insight magazine

Today's CPA | Summer 2021

At the End of the Day, It’s Still About People

As technology increasingly permeates the CPA profession, we must still focus on the fact that people are our most important asset.
Todd Shapiro ICPAS President & CEO

There’s no arguing that technology is having, and will continue to have, a seismic impact on the accounting and finance profession. As reported in the 2020 Insight Special Feature, “CPA Profession 2027: Racing for Relevance,” in a strategic planning survey of the Illinois CPA Society’s board of directors and executive and leadership staff, 96 percent of respondents agreed that artificial intelligence and robotic process automation will permeate businesses of all types and sizes and be utilized in the performance of every function a CPA performs by the year 2027. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of these technologies.

So, how do we ensure the relevance of CPAs now and into the future? It comes down to people. I believe providing strategic insight to our clients and companies, particularly where technology can’t, will ensure our value and relevance for years to come. I was recently talking with a firm managing partner about the future of the CPA profession who was in complete agreement that helping clients and companies become more profitable would help demonstrate CPAs’ value and relevance. I also believe moving our mindset in this direction will make becoming a CPA more attractive to students and young professionals. Young people increasingly want purpose in their lives and careers and that goes hand in hand with helping Main Street businesses grow and achieve success.

The challenge we face is making sure that our people are prepared to excel in roles that go far beyond traditional accounting, audit, and tax preparation skills—strategic thinking skills will be key to adding new value to the services that CPAs provide in public accounting firms and companies alike. However, strategic thinking is not overtly tested on the CPA exam, hence it’s not necessarily something that we demand our students learn. The CPA Evolution initiative, which aims to launch a new CPA licensure model and CPA exam in 2024, will emphasize a focus on data analytics, but analyzing data is just one component of strategic thinking.

For instance, what if we asked our staffs, as part of any audit or business tax return, to identify one thing that would help our clients become more profitable? When I ask managing partners this question, they almost always say their people wouldn’t know where to begin. We need to fix this and focus more on helping our people develop relevant strategic thinking skills that our clients and companies are increasingly demanding. This fall, your Illinois CPA Society will be launching a new Strategy Academy which will solely focus on developing these crucial competencies.

Another mindset change we need to embrace in the profession is that diversity in thinking can also drive innovative solutions for our clients and companies. Ensuring our organizations reflect gender, racial, and ethnic diversity at all levels of staff and management will result in richer discussions and recommendations. Diversity, equity, and inclusion is no longer optional, it’s a business imperative.

Yes, technology will continue to have a seismic impact on the profession. However, at the end of the day, our value, relevance, and success are still driven by the most important asset of our firms and finance departments—our people. The CPA profession has been and, if it’s to remain relevant, always will be a people business. Are you ensuring your staff has the skills and competencies to win in the race for relevance?

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