The pain first
There were some, however, who acknowledged that there are risks — and some potential pain to go along with all the gain.
“The downside of the disruptive technologies, I believe, is that the ability to hang out a shingle and do tax compliance or small-scale audits will decrease, so that will be an opportunity and a pathway that I’m afraid will be lost to history,” pointed out Massachusetts Society of CPAS president and CEO Amy Pitter.
And Larry Autrey, managing partner of Top 100 Firm Whitley Penn, warned, “If we lose focus in an effort to be consultants, we may lose our right to lead in audit and tax. Regulators and a desire to be consultants first could damage the CPA brand if we are not careful. The competition hopes we lose focus.”
More broadly, though, the most common concern was that all this disruption will simply leave many accountants behind.
“The changes and challenges facing the profession represent an enormous opportunity — for those that pivot and adapt,” said David Cieslak, chief cloud officer at RKL esolutions. “I’m concerned that many, especially solo and small firms, will respond far too slowly and find the services they once offered have been commoditized or their competitors are providing the new, vertically focused, high-value services their clients are now demanding.”
“Accountants are slow to change,” noted Clientwhys CEO Lee Reams. “Many would rather ignore the trends than make drastic changes in their business models. The survivors will thrive with higher monthly recurring revenue engagements. The downside is that those still offering traditional services may see many of those billable tasks automated out of existence.”
“In the short-term, we’ll have lots of uncomfortable accountants,” added Intuit business development manager Kim Austin. “With a crowd whose favorite acro- nym is ‘SALY,’ it’s inevitable that there will be struggles along the way. ... I see firms that simply refuse to embrace change, and as I look a few years down the road for them, I believe it’ll be a lot harder to play catch-up, or find the exit strategy they’d hoped for.”
Taking that a step further, C3 Evolution Group CEO and founder Garrett Wagner predicted, “In the short-term, all these changes will be bad as we will see more firms struggle, go out of business, and [face] difficult M&A activity, as they will be unable to deal with the changes we are faced with.”
‘If we embrace the new technologies and find new and interesting ways to serve our clients, the changes will be great. If we try to hold on to the old way of doing things, it will be bad. I’m encouraged by what I see in firms — small firm startups built entirely on new systems and technologies and larger firms that are pivoting to the change.’
That said, he added, “In the long-term, these changes will finally set us free as a profession, and allow us to move past our rigid focus on backwards-looking compliance work and free us up to shift into advisory services.”
Choose your own adventure
In the end, whether these changes work out for better or worse for the individual accountant or firm will depend on their own choices — while the cumulative impact of those choices will determine the final result for the profession as a whole.
“If we embrace the new technologies and find new and interesting ways to serve our clients, the changes will be great,” said Mark Koziel, executive vice president of public accounting at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants. “If we try to hold on to the old way of doing things, it will be bad. I’m encouraged by what I see in firms — small firm startups built entirely on new systems and technologies and larger firms that are pivoting to the change.”
Attitude and approach will, therefore, make a major difference. “Whether change is good depends on your perspec
CM tive,” said Grant Thornton CEO Mike Mcguire. “If you believe we can always do
CY something better than we did before, and
CMY work hard to make progress on tough challenges to make the world a better place, then change is good. If you just like things the way they are and don’t want to change, then it’s bad. Every one of us has to decide where we stand, and then act accordingly.”
Some made the important point that, whatever one thinks of the coming evolution of the profession, it can’t be stopped.
“Change is inevitable, and trying to figure out whether it is good or bad misses the point,” said California CPA Society chief executive officer Loretta Doon. “What matters is how we react and adapt to change. Will we be set and insist on sticking to the old ways because that’s the way we always did things? Or will we be flexible and use our minds to figure out how best to incorporate change for the benefit of our customers, clients, staff and careers? One must be in constant motion; change or die.” Opting out, then, is not an option, and
M the best course is to move forward. “We can’t stand still — there are too many
CM forces at play,” explained Arleen Thomas,
MY managing director, Americas, and CGMA
CY global offerings at the American Institute of CPAS. “Business is finding new ways of
CMY working — to be the stewards of that we
K must face these changes with energy.”
For those who remain concerned about the eventual outcome for the profession, Samantha Mansfield, director of professional development and community at Cpa.com, had these words of wisdom: “I heard this said and think it is true for the accounting profession today: Sometimes to stay true to your mission, you have to change what and how you do it.”