CAS are skyrocketing … and the skills we need to do them right are evolving

Outsourcing is in … in a big way.

At the 2016 Digital CPA Conference in Las Vegas, officials with the AICPA and CPA.com released the results of a survey that found client accounting services are a growing source of revenue for firms of all sizes.

For large firms with annual revenue of $10 million or more, client accounting services (or CAS) account for 9 percent of net client fees, according to the 2016 National Management of Accounting Practice Survey. For smaller firms, CAS took an even larger, double-digit slice.

“Tax and audit continue to be the number one and number two revenue categories,” said Mark Koziel, the AICPA’s executive vice president of firm services, “but client accounting demonstrates growing significance to the profession.”

The outlook going forward is equally bright.

Research by KPMG and HfS Research estimates that global spending on outsourced finance and accounting services will grow by another 8 percent next year. That same bit of research found that despite recent growth, CAS outsourcing is still a relatively new trend for most companies:

That leaves a lot of room for growth … and a lot of opportunity for hungry CAS providers.

And still, challenges remain. Big challenges. Like technological advances that are transforming our careers. Machine learning and artificial intelligence are automating and commoditizing most of the core transactional services upon which this profession is based. Turns out machines can crunch the numbers faster and more accurately than we can ever hope to. Our relevancy depends on our ability to stop crunching the numbers and start interpreting them. We have to stop competing with the machines and start doing the things that the machines can’t do — applying intuition, challenging the status quo, employing empathy, and building culture-first organizations among them.

In the words of futurist Peter Sheahan, “Humans should only do work that only humans can do.”

For CAS providers, that means we have to start learning a bunch of new skills.

Those skills have less to do with accounting and auditing and more to do with so-called “soft skills” — the competencies that scores of studies tell us are the things the next generation of CPAs will need to know to remain relevant going forward. Those skills include strategic and critical thinking, communication, inspiring and motivating others, collaboration, and perhaps most important, anticipation — the ability to spot future trends before they happen and position our organizations to take advantage of them.

The CAS practices that succeed going forward will be those that can build a career path — a true curriculum — for every person in their organization based on these new skills. If we can start mapping competencies to skill levels and ensure that every person at every level of our organizations is getting the skills he or she needs to succeed at every point in their careers … my god, imagine how powerful that would be?

A perfect starting point is “The Bounce.” It’s a concept developed by the Business Learning Institute that tries to identify what skills our people will need at each point in their careers.

Here’s the short version:

When we start becoming strategic about how we’re training our people, amazing things start to happen. Business value increases by factors of six, eight, 10, and more. Employee engagement goes through the roof. And because young professionals value career development over almost everything, our ability to recruit and retain the best and brightest talent available increases exponentially.

Fast Company’s Robert Safian had it right: The most important skill going forward is the ability to learn new skills. Learning those new skills must be a strategic process, both for our own careers and for our organizations’ future growth.

The slides from my 2016 Digital CPA presentation offer examples of how to start thinking about how to build a strategic learning curriculum. Check out slides 37, 38, and 39 specifically.

Digital CPA 2016: Winning the Talent War in Business Process Outsourcing from Bill Sheridan, CAE

Then start thinking about the skills your people need to not only advance their own careers, but to drive growth within your business.

Stop thinking about learning as CPE. Start thinking about it as a solution not only for your clients and customers, but for your own organization.


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