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BlueCross employee forms Chattanooga chapter of National Association of Black Accountants

At BlueCross, our workforce — and our business partners — should reflect the diversity of the communities we serve. But in some professions, like accounting, that means overcoming historic underrepresentation.

Bernard Harris, a senior financial analyst, is helping us rise to meet the challenge.

Bernard led the formation of the Greater Chattanooga chapter of the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA),  with support from BlueCross. NABA was formed in 1969, a time when less than 1% of certified public accountants (CPAs) nationwide were African-American – a statistic that has not changed in 50 years.

We are paying membership dues for 10 employees and will host the chapter’s first meeting on June 11 on our Cameron Hill campus from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. BlueCross is also sponsoring NABA’s upcoming national convention and expo.

Bernard says the company’s involvement is a continuation of the support he’s personally received, first as he was encouraged to enter a Masters of Business Administration program at Kennesaw State and then when he passed his CPA exam in 2016.

Even though he wasn’t always a numbers guy, it doesn’t take much to get Bernard talking numbers these days.

“They’re my passion,” he admits with a chuckle. “Even when I’m watching football, I analyze tactics and probabilities out loud. My wife will say, ‘Can you please stop?’”

Rewarding experiences

Bernard channels that passion by providing BlueCross leaders with information and analysis to drive member-focused business decisions.

He started college as a business major, but says “Introduction to Accounting was a revelation. Being analytical and able to say, ‘This is what it is. This is how we do it,’ appealed to me.”

“I’ve always enjoyed helping people, and I saw a clear path to doing that with financials. People always ask, ‘What can I do better to get more revenue? What could I do to decrease my expenses?’ I could answer those questions all day.”

Bernard found his way to BlueCross in 2006. As part of the corporate accounting team, he put his skills to good use while assisting some of Tennessee’s most vulnerable populations enrolled in Medicare Advantage.

“Working with the Medicare Advantage team held a twofold appeal for me,” says Senior Financial Analyst Bernard Harris. “First, MA required accurate reporting and tight deadlines to be as fiscally responsible as possible. Second, I was helping the elderly, the disabled and our low-income members. That gave me a greater purpose.”

Working with seniors in particular allowed Bernard to see how his passion could have a community-wide impact.

“I provided some of my elderly church members with information on Medicare Advantage, as they didn’t know when they could sign up, what would happen if they didn’t, what benefits they would receive, etc.” he recalls. “That got me thinking about what I could do to help more people on a larger scale.”

Taking initiative

Today, that thinking has cleared a path to Bernard’s leadership of NABA’s Greater Chattanooga chapter.

“NABA is a support unit for everyone to promote and develop professional skills,”  he says. “Despite its name, it’s inclusive rather than exclusive. We’re only going to change that 1% statistic by working together.”

Bernard notes that he was fortunate enough to find his way into accounting on his own, and wants to be a mentor for others. Through the NABA chapter he hopes to reach high school students, which is fitting as “encouraging and assisting minority students entering the accounting profession” is one of the organization’s tenets.

“Research says the majority of students turn away from accounting due to some teachers saying, ‘You don’t want to be an accountant. They’re boring.’ Teachers rank being a doctor or a lawyer ahead of accounting,” Bernard says. “I want to use NABA to overturn that preconceived notion and say, ‘Hey, this is what you can do with accounting’ and open their minds to the possibilities.”

“Plus, accountants have one of the lowest unemployment rates,” he adds with a laugh.

On the eve of the chapter’s inaugural meeting, Bernard stresses there are no limitations or boundaries for those interested.

“We need everyone,” he says. “We need actuaries, we need marketers, we need IT folks. When you have a professional organization and everyone has a seat at the table – I’m talking about racial diversity, gender, age, education, location, profession – that’s the only way we’re going to fully learn, grow and engage.”

“If this NABA chapter is going to be successful, it won’t be because of me, it’ll be because of WE.”

NABA’s Greater Chattanooga chapter is looking for members and volunteers to join various committees. RSVP here to attend the June 11 kickoff event.

About Jesse Thompson, Senior Communications Specialist

A photo of the authorJesse joined the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee corporate communications team in 2017. A Chattanooga native, he has more than 15 years’ experience in content creation, management, and strategy for consumer audiences, including a six-year stint in health care marketing.

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