insight magazine

Chair's View: It's Time for Action

It’s time to stop talking about the future of the accounting and finance profession and start shaping it. By GEOFFREY HARLOW, CPA, MST, MBA | Spring 2019

Geoff Harlow 2019I wish I could say I knew as a child I was going to be a CPA, but the real story is less inspiring. I was entering my sophomore year at Michigan, struggling like many to figure out my future, when my dad said, “As long as you know some accounting, you’ll always be able to get a job.” Fortunately, I listened to his advice. I signed up for the intro accounting class with plans to stop if it wasn’t any fun and before I knew what had happened, I was accepting a job with Arthur Andersen in Chicago.

One of many things I love about our profession is that there are so many paths we can follow — even when the way forward isn’t quite clear. My entire career, for instance, has been in public accounting, but I’ve hung my hat at large firms, very small firms — including 11 years as a sole practitioner — a medium-sized local firm, and now with CPA and consulting firm Wiplfi LLP. And for more than 30 years now, I’ve been active with the Illinois CPA Society — from a regular dues-paying member, to a committee member, to now leading the board of directors. Each stop along the way has left me wiser and more excited about what the future of the profession holds.

Have things changed much over the years? Let’s just say that my desk phone at Andersen had a rotary dial, and today there is no phone on my desk as my calls go through my computer. Technology has changed what we do for our companies and clients, how we do it, with whom we do it, where we do it, and when we do it. The one constant in my career has been that those who embrace change thrive, and those who resist it often do not.

We’ve also advanced in areas besides technology, although at a much slower pace. Our profession is more diverse than when I started, but still not as diverse as the society we serve. We must do more to be a profession that actively works to enable everyone to enjoy the benefits provided by a career in accounting and finance. This means educating diverse audiences about our profession, encouraging students to study accounting, providing a helping hand with scholarships and mentoring, and looking beyond the “usual suspects” when it comes to where and how we recruit talent.

While some of you may worry that technology will disrupt our profession in once unimaginable ways, from automating certain tasks and eliminating jobs to developing alternatives to the audited financial statement, I’ve been around long enough to know three things: 1) I can’t predict the future; 2) change will happen whether I want it to or not; and 3) those who embrace change will recognize the resulting opportunities and thrive.

Put simply, we’ve been discussing the impact of technology and the benefits of diversity for several years; now it’s time for action — not just on the part of the Illinois CPA Society but by all of us. It’s time to move past talking about advancing technology to implementing it. It’s time to move past reading about the business benefits of improving diversity and inclusion and start hiring, mentoring, and advancing more diverse employees. Embracing change, both social and technological, is the smart business thing to do, and it’s time we all do it.

I’m honored to be your chairperson this year, and I am excited about what we can all accomplish together. Let’s take action and keep moving forward together.

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