The future of accounting? It might not be in accounting

“What got you here won’t get you there.”

That’s a nugget of wisdom from business guru and friend-of-the-MACPA Emmanuel Gobillot, and though he was talking about leadership at the time, he might as well have been talking about CPAs.

The traditional core of the profession — services like tax preparation and other transactional activities — are still important and still in demand, but they’re being commoditized by competition and simplified by technology.

At the same time, our clients are being rocked by change and complexity as much as we are. They’re panicked and confused, and they’re looking for help. They don’t want us to crunch the numbers. They don’t want more tax returns. They don’t want us to react to change. Anybody can do that stuff.

They want some business know-how. They want someone to interpret the numbers — someone who is going to help them see what’s coming and position their businesses to take advantage of change before it arrives.

They want future-focused leadership.

Will you be the one who gives it to them?

I stumbled across a couple of articles recently that hint at a new direction for CPAs.

The first comes from our friends at the Journal of Accountancy. They spoke with Maryland CPA and Thriveal movement member Adrian Simmons about where he sees the profession going. His answer boils down to nothing less than a reinvention of the entire profession.

“The hypothesis of the first Thriveal Labs experiment was that ‘there will be multiple successful business models for accounting firms of the future.’ To test that hypothesis, Thriveal assembled a team of six small firm leaders to prototype new business models for public accounting — a process that reinforced Simmons’ belief that the ability to develop and adapt business models will be a key differentiator among accounting firms in the near future.

“ ‘Business model design is going to become a strategic skill that will become a competitive advantage,’ Simmons said. ‘CPAs who have a comfort level playing with business models will be the ones who succeed.’ “

Get it? Your traditional business models won’t work going forward. What got you here won’t get you there.

The second article was shared on Facebook by — who else? — the deepest thinker around, Tom Hood. It’s an article from SmartCompany titled, “Five things your accountant should be doing for you besides your taxes.” Here’s the list:

  1. Benchmarking: “To outpace your competitors, you must know how they are operating.”
  2. Budgeting: “Most business owners can tell you about the soul-destroying feeling of watching your budgets blow out and your profits dwindle away with them. Your accountant is a key player here.”
  3. Cost reduction: “Your costs can have as much impact on your profits as your overall revenue, yet many business owners neglect to keep a close eye on costs.”
  4. Pricing advice: “Setting price points can make or break your business.”
  5. Succession planning: “Whether your plan is to sell your business, leave it to your kids or retire as a silent partner, all business owners need an effective exit strategy.”

I’d add a couple of other notions to that list.

The first comes from the MACPA’s good friend, ASAE tech guru Reggie Henry, who recently offered up this brilliant piece of his mind:

“Our job is to make the future more comfortable for our members.”

That means we have to get to the future well before our clients do — that we have to spend a considerable amount of time and energy figuring out this new stuff now so we can teach our clients how to take advantage of it.

It also means we have to commit ourselves to constant learning and reinvention. Fast Company Editor Robert Safian puts it beautifully: The most important skill any of us can possess today is the ability to learn new skills. And here’s why:

What got you here won’t get you there.

Embrace the future. Then help your clients embrace it.

There’s your new competitive advantage.


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