant with Prager Metis in New York City. This is going to be so much fun, Michael. Thanks so much for taking time to be with me on the Green Apple Podcast.
Michael: Thank you for having me.
John: Oh, I’m excited. You reached out to me as a listener as well which is awesome. So thank you so much. That means the world to me that you’re listening. We’re inspired to reach out, so this is going to be super fun, super fun. You know the drill, it’s 17 rapid-fire questions right out of the gate. So I don’t know. You got your seatbelt? Are you buckled in or ready?
Michael: Bring it on.
John: All right, here we go. Nice. I like it. All right, when it comes to trilogies, Star Wars or Star Trek?
Michael: I’m not a great Star Wars fan, but they definitely went over Star Trek. The last one I saw was Rogue One.
John: Oh, okay, yeah, yeah, I’m still stuck on the original three. You’re ahead of me on that one. How about when it comes to a computer, a PC or a Mac?
Michael: Definitely PC.
John: Definitely, yeah, yeah. And when it comes to your mouse, would you say right-click or left-click?
Michael: I am really a right-click person, and I hate it when a program doesn’t have right-click options.
John: Right because you’re like, “Oh, man! How am I supposed to do this?” That’s hilarious.
Michael: It gets done.
John: Right, that’s where the magic is. I like it. That’s awesome. How about do you have a favorite animal? Any animal of any kind.
Michael: I’m actually completely fascinated with penguins. I think one day head out to Antarctica. They have these like little cruises you can take out there and spend a couple of weeks with the penguins. I actually want to do something like that.
John: That’s fantastic, man. Growing up, when I was probably your age, Billy Madison came out with Adam Sandler. He was also fascinated with the penguins. Yeah, penguins are awesome. Would you say you’re more of an early bird or a night owl?
Michael: I prefer to be an early bird because no one’s awake to bother me. But if I have to get work done and I had a bad start, I like to do it at night. So I can be either or, but I prefer the mornings.
John: Okay, okay. I have to ask as an accountant, do you prefer balance sheet or income statement?
Michael: I am really a balance sheet person because it tells me exactly what you’re worth. I can see whether you brought an income or not. I don’t need to exactly know what it was spent on.
John: There you go. How about do you have a favorite band or musician?
Michael: I think there’s a few. A song I’m trying to learn to play is by Otis Redding’s, “Sitting by the Dock at the Bay.” So right now that’s the one that’s stuck in my head over and over. I think overall, I just have genres of music I like, so a lot of Motown, a little bit of country, hip-hop, and pop rock, I think. Those I like, but I would say like Motown would be just growing up with that. My grandfather had a huge record collection.
John: Nice. Yeah, that’s awesome. Very cool. Very cool. How about do you have a favorite number?
John: Nice. And why’s that?
Michael: It just happens to be my birthday.
John: Okay, all right. Well, you know what, that’s as good as any right there, as good as any. And this is a very important one actually, toilet paper, roll over or under?
Michael: I feel like no matter which way you go, you’re going to get chastised, but I have to go with over. It’s just the way my toilet paper dispenser is one of those recessed one, so it has like the bit to rip it, but it has to go over.
John: Over, yeah. We can keep going. We can keep going then. All right. Do you prefer more hot or cold?
Michael: Definitely cold. If a room is above 70 degrees, I get annoyed.
John: Yeah. And there’s nothing worse than August waiting for the subway in New York City. There’s absolutely nothing worse. There’s nothing you can do but just sit there and take it. It’s brutal. How about a more Sudoku or crossword puzzle?
Michael: Sudoku. I even have an app on my phone.
John: Oh, wow. Okay, next level. I like it. What about do you have a favorite color?
Michael: Favorite color, blue. It just looks good on me, and it looks good on everything.
John: Yeah, right. There you go. How about a least favorite color?
John: Yeah, that’s a solid answer. How about do you have a favorite actor or actress?
Michael: Robert Downey Jr., just because I liked his transformation over the years. He really brought to life one of my favorite characters in Iron Man, but just all his pictures have always been great.
John: Yeah, yeah. All right, we got three more, three more. More chocolate or vanilla.
Michael: Vanilla. I’m not a big chocolate fan.
John: Okay. All right. That’s the whole brown thing, probably. How about more pens or pencils?
Michael: Definitely, pens. What I write is what I write and that’s it. No mistakes.
John: No mistakes. Nice. Yeah, I like it. And how about the last one, your favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have?
Michael: So I have a friend, a dear friend, that bought me a flute after helping her. She started her own business, so I helped her get that off the ground. She bought me a flute because I told a story of when I was younger, I wanted to play the flute. Surprisingly, I didn’t tell the full story to her, but the reason why I wanted to play the flute was because the Green Power Ranger when I was younger played the flute.
John: Right. There you go. That’s fantastic. Did you learn to play it?
Michael: I can do a horrible B flat.
John: There you go. You’re ahead of most fourth graders. So there you go.
Michael: They’re still working on the recorder. I got a real instrument.
John: Right. That’s fantastic, Michael. Very cool. Well, now we got to know you on a new level. But, yeah, but I loved the intro you talked about. You’re teaching people financial literacy. How did you get into that?
Michael: So I started out with accounting when I took my first accounting course. The professor said, “If you want to be a real CPA, you got to join the state society.” So I joined New York State Society of CPAs. I got involved with their, at the time, I think it was called Young Accountants or Young Professionals. Now it’s called the Next Gen. I got involved with them, and they have outreach programs where we can go to high school or college and just talk about the field teach something, what is taxes, what is the balance sheet. From there, I just started reaching out to other organizations that led me into classrooms and continuing education programs just a guest teacher, just to come in, hey, we want to learn about savings or basic needs for financial literacy, teaching kids to avoid credit card interests because my brother is 15 and he thinks credit card, you just pay it later. I’m like, “It comes with a bill. If they don’t pay it, there’s an interest charge, which is like paying someone to borrow money. We don’t want that.”
John: Right. And then you could show them that instead of it costing $20, it actually costs $47 by the time you pay it off.
Michael: I love doing a segment I do with kids. I show them just the minimum payment like, hey, you can buy this. I use things like sneakers. So $200 and a month $25, but your interest rate is 30%. So everyone’s like, “Oh, yeah, just pay $25 a month. That’s fine.” And then it’s like, yeah, you’ve been paying for a year and you still owe the full amount.
John: No, that’s great, man. That’s something that people need to learn. Adults need that. That’s awesome that you’re doing that. That’s really cool. Just what made you want to give back like this?
Michael: I think it’s just a passion that it came into something for me like I come from humble beginnings. So when I learned about all the different accounting aspects and just finance and just financial literacy overall, I was like, “How come this was never taught in school?” to my other friends. I actually happened to be in a specialized program, the National Academy Foundation. They had a finance in my high school. So I got to take classes on financial literacy, but none of my other co-students did, the classmates. None of none of them did, and they didn’t understand it. I’m like, “This is basic life skills, how to balance the checkbook. Every year everyone has to file a tax return. Why don’t we understand what it is?” So I think that’s what drove it. That really ignited accounting in me because originally I wanted to be a mechanic in my grandfather’s garage. This National Academy Foundation got me a job at KPMG at 16. I really get to see what professionals did, and I get to understand what accountants did, went on to college, went on to get my master’s. And yeah, just from there is like, this is an essential life skill. People hire accountants to do this stuff for them, but these are things that should be taught. In certain schools, it is taught but not everywhere. I think that’s a real sad look on our educational institutions.
John: Yeah, absolutely. I agree. And that’s so cool of you to want to give back and see the need for that because we’re teaching kids how to use the Pythagorean Theorem, but there’s not a lot of hotpot new solving out in the real world. They go out and they don’t understand how credit cards work or just money in general. It’s not even just the young people, like I said. There’s people in my parents’ generation that struggle with things like that and my generation, your generation. It’s crazy. So that’s really awesome. So where do a lot of these workshops happen? Is it going into the high schools, or is it happening at like a community center?
Michael: It depends. So I get called into high schools, colleges I’ve been called into. I’ve been asked to do continuing education programs which are usually in separate buildings, the community centers, I’ve done community centers. It really just depends where the desire and my time works too. So I’ve had people ask me to do certain things where it just didn’t work with my schedule, but I try to get as many as possible because I really do believe in this. I always leave with like a sense of joy.
John: Yeah, that’s awesome, man. That’s really cool. That’s really cool. Do you have any more rewarding stories, or do people come back and tell you what you’ve done for them?
Michael: So I have one in particular that is always like my go-to one. So I teach with Youthful Savings which is a financial education program geared towards social entrepreneurship in middle schools. Here in Brooklyn, we had a competition where the kids learn to build their own business and save and basically understand, when someone owns a business, you learn all aspects of savings, investing, what it means to pay. So we get the kids to start their own business, things that they could do, little things. So one kid, he had video games and he’d go to GameStop and kids buy games for $50 and GameStop buys it back for, let’s say, $10. It’s an ongoing, I see it all the time online where people are making fun of them for this, and then they turn around and sell it for $45. So this kid, he realized, hey, if GameStop is only buying back for $10, what if I buy other people’s games for 15? And then if GameStop is selling it for $45, I’ll sell it for $40. A 12-year-old kid, and this is what he did for the entire semester. So when we went to — they do a report at the end and show like, this is how much I saved, this is what I made, this is what I did with it. So we teach them all the aspects, balance sheet and income statement. They really understand it. The kids are really bright. As long as you teach them, they will get it and their interest especially they understand, I have money now. I can buy things. So this kid just had this great story. He won the competition for his school. He just, I mean, come on, the kid just saw a market where he was like, “I could beat the competition.”
John: That’s fantastic, man. Now he has a penthouse on Central Park like he’s — no, I’m just kidding. Remember who talked to you, little man.
Michael: He’s doing better than me.
John: Yeah, exactly. Hey, man, can I get a loan? That’s really cool, man. That’s awesome. That’s just so awesome that he just looked at the situation. He was like, “Hey, I can actually beat the system here.” Now, thanks to Craigslist or things online or even just people in the school, word of mouth. Hey, now I’m the one holding all the cards. That’s fantastic.
Michael: Yeah. I think this was definitely within his school thing, just because we try to keep them safe. But definitely, yeah, he was — I mean, amongst his friends, the amount of money he made between friends and family was just astounding. It’s like they tell you, you never know what’s in your network. This kid discovered it at 12 years old.
John: That’s true. Yeah. I’m sure that opened your eyes a little bit as well.
Michael: Oh, every time. I learned just as much as I teach.
John: That’s fantastic, man. That’s fantastic. Is this something that you feel like gives you a skill set that you’re able to bring to the office in some way?
Michael: Definitely. So when you teach financial literacy to kids, it forces you to take a complex topic and water it down. That’s exactly what our clients want to know, like talk to me like you would talk to your mother, like your father, like bringing it to real-life scenarios. I think that’s something that this has allowed me to do because to explain it to a 12-year-old who’s never had a job, never paid tax, some of them don’t even know what tax is yet, it teaches me that, oh, okay, let me try to relate this to something he would understand.
John: Yeah, totally. Because we get wrapped up and we’ve been educated with this. We what all these big words mean and all this stuff. Then he goes talking to people as if it’s part of their regular vernacular or whatever. They don’t know what you’re talking about. So that’s fantastic, man.
Michael: Yeah, forms and codes. No one wants to hear forms and codes.
John: Right, exactly. Yeah, totally. I just cringe when you said that as a matter of fact. So is this something that you share at work and talk about?
Michael: It’s definitely something I share. So since I do it with the State Society’s Next Gen group, I definitely, you know, as the vice chair of the group, I try to recruit all the time, and this is a great way. Who doesn’t like hanging out with kids for a day? Like, hey, come hang out with a bunch of kids for a day. Then afterwards, we’ll go get pizza and a beer. This is definitely something that I like to get out there. I always like to bring people in. I’ve never heard anyone say to me, “Oh, I did not enjoy that at all.”
John: Yeah, that’s fantastic.
Michael: Yeah. So it’s definitely something I share work, and I like to reach out. I go from floor to floor and it’s like, “Hey, guys, next week I have this huge event. They’re asking for five people. I’m only one person. Wouldn’t you like to help out?”
John: Yeah, right. You’re showing a picture of the kids crying.
Michael: Yeah, with the big hearts and then droopy eyes.
John: That’s funny. That’s awesome. Does Prager Metis give you a day off for this, or is it your own PTO, or how’s the firm encourage this?
Michael: So they definitely encourage it. We do have an allocation of hours for business development and stuff like that. We also do the firm itself is highly involved with charity work. So this is something that they support, depending on what it is, whether it’s on my own time or not. Some of my events are on the weekends or at night, so that’s on my time. But I’ve been allowed out, not to say I’m chained to a desk at all. Definitely, they encourage during offseason, in the summer, go out. Who doesn’t like to see their employees come back from a like a long lunch just happy?
John: Right and energized and bringing something new to the work and to the workplace, the environment as a whole. That’s fantastic, man. That’s so cool that the firm does that. In this day and age and forever, it’s been a chargeable work, just billable codes and all that. Sometimes it’s good to give back to the community, and it’s also good to recharge your people. It’s not like you’re not getting work done. The work still gets done.
Michael: Oh, yes. And because the firm is big on charity and community outreach, they were one of the big donors at Alzheimer’s Association and we have a huge banner that we will walk under during the walk every year. So the firm is really encouraging of this type of work, getting out in the community and doing — everyone has a different passion, I guess, to say, community passion. So whether it’s working for Alzheimer’s or heart health or whatever it may be, the firm supports it, like everybody, as long as you get your work done, right?
John: That’s cool that the people around you have that mentality and firm leadership as well, because that’s definitely not always the case. That’s really neat. So do you feel like this has benefited your career at all?
Michael: It’s definitely grown my network. My regional office manager came to one of my events, and he just was shocked at how many people in the room, I think, it was a room of like 200 and a substantial amount of people just knew who I was. “Oh, yeah, that’s the Next Gen guy. That’s who you need to talk to. You want to know about Next Gen? Yeah, over there.” So he was highly impressed and definitely to see the breadth of my own network, just knowing people that know you. You had Rumbi before. So it’s amazing to see how wide the network goes. The more you help people out, the more people talk about you.
John: Yeah, which is so cool how we connected with Rumbi in the first year of the podcast and talking about her running and how she’s singing karaoke in Berlin in front of like 2,000 people or something. It was like crazy. It was super fun. And then we were able to get lunch and hang out some which is, yeah, really, really she’s such a sweet lady and really cool. Yeah, your network is going to be huge. That’s neat how people gravitate towards you. You’re doing good work, so why not? That’s fantastic. That’s what you do now. Is this like the thing that kind of opened you up to talk about things at work, or was there something else that you also talked about before this?
Michael: So before I used to do like — what do you call those? Obstacle courses. That’s what it was called. I started small with some no name or like smaller obstacle courses and then I moved up to the big dogs like Spartan Race and Tough Mudder. It wasn’t so much as opening up about it. It was more like bragging, like what did you do this weekend? Oh, you know, I did a four-mile race obstacle courses, climbed over walls under barbed wire. You’re kind of like, “Oh, wow, that was a very interesting week and what did you do?”
John: Yeah. How did that feel to have something to say as an answer?
Michael: It felt different than the usual. I guess everyone comes in Monday morning. “Hey, how you doing?” “Good.” “How was your weekend?” “Good.” There’s no conversation. It’s formalities. So it’s nice actually while you’re sitting at the coffee machine waiting for the Keurig to finish is like, “Oh, yeah, I was doing this this week and then start the whole conversation. You get to really know your co-workers on a more personal level because then they’re like, “Oh, I would love to do that.” You learn things like, “Oh, I play tennis” or “I play racquetball” or whatever they do. Everyone has a story. It’s just pulling it out for some people and other people are just “Hey, I’m here.”
John: Right, right. I didn’t but thanks for the information. I agree, man. It’s so cool that you were willing to just say it. Just like, well, what does it matter? type of a thing. Was there ever a part of you that thought maybe accountants shouldn’t be doing this or whatever? I shouldn’t share. I say that laughing because I can’t even have a straight face as I asked you that question.
Michael: Yeah, I think for me, the whole perception changed at 16 because when I started taking the accounting classes, Google was really the thing then when it first came out, or I guess technology was starting to really boom. You google accountants and you see what they do. It sounds boring. And then you’re in class doing the work, and it seems boring because you’re forced to be there in class. But I actually enjoy the work I do. I had this perception, but my first internship at KPMG was like, oh, wow, here’s a nice office. Yeah, people were coming. At that time, it was right before the financial crisis. So it was still suit and tie environment. But people were still having fun. You can see, oh, I was underage so I would see them leaving the office at, let’s say, four o’clock going to happy hour. I’m sitting there like, they look like they’re about to go have some serious fun. Or Monday morning, you would see them come in with bags, and you would overhear the conversations. They were talking about what they did. It was like, wow, you guys really do a lot of stuff.
John: I think that’s interesting. What you said is, yeah, that they’re people, which is so perfect, and also just that, if you google what accountants do, it looks boring, but who accountants are is a totally different answer. I guess what I’m trying to do with this podcast is just show what accountants are and what professionals are. It’s not what they do. You’re much more than that. You can’t google that really. You just have to get to know people and take five minutes while you’re waiting for the Keurig to finish, like you said, to just get to know people type of a thing. Do you feel like your relationships with those people that you talk with are different than just someone else randomly in the office?
Michael: Yeah, I would definitely say because Monday morning when I come in and they ask someone, “Hey, how was that thing you do on the weekends?” or someone plays a particular sport. “Hey, when’s your next match or competition?” Now the conversation is not “Hey, good morning. How was your weekend?” It’s more like, “Hey, good morning. How was that particular thing that you did? Tell me about that.” So you actually know what the person is into. Because they’re into it, it’s not just “Oh, it was good.” No. Now you get a story.
John: Yeah. It also just shows that you care. It’s like I care about you, which is huge.
Michael: That’s a big part. We have to work together. So we need to have some commonality and understand we are a team here. We definitely show it by these conversations.
John: Yeah. I guess before I bring it in for a landing, this has been awesome, but I guess do you find that some people have some barriers to overcome why they don’t share?
Michael: I think that part of it is the perception of accountants. I think it’s more so interns and first year staff, it’s their first job or maybe their first big office and they’re like, “Okay, I’m here to work. Let me put my head down and work.” But I think we do a good job at getting them take your head off the sand for a minute. Who are you? Not we’ll teach you this technical stuff, but tell us, who are you? What’s your personality like? I talked to partners and it’s all about you start grooming your staff young. You learn pulling them out of their shell. When you go talk to a client, you can’t be speaking in code. You have to relate to them. You start by relating to your co-workers. I think that’s the starting point. So I think it’s just the perception coming in. I think the firm here does a lot of interactive activities with us that bring people out. You’re not going to sit at your desk. We’re going to all go out and play ping pong or something. You’re coming with us. We do a big Mets game. So it’s like, you can’t sit there and work at a Mets game. So now you’re here. So pretty much after that. It’s all out there. People just get to know each other. And it’s like, all right now part of the team.
John: That’s fantastic. That’s really cool. Because it’s so easy to, you know, you graduate and you’re intimidated. You have a real job in a real office, and you’re getting paid real money. I better know everything all the time. Whenever a partner comes to talk to you, you’re like, “Uh!” You’re just afraid to say something stupid. And then you realize that they say stupid things all the time. We’re all just humans.
Michael: Yeah, we’re people. Some people make mistakes. We would all love our lives to be recorded where we can edit it and chop pieces out, but that’s not how it works. You make mistakes, and you learn from them. I think that’s a great part where people just coming into the field just need to understand. I think it’s most professional fields too. It’s just whether you’re an accountant, I worked at a law firm for a number of years, finance, it’s all that perception of like, it’s a real job. I’m on the line right now. I got to be the best, do the best. You will get there but be a person. Come into the office with a smile on. This is not a dungeon where you’re locked at a chain, where you’re chained at a desk. This is a place you work, but you work with people who are just like you and have interest just like you. I think that that’s the big thing is like breaking that perception. And then I think once we do it within our firms, the next step is getting out there and showing the world with the Green Apple Podcast that we are green apples in a red apple world.
John: Thanks, man. Yeah, yeah, now I feel all the pressure. But that’s so perfect and I loved how you said that. Just put a smile on your face, and we’re not chained to our desk in a dungeon. You’re coming here voluntarily. Let’s enjoy each other while we get the work done type of a thing. That’s so perfect, man. So perfect. So before I wrap this up, it’s only fair that I offer to turn the tables to have you ask me some rapid-fire questions if you’d like, just to put me on the hot seat.
Michael: I’ve thought of a few.
Michael: I wanted to make sure that I had some that I haven’t heard before. So I know you have a lot. I wanted to know, given the choice of the three: aisle seat, center seat, or window seat?
John: Oh, okay. Yeah, definitely not middle seat ever.
Michael: I don’t think anyone ever chooses the middle seat.
John: I like the aisle. I’m a little taller. So sometimes on planes, that window seat, the fuselage curves a little bit and it’s not quite sit up totally. So I’m going to go aisle seat.
Michael: Me too. So when you do have to dress up and be all fancy, bow ties or long tie?
John: Oh, wow. Yeah, I’m a long tie person, but it’d be cool to wear a bow tie. I just don’t know how to tie them. I’ll be honest. I’m not going to clip on like, I’m not seven.
Michael: I guess we’re in a good time in history because now we can YouTube that.
John: Right, that’s true too. That’s true too. Yeah, I guess I’m just lazy.
Michael: Just do what I know, right?
John: Right. Yeah, pretty much, pretty much.
Michael: So two more.
Michael: Bad weather: rain or snow? Which one do you prefer?
John: Snow. I hate rain. I hate rain so much. I hate rain. I just can’t.
Michael: Yeah, because you don’t roll over. It doesn’t look pretty either.
John: No, it doesn’t. It just ruins everything. It should rain at night and then be sunny during the day, like that’s my philosophy.
Michael: That way the plants get water.
John: Exactly. We all have grass and trees and flowers, but we’re not annoyed by it. We have to cancel all of our plans. Like I don’t know. It turned into a ranting Lewis Black on that one. That was funny.
Michael: Okay, and this is a big one. Pool or beach?
John: Pool or a beach? I think I’m going to go beach. I’m going to go ocean on that one. It’s kind of peaceful. I’m assuming that there’s not like 500 people running around, and you can’t find a spot. Yeah, I’m going to I’m going to go ocean.
Michael: Okay. I personally prefer the pool just because I feel like sand gets everywhere. I love the beach, but when you leave, it comes with you.
John: Right, that’s fair enough. That’s fair enough. I completely understand that. The salt water is kind of gross too and all that. But yeah, I guess it’s nice for a walk as well. But yeah, I could appreciate that for sure. But that was so fun, man. Those are good questions. I liked it. So thanks so much, Michael, for taking time to be with me today on the Green Apple Podcast.
Michael: Thank you for having me.
John: If you’d like to see some pictures of Michael or connect with him on social media, be sure to go to greenapplepodcast.com. While you’re on the page, please click that big green button there, do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture. It’ll really help for the book that I’m launching very soon. And thanks again for subscribing on iTunes or whatever app you use and for sharing this with your friends so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread which is to go out and be a green apple.