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and big data to ad­vise clients, we can give them knowl­edge they can use, as op­posed to just giv­ing them back work prod­ucts to meet reg­u­la­tory re­quire­ments,” said David Berg­stein, dig­i­tal evan­ge­list for the ac­coun­tant seg­ment at In­tuit. “Ac­coun­tants need to har­ness the cur­rent tech­nol­ogy tools while re­mem­ber­ing that we are uniquely qual­i­fied to pro­vide an­swers be­cause of our un­der­stand­ing of how the num­bers work and how they are con­nected.”

In­ter­est­ingly, the pro­fes­sion’s lead­ers were di­vided as to whether they viewed the move to be­come for­ward-look­ing con­sul­tants as tak­ing ad­van­tage of a ma­jor op­por­tu­nity, or as re­spond­ing to a ma­jor threat.

“By au­tomat­ing parts of the busi­ness pro­cesses, AI grants ac­coun­tants more 1 9/17/2018 time 10:16:21 to AM serve as a strate­gic part­ner to clients and pro­vide data-driven in­sights to in­form busi­ness de­ci­sions,” said Jen­nifer Warawa, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of part­ners, ac­coun­tants and al­liances at Sage, firmly in the “op­por­tu­nity” camp. “In the long-term, this emerg­ing tech­nol­ogy will em­power ac­coun­tants to pro­vide a higher cal­iber of ser­vices to clients.”

Sim­i­larly en­thu­si­as­tic was Matt Ar­manino, chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer and man­ag­ing part­ner-elect of Top 100 Firm Ar­manino. “There is a mas­sive op­por­tu­nity for us to be­come in­tensely client-fo­cused and lever­age our re­la­tion­ships to trans­form our busi­nesses,” he said. “We must seek to be more than great tax ad­vi­sors and con­sul­tants, or ter­rific au­di­tors or ac­count­ing ex­perts ... . We need to as­pire to broaden the foot­print of our re­la­tion­ships, to in­clude not only our ac­count­ing tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise as a foun­da­tion, but to layer on ca­pa­bil­i­ties around strat­egy, busi­ness trans­for­ma­tion, IT con­sult­ing, data an­a­lyt­ics, out­sourc­ing, cy­ber­se­cu­rity, and a myr­iad of other needs that our clients have.”

On the other hand, thanks to tech­nol­ogy, “Tra­di­tional tax prep and au­dit work is go­ing to start fad­ing away,” warned Bon­nie Buol Ruszczyk, pres­i­dent of BBR Com­pa­nies. “The pro­fes­sion needs to

it­self as knowl­edge­able busi­ness con­sul­tants, and those firms that are do­ing this will be in a bet­ter po­si­tion to sur­vive, and thrive.”

“Our old way of do­ing busi­ness may work for the clients we cur­rently have, but it will not at­tract the clients of to­mor­row,” said Roger Har­ris, pres­i­dent and COO of Pad­gett Busi­ness Ser­vices. “Clients can now take care of most of their com­pli­ance needs in many ways and will not turn to us for those ser­vices in the same num­bers as they did be­fore. ... We must move our com­pa­nies to ad­vi­sory and plan­ning ser­vices and away from com­pli­ance work.

‘The is­sue is, are we com­mit­ted to up­skilling our­selves, to in­vest in our per­sonal skills so that we stay rel­e­vant? Are we ready to em­brace change, to tell a dif­fer­ent story, and to work dif­fer­ently?”

... We ei­ther ac­cept the change fac­ing our in­dus­try or we may face de­clin­ing value in the eyes of our clients and suc­ces­sors.”

Ei­ther way, most agree that ac­count­ing must em­brace tech­nol­ogy to of­fer higher-value ser­vices — but that may re­quire ca­pa­bil­i­ties they don’t have.

“The pro­fes­sion is not ready — few ac­coun­tants have the skills needed to make the tran­si­tion,” said Acumat­ica CEO Jon Roskill. “They need to un­der­stand more about tech­nol­ogy, au­to­ma­tion, in­te­gra­tion and busi­ness pro­cesses in or­der to serve their clients suc­cess­fully.”

The new skill set

Many of Ac­count­ing To­day’s re­spon­dents agreed with Roskill that the aver­age ac­coun­tant is not pre­pared for the fu­ture that is rapidly com­ing their way.

“As new tools aug­ment our pro­fes­sion and stream­line cer­tain tasks, ac­coun­tants will not only have to em­brace new ways of work­ing, but take on ex­panded roles — as data an­a­lysts and other spe­cial­ists,” ac­cord­ing to Deloitte CEO Cathy En­gel­bert. “Hu­man ca­pa­bil­i­ties such as judg­ment, in­sight, skep­ti­cism, courage and in­tegrity will be­come more im­por­tant than ever — and the pro­fes­sion will have to con­tin­u­ously cul­ti­vate these skills to keep pace with our clients and tech­no­log­i­cal dis­rup­tion, and con­tinue to pro­tect and cre­ate value for our cap­i­tal mar­kets.”

The pres­sure to re- or up­skill them­selves is only go­ing to grow. “To avoid be­com­ing ob­so­lete, ac­coun­tants must learn and de­velop new skills that will al­low them to stay com­pet­i­tive and rel­e­vant in the field,” said IMA pres­i­dent and CEO Jef­frey Thom­son. “Pro­fes­sion­als should up­skill with com­pe­ten­cies that are not eas­ily au­to­mated like de­ci­sion sup­port, data an­a­lyt­ics and man­age­ment and strat­egy.”

Not ev­ery­one was cer­tain that the pro­fes­sion is ready to get ready. “The is­sue is, are we com­mit­ted to up­skilling our­selves, to in­vest in our per­sonal skills so that we stay rel­e­vant?” asked Ar­leen Thomas, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor for the Amer­i­cas and CGMA global of­fer­ings at the AICPA. “Are we ready to em­brace change, to tell a dif­fer­ent story, and to work dif­fer­ently?”

In­di­vid­ual ac­coun­tants will cer­tainly bear the main re­spon­si­bil­ity for de­vel­op­ing the new skills they need, and firms will need to sup­port them in that. But more broadly, a num­ber of lead­ers be­lieve that the pro­fes­sion as a whole has to ad­dress how it trains and ed­u­cates its mem­bers.

“The chal­lenge is that our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem is do­ing a dis­mal job of pre­par­ing ac­coun­tants to work deeply with tech­nol­ogy,” lamented Blake Oliver, se­nior prod­uct man­ager at Flo­qast Inc.

“We need to de­ter­mine how to best ed­u­cate ac­count­ing stu­dents and pro­fes­sion­als al­ready in their ac­count­ing ca­reers on how to build more skills out­side of mas­ter­ing tech­ni­cal ac­count­ing so we can bet­ter com­pete with peo­ple out­side of our pro­fes­sion for the jobs we want to do,” said El­iz­a­beth Pit­telkow Kit­tner, con­troller at Lit­era and a mem­ber of the Amer­i­can In­sti­tute of CPAS’ Coun­cil.

“We have to change the way we train our ac­coun­tants and the jobs that we

pro­vide them right out of school,” agreed Geni White­house, founder of Even a Nerd Can Be Heard. “We must train them to be ex­cel­lent com­mu­ni­ca­tors and seek can­di­dates with high EQ (emo­tional in­tel­li­gence), not just high IQS.”

Sa­man­tha Mans­field, di­rec­tor of pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment and com­mu­nity at Cpa.com, of­fered a de­tailed pre­scrip­tion: “There needs to be in­no­va­tion ap­plied to re­defin­ing what a ca­reer path in ac­count­ing looks like and how pro­fes­sion­als should build their ex­pe­ri­ence,” she said. “With au­to­ma­tion min­i­miz­ing many en­try-level roles, the pro­fes­sion needs to iden­tify how young pro­fes­sion­als gain ex­pe­ri­ence and knowl­edge, so they can be­come valu­able ad­vi­sors. Though tech­nol­ogy will aug­ment their knowl­edge, the in­sights that come from years of ex­pe­ri­ence and work­ing with many in­dus­tries will need to be de­vel­oped in new ways. Tech­niques like men­tor­ing will be­come key to de­vel­op­ing ad­di­tional un­der­stand­ing and skills needed to be suc­cess­ful.”

Re­sis­tance to change

If there was a sin­gle com­mon thread to the is­sues that are top of mind for the pro­fes­sion’s lead­ers, it’s change — change in al­most ev­ery as­pect of ac­count­ing.

“This is not your grand­fa­ther’s or your fa­ther’s ac­count­ing pro­fes­sion, and in fact it is not even the ac­count­ing pro­fes­sion most of to­day’s prac­ti­tion­ers have ex­pe­ri­enced,” warned Jan­ice Maiman, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of com­mu­ni­ca­tions, PR and con­tent at the As­so­ci­a­tion of In­ter­na­tional Cer­ti­fied Pro­fes­sional Ac­coun­tants. “We are on the shores of a sea change as sweep­ing as any we have ever ex­pe­ri­enced in this pro­fes­sion.”

In the face of that trans­for­ma­tion, many lead­ers ex­pressed se­ri­ous con­cern about the pro­fes­sion’s abil­ity to man­age change.

“As tech­nol­ogy evolves by the minute, are firms and com­pa­nies keep­ing up?” asked Mark Koziel, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent — pub­lic ac­count­ing at the As­so­ci­a­tion of In­ter­na­tional Cer­ti­fied Pro­fes­sional Ac­coun­tants. “Firms that have the ap­pro­pri­ate change man­age­ment in their firms will con­tinue to pros­per, while those who fight the change will have a chal- lenge com­pet­ing.”

A num­ber wor­ried that firms were avoid­ing mak­ing any choice at all — not adapt­ing, but not fight­ing ei­ther. “Not con­fronting the many changes head on and be­ing com­pla­cent or tak­ing a ‘wait-and-see’ ap­proach is the No. 1 is­sue fac­ing CPAS,” said Tam­era Lo­erzel, a part­ner at Con­ver­gence­coach­ing. “CPAS must act now — both in their per­sonal learn­ing and skills de­vel­op­ment and in their firms and or­ga­ni­za­tions. CPA lead­ers must place their bets on a few changes to drive now to stay rel­e­vant and com­pet­i­tive and meet the de­mands and needs of their clients and or­ga­ni­za­tions.”

‘It is not only a tech­nol­ogy dis­rup­tion, it is a gen­er­a­tional dis­rup­tion that is oc­cur­ring, caus­ing us to re­think our cul­tures and our strate­gies for re­cruit­ing and re­ten­tion, and forc­ing us to face un­com­fort­able ques­tions about our pur­pose.’

Ian Vacin, co-founder and vice pres­i­dent of ed­u­ca­tion and part­ner­ships at Kar­bon, had one word for the prob­lem: “In­er­tia. The pro­fes­sion is chang­ing rapidly, and those that can’t com­pre­hend, re­al­ize and ad­just to that change will be left be­hind.”

And Wes­ley Mid­dle­ton, man­ag­ing part­ner of Mid­dle­ton­raines+zapata and author of “Vi­o­lent Lead­er­ship: Be a Force for Change: Dis­rupt. In­no­vate. En­er­gize,” wor­ried that the pull of the past would pre­vent ac­coun­tants from chang­ing to meet the fu­ture. “As a pro­fes­sion we are strug­gling with let­ting go of the past and the way things have al­ways been done to em­brace an ever-chang­ing eco­nomic model,” he said. “Our clients and our fu­ture lead­ers that we are re­cruit­ing to join this pro­fes­sion are de­mand­ing in­no­va­tion and a change in mind­set or we face ir­rel­e­vance in the mar­ket. Although the move­ment is un­der­way, I am amazed at the lack of wide­spread sup­port and the lack of ac­tion for change in our pro­fes­sion. It is not only a tech­nol­ogy dis­rup­tion, it is a gen­er­a­tional dis­rup­tion that is oc­cur­ring, caus­ing us to re­think our cul­tures and our strate­gies for re­cruit­ing and re­ten­tion, and forc­ing us to face un­com­fort­able ques­tions about our pur­pose.”

M Some re­spon­dents sin­gled out par­ticu

Y lar ar­eas where an un­will­ing­ness to

CM change was hold­ing the pro­fes­sion back.

MY For Ja­son Blumer, founder and CEO of the Thriveal Net­work, “The most im­por­tant

CY is­sue is the ac­count­ing firm owner’s em­brace of their en­tre­pre­neur­ial re­sponsi

K bil­ity in run­ning their firm well. Many firms are struc­tured poorly and pre­vent growth, team care, and proper client ser­vice ... and the firm’s busi­ness model is of­ten their great­est in­hibitor to­wards healthy growth.”

For In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy Al­liance pres­i­dent Stan Mork, the big­gest con­cern was firms’ abil­ity to de­ter­mine “the most cost-ef­fec­tive way to im­ple­ment emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies to im­prove ser­vice de­liv­ery to clients. ... I’m con­cerned that many firms aren’t re­ally plan­ning for the dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion that is fac­ing them in the very near fu­ture. ... It’s im­por­tant that all firms, large and small, review how tech­nol­ogy is go­ing to change how they do busi­ness and de­ter­mine how they are go­ing to move for­ward.”

And with so much tra­di­tional ac­count­ing work likely to be au­to­mated in the near fu­ture, Tran­si­tion Ad­vi­sors CEO Terry Put­ney wor­ried about whether ac­coun­tants were pre­pared to main­tain their prof­itabil­ity.

“Can firms tran­si­tion from the tra­di­tional hours-times-rates sys­tem of pric­ing ser­vices to cap­ture the value of tech­nol­ogy as hours are re­duced?” he asked. “The need to em­brace value-pric­ing mod­els may be­come the ba­sis for fi­nan­cial sur­vival in many firms.”

It is, of course, pos­si­ble for ac­coun­tants, ac­count­ing firms and the pro­fes­sion as a whole to change, and while dire warn­ings of the con­se­quences of fail­ing to do so were widely avail­able, one re­spon­dent of­fered a three-point plan for mov­ing for­ward.

“A ‘busi­ness as usual’ mind­set is go­ing

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