Change / transformation | Leadership | Management / Strategy | Technology

Are you prepared for the Uber-ization of CPAs?

If you’ve rented a room on AirBNB or caught a ride on Uber, you’re part of the collaborative economy.

It’s a simple concept, really. People take their under-utilized assets — skills, spaces, utilities, stuff — and make them available to others for a price. If you have a car and some time, you can give people rides around town. If you have a spare bedroom, you can rent it to someone who needs a place to stay.

And it goes way beyond rooms and rides. TaskRabbit will connect you with someone who’s willing to do just about anything you need to have done. DriveNow will find someone who’s willing to let you use their car for an hour, a day, or more. JustPark will find you a safe, legal place to park your car. We can use most of these services with nothing more than a smartphone.

Cool concepts, all of them. It makes you glad you’ve lived this long.

They’re more than just cool and convenient, though. They’re changing the way people access goods and services — and they might be ready to disrupt the accounting world, too.

Think I’m crazy? Think again.

Rachel Botsman, a global expert on the power of sharing and collaboration and one of Fast Company’s “Most Creative People in Business,” delivered the keynote at the 2015 DigitalNow Conference in Orlando with some sage advice: It’s too late to prepare to be disrupted. We already have been.

“Marketplaces are eating firms,” said Botsman, author of the critically acclaimed What’s Mine is Yours: How Collaborative Consumption Is Changing The Way We Live. “Traditional business models are breaking down.”

Some more examples, courtesy of Botsman:

  • BMW, of all companies, is the driving force behind the DriveNow and JustPark services. It’s a great example of a large company being nimble and thinking differently.
  • UpCounsel matches clients with vetted attorneys who best match their needs and budgets — without the bureaucracy and red tape of a law firm getting in the way.
  • And if UpCounsel isn’t enough to get the attention of CPAs, there’s VouchedFor, a UK-based service that matches clients with independent financial advisers, mortgage advisers, and yes, accountants.

In other words, it’s not enough to merely pay attention to this stuff. It’s here. It’s happening. All that’s left to decide is what we’re going to do about it. Botsman said we have three choices.

  • We can bury our heads in the sand and wait to die.
  • We can fight the disruption and lose.
  • Or, we can become pioneers and embrace the disruption as an opportunity.

Guess which one leads to continued success and relevance?

“Pioneers think differently about how value is created, scaled and consumed,” Botsman said. “The question we need to be asking is, how can we find different ways to be a part of our customers’ lives? … What assets do we have that we can use to unlock value in different ways?”

These are key questions if we want to overcome disruption.

After her keynote, I asked Botsman what advice she would offer CPAs as they deal with a transforming world. Here’s what she had to say.

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William D. Sheridan