The accounting profession is on the same roller coaster of unprecedented levels of change as the rest of the world. We believe that we are used to change because that is the nature of accounting thanks to the changing landscapes of the courts, the business environment, technology and government. Now we also live in a world in which books, DVDs, taxis and hotels are being replaced by other alternatives. Banks are experiencing peer lending and accountant pressures from software that can quickly provide the same advice that only we could before. Lawyers are looking at the cannon of smart software that can predict court rulings.
What is changing for accountants?
The following five trends are affecting the accounting profession:
- Outsourcing: You know this has a very real impact on the profession when Google’s number one for this is an ad for a company that does nothing but offer outsourcing for accounting firms. It’s a wonderful way to save you time and money, but it comes with a variety of problems, such as the need to verify accuracy and the development of the profession.
- Advances in software and artificial intelligence: Accounting and tax research has been done online for some time, but artificial intelligence will only get smarter at predicting failures, conducting research, and making recommendations. While it will make our roles much more efficient, it will also bring a whole new set of challenges in terms of how we charge for time and how we make sure the advice we give is correct. Advances in software bring with them wonderful new ways to commit financial fraud, which we, as accountants, are expected to detect and advise our clients as well.
- Social mediaIt has now become part of how we market our accounting services, how we hire, and how we vet the people we hire. When it comes to our clients and investments, social media may reveal more data than any corporate assurance report on a company. It has become so ingrained in some of our lives that an accountant I know touches her smartphone in the morning to check social media before saying good morning to her partner.
- Regulation: Although not new to our profession, it would appear that even more regulation may be on the way in the wake of massive tax evasion, transfer pricing, and money laundering as exposed through things like Panama documents. Our profession can also be part of enforcing regulations that we cannot even consider yet, such as how ethical an organization is in its behavior towards the environment or people. We may have to find ways to account for the environmental or social impacts of trade policies.
- A multigenerational workforce: For the first time in history, we now have four generations working side by side in the accounting workspace. We have traditionalists, baby boomers, Gen X and Gen Y working together. People are working longer now and that means that in some situations, there is a gap of more than 50 years between the youngest and the oldest employees.
- Alternative billing models: The traditional model of billable hours was not popular with our customers and could even be considered a rewarding inefficiency. New billing models have arrived and will continue to evolve as the use of artificial intelligence becomes more common in our roles. You’ll face tough decisions about how much to bill a customer when what would previously have taken 30 hours of detailed research and accounting can now be done in minutes thanks to smart software. Clients also seek certainty regarding their accounting rates for the year, and in some cases, they would prefer to pay a monthly advance rather than pay for piecemeal accounting advice.
Greg Hayes of the Hayes Knight firm has recently responded to all the doom and gloom that accountants are being told about these changes. He believes that while there are government regulators and small businesses, there will always be a need for someone to come between them. He says that accountants have always been the advisor and trust of the business owner, and will continue to be: “You can’t automate relationships and you can’t automate trust.”
Interesting changes that have already happened
What changes have I seen professionals undertake already? Here are some:
Non-profit family law firm.
The use of emoticons in all emails by one company because putting a happy face at the end of an email ensures that the other party knows that they are not looking to escalate a dispute.
Network with other professionals such as attorneys, bankers, financial planners, insurance brokers, healthcare professionals, or anyone else who can potentially refer you (and vice versa). This network is conducted not only face-to-face over coffee, but also through monthly seminars to which clients and a variety of professionals are invited. In one case, each month three people are invited to give a ten-minute presentation on what they are doing to see if there is a chance to work together with anyone else in the room.
A company has a ‘digital festival’ every six months to keep customers updated on some of the latest technologies that they might be using in their business and any associated legal or accounting issues.
Apps that help people track what stage their file is at (for example, text alert when a tax return is submitted or when monthly spending has exceeded budget), when is their next meeting, government agencies that they will need for different problems, etc.
Strategic positioning of accounting offices in non-traditional physical locations, such as health or innovation centers.
How to consciously embrace change
As accountants and business consultants, we are traditional and conservative and are now being asked to embrace some of the biggest changes our profession has seen in years if we are to stay relevant. Change requires energy, motivation, and a certain level of discomfort as we enter uncharted waters.
Change can be a good thing. If you are old enough to remember cassette tapes that you had to roll up with a pencil when they broke, you will know what I am talking about. Have you ever been in a house that was sold? There was a frenzy of cleaning, moving and repairing things that he had tolerated for years. The day before the first open house, you take a step back and look at this resplendent house and wonder why you ever wanted to leave such a charming place. Your accounting practice could probably benefit from the same treatment. Take advantage of this disruption as an opportunity to practice innovation and see new ways of operating that you hadn’t previously paid attention to. You have a golden opportunity to transform the nature of your role, for example from trusted accountant to strategic business advisor.
Mindfulness asks you to recognize and accept the need for change. It is neither good nor bad, it is what it is. Coming changes are inevitable and we can embrace and prepare for them or we can practice denial and catch up at a later time.
Acceptance requires that we honestly look at where we are and then start taking the steps we need to get to where we want to be. Tackling change in one big leap is overwhelming, but if you can find one small thing at a time to change, you will slowly but surely absorb the changes that are coming. Start with something easy, like meeting or calling a new contact a week who could be part of your referral network.
Every time you take a small step to change the way your business is done, your brain gives you a blast of its internal reward drug, dopamine. Every time you take a step toward a goal or cross something off your “to do” list, dopamine is also the reason you get that little “nice”. Open a Twitter account and feel good. Create a Facebook page for your business and feel good. Find ways to expand your referral network and feel good. Start small. Start anywhere and start embracing the journey of change that lies ahead.
Remember that it is neither good nor bad, it is simply an opportunity.