Recap of Scaling New Heights 2018: Thoughts From a Millennial First-Time Attendee

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Cyborg accountant. Tech stack. Robots. Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). Sounds like some sort of sci-fi movie, doesn’t it? No, it was actually an accounting conference, Scaling New Heights: Tame the Machines, June 17-20, 2018.

I was lucky enough to attend this four-day event full of breakout sessions, keynote speakers and plenty of swag to outfit a small army!

While this event was a great place to make connections with icons in the tax and accounting profession (is there anyone who doesn’t know David Bergstein?), meet developers and enhance our education, it taught me so much more. I wanted to share my biggest takeaways from this event.

Get out of our own way. What I noticed over the span of four days is that this profession is on the brink of taking the next step to catching up with the rest of the world when it comes to embracing technology. There is one last barrier, and that last barrier is YOU. The accountant who fears change and likes doing the “traditional work” is the last hurdle in taking a major step forward. As I look around the profession and talk to my millennial peers, a common thing I hear is, “If it we’re up to me, this firm would be fully in the cloud. We are just waiting for others to retire.”

Here’s my advice: DON’T WAIT ANY LONGER! You need to set your firm up for success in the future and pave the wave for the next chapter for those who will step up when you step down. If you leave it to them to implement changes when your time is up, it will be too late. Leverage the staff who embrace technology to implement changes that can create efficiencies and impact the bottom line. 

The human touch. “Hey Siri, give me a hug.” Yeah, right – that’s not going happen. AI and machine learning can do unbelievable things that automate day-to-day mundane tasks, but there are some things they just can’t replace. For example, technology can’t take the place of being a trusted advisor. There is something to face-to-face interactions with your clients.

While technology can make connecting with your clients easier, it doesn’t replace the connection altogether. For example, when I travel on the road, text is a common touchpoint I have with my family, which is great. But when I’m able to steal 10 minutes of FaceTime with my girls, it evokes a whole other level of feelings and connectivity from hundreds of miles away. This shouldn’t be a time to fear of being replaced by the machines, but a time for embracing technology and allowing you to establish deeper connections with your clients and becoming a stronger trusted advisor. 

There’s a buzz in the air. I don’t know if there is something in the Atlanta air, but there is definitely a buzz and a sense of excitement going on with this profession. Watching attendees roll through the exhibit hall, speed to breakout sessions and sit on the edge of their seats at the keynotes gave me the feeling that we are about to break through and take this to the next level. It’s like the little kid at the edge of the diving board waiting to take his first jump. His knees are shaking, his eyes are big, and he’s excited and nervous at the same time. It’s taking him awhile to take the leap, but once he does, he takes his swimming experience to a whole new level. Don’t be the kid who never takes the leap. Be nervous. Be excited. Hold your nose and take the leap.

As a millennial still trying to find his place in this profession, I can’t tell you how excited I am for the direction we are heading. I can feel the winds of change about to blow through and enable accountants, tax professionals, and whatever else you may call yourself to do things they never imagined. The only thing left in our way is us. Transformation is hard, but not transforming could be fatal.

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