With our annual Top 100 Most Influential People list as its centerpiece, the September issue of Accounting Today is always a celebration of the individual in accounting. Rest assured, this year is no different -- you can still write in to complain about the individuals we chose, and those we didn't, for our Top 100.
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For all the rampant individualism, however, I couldn't help being aware that, more and more, two large groups are having an outsized influence on the accounting profession. Before I identify them, let me be quick to say that this influence isn't in itself a bad thing -- but it is having a major impact, and it is unusual to see demographics playing so significant a role in determining the future of the profession.
The first of these groups is (unsurprisingly) the Baby Boomers. More than any new technology or regulation, their retirement concerns are shaping the accounting landscape. When previous generations eased into retirement, they did so in small, staggered groups, and had far less of an effect. The Boomers, though, are such a large cohort, and are largely so ill-prepared for retirement, that they have created both the merger mania of the past decade, and the mad scramble for qualified staff to succeed them.
The other significantly influential group occupies the opposite end of the age spectrum - the Millennials and Gen Ys. Their impact is felt in myriad ways -- from changes to firm structures and the adoption of new technologies like social media, to new or renewed emphases on life/work balance, volunteer work, training, mentoring and much more. I think it's safe to say that no previous entry-level generation has ever been as listened to, as deeply consulted, or as sedulously courted as this one.
Why? Again, demographics offers an answer (along with a little chronology): First, there are simply fewer of them in accounting, for various reasons -- there are fewer of them to start, and many who might have entered the profession in previous generations have been drawn away to other, more "glamorous" fields, like technology and finance. They also happen to be the first generation to grow up in an entirely digital world, and they're coming into the profession just when it most needs to adopt the kind of comfort with technology that they possess almost as a birthright. That all puts them in an enviable position, and makes attracting and retaining them of primary importance to the profession, so that their concerns and interests will be granted more consideration that their numbers or position in the firm hierarchy might seem to justify.
The needs of the Baby Boomers and the desires of the Millennials are not, of course, the only things driving many of the changes I mentioned above. But once I began to think in those terms, I was surprised at how many areas the particular attributes of those age cohorts are affecting, and how so many of the profession's efforts are directed at addressing them. Again, this is not in itself a bad thing -- it's simply a way of thinking about change in the profession, one that's likely to be useful in the future. After all, at some point, the last of the Boomers will have retired, and the first of a new generation that is even more tech-native than the Millenials will have deigned to accept an internship at a CPA firm.
Who will be influential then -- and will it be as individuals, or in generation-sized groups?
On an entirely separate note, let me mention one quick thing about our Top 100 People list. We're always faced with difficult choices when picking it, and are always forced to leave off people who genuinely deserve a space on the list. This year, you may notice in particular a dearth of managing partners -- this is not because MPs have suddenly become less influential; far from it. Rather, it's that next month we'll be debuting our new Managing Partner Elite list, and we expect many of them to appear there, as it will be a space solely dedicated to recognizing their unique contributions to the profession.