Pain, and then gain

The pro­fes­sion’s lead­ers see the up­side of mas­sive change (mostly)

Accounting Today - - Spotlight - By Daniel Hood See GAIN on 35

For many, it is an anx­ious time in the ac­count­ing pro­fes­sion, with a mul­ti­tude of fast-mov­ing changes threat­en­ing to over­turn time-hon­ored busi­ness prac­tices, skill sets, ser­vice lines, ca­reer paths, and firm hi­er­ar­chies. In the midst of change like that, it can be dif­fi­cult to see through to the far side, and judge the even­tual out­come — but the lead­ing fig­ures in ac­count­ing are, by and large, con­vinced that that out­come will be ex­tremely pos­i­tive, what­ever the short-term dif­fi­cul­ties.

“Can you think of any ma­jor change in the past 30 years that wasn’t good for CPAS in the long run?” asked con­sul­tant Marc Rosen­berg. “The ad­vent of com­put­ers. Quicken-type soft­ware re­plac­ing man­ual write-up work. Paper­less re­plac­ing pa­per. Daily timesheets re­plac­ing semi-monthly. Treat­ing staff as im­por­tantly as clients. I can go on and on. Just be­cause peo­ple treat these changes with anx­i­ety and fear at the on­set doesn’t mean they are ‘bad.’”

His con­fi­dence was echoed by the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of reg­u­la­tors, prac­ti­tion­ers, as­so­ci­a­tion of­fi­cials, con­sul­tants, and other lead­ing fig­ures who shared their thoughts on whether the changes fac­ing the ac­count­ing pro­fes­sion will be good or bad for it.

Cre­at­ing a list of fu­ture im­prove­ments to match Rosen­berg’s his­toric ones, Con­ver­gence­coach­ing co-founder Jen­nifer Wil­son asked, “How can mov­ing to­ward higher-value ser­vices, im­prov­ing ef­fi­cien­cies, gain­ing more in­sights from data we’re gather­ing, em­brac­ing re­mote work and ser­vice de­liv­ery, and cre­at­ing a pro­fes­sion that is more in­clu­sive for up-and­com­ers, women and peo­ple of color to find their place — how can that be bad?”

Oth­ers high­lighted spe­cific gains. “Tech­nol­ogy will con­tinue to free those work­ing in the pro­fes­sion from repet­i­tive, time-in­ten­sive tasks, and can help el­e­vate fo­cus on higher-value, strate­gic work that will en­hance qual­ity in ac­count­ing, au­dit and tax,” said Deloitte CEO Cathy En­gel­bert.

That’s not all the dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tions of­fer: “Tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances will al­low a level of review un­prece­dented by tra­di­tional method­olo­gies,” said Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of State Boards of Ac­coun­tancy pres­i­dent and CEO Ken Bishop. “As sys­tems con­tinue to im­prove and stan­dards are adapted to fa­cil­i­tate their use, I be­lieve we will see a con­tin­uum of in­creas­ing qual­ity.”

Oth­ers cited long-term ben­e­fits to firm struc­ture, and help for the staffing cri­sis:

“The changes will have a pos­i­tive over­all ef­fect on the ac­count­ing pro­fes­sion as firm lead­ers will be forced to run their firms more like a busi­ness rather than just a pro­fes­sional prac­tice,” said con­sul­tant Joseph Tarasco, CEO of the Ac­coun­tants Ad­vi­sory Group.

“The trans­for­ma­tive changes the pro­fes­sion faces ... will at­tract a more well-rounded tal­ent base that will need to de­velop skills and ac­quire ex­pe­ri­ence that will en­hance the ca­reer de­vel­op­ment and work sat­is­fac­tion and en­hance client in­ter­ac­tion and client ser­vice,” said Mark Friedlich, se­nior di­rec­tor of global con­tent at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Ac­count­ing.

“If the pro­fes­sion gets this right, we will also at­tract a broader ar­ray of stu­dents,” said D. Scott Showal­ter, chair of the Fed­eral Ac­count­ing Stan­dards Ad­vi­sory Board and pro­fes­sor of prac­tice in the Poole Col­lege of Man­age­ment at North Carolina State Univer­sity. “Be­cause many tra­di­tional cler­i­cal tasks will be sub­sumed by tech­nol­ogy, pro­fes­sion­als will pro­vide more crit­i­cal think­ing and judg­ment about the in­for­ma­tion pro­duced. This change will be ap­par­ent and at­tract new en­trants to the pro­fes­sion.”

‘Can you think of any ma­jor change in the past 30 years that wasn’t good for CPAS in the long run?... Just be­cause peo­ple treat these changes with anx­i­ety and fear at the on­set doesn’t mean they are “bad.”’

And be­yond all that, a more ef­fi­cient and ef­fec­tive pro­fes­sion may have richer lives out­side the of­fice.

“By af­ford­ing more time to de­velop as a whole per­son, spend time with their fam­i­lies, and con­nect with their in­ter­ests out­side of work — they will be bet­ter en­gaged em­ploy­ees and ser­vice pro­fes­sion­als,” said co­me­dian, pod­caster and “Re­cov­er­ing CPA” John Gar­rett. “The only neg­a­tive thing is that in the fu­ture, peo­ple are go­ing to have to find some­thing else to com­plain about when they don’t have to work 60-hour weeks dur­ing busy sea­son.”

Over­all, the pro­fes­sion’s lead­ers agreed with this as­sess­ment by Greg Bur­bach, the pres­i­dent and CEO of Top 100 Firm Honkamp Krueger & Co.: “Any change that can make us bet­ter ad­vi­sors to our clients is a good change,” he said. “We need to em­brace the change and un­learn the way we’ve done it in the past and take a new, fresh, proac­tive and high-tech ap­proach.”

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