Pain, and then gain
The profession’s leaders see the upside of massive change (mostly)
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.”