The Sky Is Our Limit!
We need to redefine the role of the CPA, or otherwise risk the relevance of our profession.
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.