Today, we are witnessing a technological transformation enabled by connectivity, machine learning and other smart technologies. In the coming years, these technologies will have a profound impact on the accounting and tax professions, changing how professionals do their work, as well as redefining the importance of their role.
To illustrate the evolution of the role of the accountant, let’s fast-forward five years to 2022 to meet Michelle, a CPA who owns and operates a growing and thriving tax and accounting practice with thousands of clients.
Like many accountants of the future, Michelle’s clients are primarily small business owners who hire her to do their books and taxes — but more importantly, for the advice and guidance she provides regarding running their businesses. They need her help to increase their likelihood of success and make optimal financial decisions.
Leading into 2022, Michelle adjusted her practice across three key areas: tools, processes and people. These focus areas enable her to support the growing and changing needs of her clients.
In the tools category, for example, connectivity enables Michelle to access her software and documents anywhere on any device. Even her clients interact with her remotely, often by video. Their information is automatically transferred into her software as soon as it’s available, eliminating the paper chase. And currency technologies such as Bitcoin, built on blockchain, integrate with her software reshaping the financial relationships with her clients. These new capabilities are a result of the evolution her software underwent over the past five years.
In 2022, tools and data are connected at unprecedented levels. The flow of data has made client financial transactions available immediately through bank feeds. Small business clients’ financial statements are automatically generated, reconciled and pushed to the software, so all Michelle needs to do is review them. The new connections between data, banks and software enable one tool to replace over 15 different applications needed to run a firm, manage clients’ books and taxes, and deliver intelligent market insights to small business clients.
From a process perspective, all of this technology completely transformed how Michelle runs her business. Now, most of Michelle’s work focuses on advising clients on how to run their business and make optimal financial decisions. Accountants of the future don’t spend any time gathering tax or accounting documents because they’re automatically accessible. Michelle used to spend 60 percent of her time doing this. Now, rather than spending hours, days and weeks on a tax return, she spends minutes.
Michelle reinvested the time gained by implementing the new tool available to her back into her practice. Rather than spending significant dollars on marketing and business development for new clients, Michelle gets matched with prospects from within her software. A profile she sets up about herself includes the types of new clients she desires, and how many. The tool intelligently identifies clients who match her specifications. She then connects to them via video and reviews their materials directly through the solution because they have been automatically uploaded for her prior to their meeting.
Similarly, Michelle’s process for finding new employees connects her to candidates who have the profile, expertise and experience she is looking for. Although she still interviews new staff, her experience is that this process identifies the right candidates nearly 80 percent of the time. These employees can be located anywhere, because, like her tools, they are connected remotely and can communicate with her and her clients through video. This process gives Michelle the resources she needs to grow her business at the rate she aspires to do so.
From a people perspective, Michelle learned that the type of talent she needs to make her firm successful has changed significantly over the past five years. Employees still need accounting expertise, but they also need to be great with clients and good consultants who understand their clients’ wishes, dreams and frustrations.
Michelle recruits from colleges that have transformed their accounting curriculum to train students to be advisors and coaches in addition to accounting and tax experts. She specifically asks for these skills because she and her staff are no longer “in the back room crunching numbers” anymore. The value that she and her firm add is in the advice and coaching they give their clients.
In 2022, Michelle and other accountants are doing the work that they love the most – advising and coaching clients. Michelle embodies the modern accountant of tomorrow who will redefine their role and truly be the trusted advisor that our industry has been talking about for years. Technology will give accountants and tax professionals new tools and processes to help them deliver a new kind of value: The advice and coaching necessary for small businesses to succeed and thrive in the modern economy.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in Accounting Today.