insight magazine

Today's CPA | Summer 2020

Stepping Back to Move Forward

Reflecting on the lessons learned in crisis reveals how CPAs can protect their relevance.
Todd Shapiro ICPAS President & CEO

When I penned my spring column in late February (published in April), I had no idea what was around the corner. I was aware of COVID-19 but thought it could be controlled or limited in its spread. Then, while visiting the Maryland Association of CPAs in early March, I was stunned by the news that Harvard University was telling its students not to come back from spring break. Little did I know that much of the country would shut down in the days and weeks ahead.

What followed, as they say, is history. The COVID-19 pandemic unleashed massive upheaval in our lives and our profession. Tax deadlines were extended or altered, the government approved historic stimulus programs, accounting was deemed an essential business, and we learned the term “social distancing.” Offices of all types, including many accounting firms, pivoted to remote work environments overnight, and we learned just how dependent we are on technology and the cloud—that is if you had been smart or lucky enough to have already moved in that direction.

What this became for our profession was, truly, a chance to shine. Businesses of all types were turning to their trusted advisors—their CPAs—in search of advice and, in some cases, strategic insight for how to sustain, survive, and thrive again. CPAs, who were facing their own challenges with remote workers, technology issues, and changing rules and regulations worked long hours to provide vital assistance to their clients and communities in a time of need.

I can’t thank you enough for all you did. But what about all that’s left to do? Now is a great time to step back and, as lifelong learners, figure out what was learned from all of this and how it can help move us forward.

I believe that one of the key lessons learned was the critical role that technology plays in everything we do. Adoption of cloud-based systems stood out as a game changer, as working remotely came more easily for early adopters. However, the degree to which clients were comfortable with technology also had a huge impact on the success firms had in shifting to a remote work environment. For the benefits of a firm’s automation and technology to be fully realized, it needs to be end-to-end from the firm to the client. A lesson for the future—as we embrace new technologies, we must ensure our clients are moving forward with us.

Another key lesson learned is that clients truly value strategic insight. CPAs became the go-to people for helping clients and companies to project cash flows, prepare Paycheck Protection Program applications, and navigate other government assistance programs. Many firms also proactively reached out to their clients to advise them on other alternatives to help their businesses survive. This crisis became a significant opportunity to go beyond a compliance service relationship (tax and audit) and build deeper relationships that demonstrate how CPAs are strategic business advisors.

So, where do we go from here? The pandemic will end, and eventually business will return to normal. Soon enough, we’ll be back to debating the dramatic impacts that artificial intelligence and robotic process automation will have on the profession, particularly with regard to traditional compliance services. The profession will be best served if we build upon the value we added by providing strategic insights when businesses needed them most. Long term, CPAs will ensure their relevance by moving beyond being the “most trusted advisor” to embracing their roles as clients’ “most trusted and strategic advisor.”

To share your thoughts, email me at [email protected] or just give me a call at 800.993.0407.

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