Future of accounting brings business opportunities

Chris West

I’ve worked as an accountant for more than 25 years. But it seems like only yesterday when I started out as a staff accountant, ready to take on the world’s finances. My days were busy ensuring clients complied with the Internal Revenue Service and other regulators.

The years flashed by, and each new year brought perspective to what the accounting industry really does and what my clients actually needed — business support for continuous change. I advised my individual and business clients on how to make the right decisions for growth, opportunity and risk. I served as a sounding board and helped them plan their futures and legacies.

Now that I’m chief executive officer of an accounting firm, my role has changed again to manage for firm growth and changes in industry demands and client needs. 

According to one report, most CEOs consider agility the new business currency. “If they [CEOs] fail to adapt to a constantly changing world, their business will become irrelevant. This is a stark choice. To be resilient, organizations need to be comfortable disrupting their business models if they want to continue to grow.”  

I agree. And through the disruption, your accountant advisor remains in the middle as a connector to you and change. Being in the middle of so much transition means the accounting industry must evolve, too. There are three main disruptions — what I consider  opportunities — in accounting that companies and owners should expect:

Even deeper integration in your business. Business functions grow more interconnected because of technology. This can create a more synergistic organization, but also become overwhelming. Clients will look to their accountant advisors to take a seat at the board or management tables to provide insights, planning and strategy. A broader advisory role incorporates a higher-level view to ensure the overall strategy and vision remain on track. This requires specialists in automation, data, information security and risk management as well as strategic advisors. The future of accounting will include more than certified public accountants. Many accounting firms are hiring data analytics, human resources and technology experts to provide cohesive and seamless advisory services. 

Gone are the days of CPAs as historians looking back at financial data to tell clients what happened last year. The CPA of the future — actually of today — is a trusted advisor looking forward and asking a question. “How can I help the client improve and grow and be better prepared to solve the problems of tomorrow?”

Changing technology. Technology drives innovation and opportunity growth for most industries. Accounting firms now see clients in specific sectors experimenting or already using such transformative technologies as artificial intelligence, blockchain, bots and data analytics. Accounting and advisory firms, especially those with audit and technology service lines, must know how to audit and advise clients, including cybersecurity. 

Cloud computing allows businesses to access multiple tools to customize tech stacks without maintaining servers and hardware. As more providers move software to the cloud, including accounting and finance software, businesses are compelled to move as well. While overall costs might go down, there are risks, including security, and annoyances, like managing a multitude of subscriptions. Cloud everywhere is coming, and accountant advisors will work more with clients virtually to help guide them with technology and real-time data integration. 

A different work force. As baby boomers retire and millennials mature, the demands of speed and convenience reshape the world. Employers must accommodate future work force expectations sooner than later or risk losing talent to competitors or other industries. There are also skills gaps, so work forces in all industries, including accounting, need training. The top of the list of employer wants and expectations will include critical thinking, problem-solving, self-management and working with others.

By one estimate, 84 percent of employers are set to digitalize working processes, including a significant expansion of remote work and the potential to move
44 percent of their work forces to remote operations. Remote workers present two challenges: managing local- and state-specific regulations for out-of-state workers as well as cybersecurity and risk management.

Accounting firm advisors will help clients manage business and employer regulations, insurance, licenses and state nexus laws. Accounting firms with technology service lines can take the lead in advising or provide audits on cybersecurity and other risk mitigation. 

I’m excited by the services and insights accounting advisory professionals provide now and what they’ll provide in the future. The sustainability of business depends on the ability to remain agile and make strategic decisions. Relationships with accountants will become less focused on once-a-year compliance and historical data and more focused on their integral roles in day-to-day operations.