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Today's CPA

The Sky Is Our Limit!

We need to redefine the role of the CPA, or otherwise risk the relevance of our profession.
Todd Shapiro ICPAS President & CEO


I keep repeating this quote I heard at a conference last year: “We will never see the pace of change slower than it is right now.” While scary, I believe there’s a lot of truth to that statement. In my last column, I highlighted three trends that the AICPA predicts will significantly impact our profession moving forward: technology, changes in hiring practices, and new client demands. In many ways, these trends are inter-related. I’d like to talk further about the third trend: new client demands.

In 2018, the World Economic Forum’s “The Future of Jobs Report” identified the top 10 roles it expects to decline by 2022. Accounting, bookkeeping, and payroll clerks ranked second on the list and accountants and auditors came in at number seven. Why is that? I think it’s driven by the inter-related trend of technology automating these types of functions and tasks at an ever-increasing clip.

To help ensure the sustainability of CPAs and the CPA profession, we need to look beyond traditional tax and audit services, what I refer to as compliance services, or deliver them in a very different way. The good news is companies are demanding new skills and services from CPAs. I see more companies and clients looking for CAS (client accounting services), virtual CPA firms, cybersecurity services, wealth management services, and greater strategic advice — and let’s not overlook the growing demand for data analysis and predictive analytics.

Now, let’s look at some of the traits that define great CPAs: the ability to dissect and understand a problem, analytical and communication skills, mastery of information, and being able to analyze data to drive decision making. There’s nobody better than CPAs to meet the evolving service demands of clients and companies. Further, with cloud technology and software advancements, CPAs have more tools than ever to provide services to clients that previously could not have been done or performed in an efficient, cost-effective manner.

So, what will hold us back? In too many cases, the general public still hears CPA or CPA firm and thinks of audit and tax. A senior partner I know in a relatively large firm recently met with a client about providing expanded services. The client’s initial reaction was along the lines of “we don’t need anything else from you, because we’re happy with our audit and tax services.” Yet, when the partner dug further, the client needed help making sense of their ERP system’s data — the CPA firm had the capability to help with that problem.

Often, we’re our own worst enemy, defining ourselves (CPAs) in the limiting terms of audit or tax. While we talk of CPAs as trusted business advisors with broad business skills, we often recruit others (non-CPAs) into our firms for consulting roles because we pigeon-hole CPAs, narrowly, into audit and tax. Why?

In the end, CPAs are only limited by themselves in which new, exciting, in-demand services they provide clients and companies. Yes, public perceptions also need to change but that will come as we continually celebrate and promote the skills and services that have made us trusted business advisors and, more importantly, valued business advisors. We need to continually redefine ourselves beyond the world of audit and tax. To not do so risks the relevance and sustainability of our profession.

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