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In a high-tech world, trust is still the key

We hear it all the time: “Technology is changing everything.”

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Granted, technology is changing a lot of things. A key example: It’s automating and commoditizing a lot of the core transactional services that CPAs have relied upon for decades. If you’re betting the farm on a long, prosperous career as a tax preparer, for instance, you’re probably going to lose — and lose big.

But for every service that technology automates, another opportunity arises.

So says Ari Balogh. Google’s vice president of storage and network infrastructure will deliver the keynote address at the MACPA’s 2015 CPA Summit on Tuesday with one key message in mind: Technology has altered our profession’s landscape; that much is true. Despite that, the role of today’s CPA is remarkably unchanged. Our clients expect us to be trusted business advisors, and against all odds, technology makes that happen.

“The thing about technology — at least the thing that I like — is that it enables deeper, better relationships,” Balogh said. “It enables better access. It enables transparency. In the end, the things that matters most are relationships, trust, and the expertise and the services rendered in that context. Technology deepens those relationships and provides the opportunity for quality interaction.”

Given all of that, two question arise:

1. What should technology be doing for us?
Topping the list, says Balogh, is automation. Small to mid-size business owners “want technology to automate the transactional stuff,” he said. “They want all of that stuff to be easy and go away. If I can get a good sense of the state of my financials and everything associated with the running of the business without having to do a whole bunch of manual work, that’s a wonderful thing.”

When that happens, a CPA transforms from data manager to data interpreter — and that is where the magic happens.

“Understanding the business is going to be paramount, because that’s something a computer will never be able to do,” Balogh said. “There will be a premium placed on those client relationship skills — listening, communicating, keeping up with the technology just enough to understand what it provides and how to make it an asset as opposed to trying to compete with it. Competing with commoditization almost never works.”

2. What should CPAs be doing to make the most of today’s technology?
“First and foremost,” Balogh said, “you can’t see (technology) as an enemy. You have to embrace it. You have to get over the fear factor. Just swallow hard and start learning about this stuff. … We have no choice but to make sure we are not an anachronism, that we’re not stuck in the past.”

That notion of trust — one that is so important and foundational to the CPA profession — is as much about tomorrow’s technology as it is about yesterday’s services.

“Trust has a couple of different elements, and it goes beyond mere integrity,” Balogh said. “Customers need to assume a high level of integrity, and they need to assume you have the proper motivation to help them.

“But the other part,” he said, “is that trust requires a customer to believe in your competence and to know that you’re delivering results. If they see that you’re disconnected from what’s being offered as a commodity and you’re trying to do that in a way that seems kind of backwards, that goes to trust. ‘Why are you trying to do THAT for me as opposed to the thing I really need?’ It requires that you understand what is being commoditized and what you offer beyond that so that customers get a complete experience from you and trust that you’re at the edge of what’s going on in the profession. You have to be. You have no choice.”

In other words: Stay on top of today’s trends. Help me understand and take advantage of them. Fall short of that, and my trust in you will falter.

There’s no better incentive for being an early adopter.

Learn more at the CPA Summit
Balogh will deliver the keynote address at the MACPA’s biggest event of the year, the CPA Summit, on Tuesday at Martin’s West in Baltimore. Join CPAs from around the region to consider how to prepare for the drastic changes that are affecting our profession. For complete details and to register, visit BLIonline.org/CPA-Summit.

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