insight magazine

CPA 2027: Client Expectations Evolve

Clients are no longer looking for just a number cruncher, but for a CPA who can offer them forward-looking strategic insights and business advice. By Derrick Lilly | Digital Exclusive - 2021

Whether it be race cars or companies, time changes everything. It’s inevitable, so we evolve. To no surprise then, retaining relevance as we race into the future is also going to come down to whether CPAs evolve to meet companies’ and clients’ expectations. In imagining a future where tech has taken over most of the CPA’s traditional compliance functions and the workforce transformation has reshaped when, where, why, and how work is done, the Society reached the consensus among its board of directors and executive and leadership staff (88 percent agreed) that, by 2027, the global economy will have moved deeper into an interconnected knowledge economy where the quantity, quality, and accessibility of knowledge, such as human expertise and trade secrets, are crucial factors in economic growth and are considered important economic resources. In this future knowledge economy, CPAs will be expected to better leverage their deep insights into companies’ and clients’ financial lives.

Sage’s recent “Practice of Now” report, which surveyed more than 3,200 accountants around the globe, found that 82 percent of respondents say their clients’ expectations have widened to include the provision of business advice.

Simply put, the days of CPAs thriving as trusted number crunchers are over. Where we’re heading, the Society says companies and clients will need and expect their CPAs to proactively provide strategic guidance and insights in all areas of their businesses and lives that are based on their unique needs and goals.

Arrow Electronics CFO Chris Stansbury says it best in “Audit 2025: The Future Is Now,” a KPMG and Forbes Insights report: “Clients are no longer looking for just a rearview mirror view, but a view through the windshield on where we are going and how to navigate the landscape.”

Many CPAs argue that they provide these types of insights now, but consider this: The top challenges for business leaders include planning for growth and expansion, getting expert financial insights, maximizing cash flow, minimizing overhead costs, staying in compliance, finding time to focus on accounting and financial matters, and maximizing profit margins, according to “Where Opportunity Meets Value: Business Model Trends for Accounting Advisory Services,” a,, and Hinge Research Institute report based on the responses of accountants and business professionals across the nation. However, less than 40 percent of the business leaders interviewed reported that their accounting firms have ever conducted an assessment of their organizations and offered tailored recommendations to them.

Further, The Sleeter Group found that 72 percent of small business owners across the country have changed their CPA or accounting firm because they “did not give proactive advice, only reactive service,” and more than 60 percent of respondents said this factor played a significant or large role in the change.

The takeaway is that today CPAs have almost unlimited access to company and client data at their fingertips and they must use it, interpret it, and communicate its value to stakeholders if they’re going to be the most trusted and strategic advisors of tomorrow. As Illinois CPA Society President and CEO Todd Shapiro advises, “It’s time to get in the driver’s seat, take the wheel, and steer companies and clients toward greater profitability and wealth.”

This is part three of a seven-part series taken from “CPA Profession 2027: Racing for Relevance,” a 2020 Insight Special Feature from the Illinois CPA Society. Read parts one and two.

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