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Sep 28, 2016 2016-09 Accountancy Alumni

Mike Moebs ’69: Finding Truth and Beauty in Accountancy at Illinois

Mike MoebsAs an economist and CEO of Moebs Services, an economic research firm that he founded in 1983, Mike Moebs has a distinguished career that spans several decades. He developed the No Bounce® check management with the patented Debit Scoring® tool, as well as his firm’s Financial Services Pricing Survey, which periodically collects and publishes data on consumer behavior from over 2,500 institutions across the country. He also leads the Moebs Pricing Institute, a biannual educational event at the firm’s headquarters in Chicago. And his career started with the bachelor’s degree in accountancy and CPA that he earned from the College of Business in 1969. An influential navy officer had advised Mike to go to a land-grant school with a good ROTC program, leading him to Illinois. While a student here, he took the military exam for the US Naval Academy at Annapolis and was accepted – but he made the fundamental decision to stay at Illinois because of its excellent engineering program. Later, when he took an accountancy course, he immediately fell in love with the subject. He changed his major when the navy officer told him that he would be welcomed in the officer’s sub fleet with a CPA from Illinois, because the degree assured strong analytical skills. “Illinois taught me that data and numbers can change people's lives,” he added. “That’s what I got at Illinois. Illinois grounded me in the language of business. Illinois grounded me in data. Illinois grounded me in that I search for truth. My employees search for truth in information. Moebs Services is known for being completely neutral in Congress, in the Federal Reserve, in the banking and credit union industries. And the reason is because our data is right – and where did I learn that? I learned that here at Illinois. That was the foundation.” Two professors he remembers very well are Phil Fess and Ken Perry. “Perry especially was so gregarious that he really made accountancy come alive,” Mike explained. Mike has traveled all over the world. Wherever he has gone, he would tell people that he got his undergraduate degree from Illinois. No matter where he was, he would meet someone who was familiar with the College at Illinois and its accountancy program. “People know us as Illini,” Mike said, and told a story about a meeting that he attended once in South Africa. When someone mentioned that Mike went to school at the University of Illinois, someone else across the table exclaimed, “I-L-L!” Mike replied, “I-N-I!” He remembers thinking that the incident demonstrates the extent to which Illinois culture is known around the world. At this stage of his career, Mike comes back to Illinois to meet with students and share his advice for success in business. He tells students that really great professionals don’t come from schools like Harvard. “Remember, people who are really successful in business come from programs like the ones here,” he said. “You’re in a great program.” Mike also asks students to have an exit strategy in place before they graduate. “When you made your decision to come to Illinois, what was your exit strategy?” He has found that a lot of students haven’t thought that through yet. “Think of the exit strategy. And remember, value equals benefit minus cost.” He says that the secret to a successful interview is to ask, “What can I do for the person sitting here, and what can I do for their company?” Candidates who can answer that question for employers will be more likely to get the job. “Don't leave Illinois without a good grounding in accounting, because that’s what Illinois is known for,” Mike advises students. “Aristotle said that a person searches for beauty, justice, and truth. Effectively, in those disciplines of accountancy and computers, you search for truth. That’s what Illinois taught me. And I am profoundly grateful.”