“The world has dramatically changed,” said Jon Baron, Thomson Reuters’ managing director of professional tax and accounting, during his keynote Thursday kicking off the 32nd annual Thomson Reuters SYNERGY Users’ Conference for Professional Tax & Accounting Firms in Grapevine, Texas.

The statement became a mantra as Baron addressed the 1,100 attendees, guiding them through the statistical indicators of this change and warning, “Digitalizing your firm is not optional.”

Accounting firms as a whole have not gotten that message, he continued. “About 40 percent of the profession seems stuck in the ’80s and ’90s.”

Today, Baron explained, is all about mobility. “We are a mobile society in how we deal with information and data.”

For this current climate, Thomson Reuters officially announced a new mobile application, NetClient CS for smartphones and tablets, an extension of NetClient CS portals that will offer clients on-the-go access to services and content in a firm-branded environment.

The app’s available services, over which the firms will retain control, include access to tax returns, financial statements and other documents; online accounting, payroll services and data; and a built-in task center that allows firms to alert clients of to-do items.

NetClient CS joins the company’s three previous mobile offerings available to CS Professional Suite users: accounting app Mobile CS, social community app ARNE and payroll processing app myPay solutions. It is currently available as a free download for users of Apple and Android mobile devices. 

Thomson Reuters’ mobile direction echoes the demographic shift Baron highlighted during his presentation.

He cited companies such as Encyclopaedia Britannica, which abandoned its print product in 2012 after 244 years, and Circuit City, which went bankrupt in 2008, as ones that did not successfully adjust their business models to this change.

Among the statistics Baron presented to illustrate this dramatic shift:

• The global PC market is set to decline for the first time in 11 years.

• At the time the iPad was introduced in early 2010, 4 percent of Americans owned a tablet. As of today, that number is 25 percent.

• In 2012, the number of voicemails retrieved in the U.S. was down 14 percent from 2011, and more than 35 percent of adults live in a household with no landline.
• There are 82 million smart phone users in the U.S., or 45 percent of the adult population.

• Sixty-five percent of CIOs predict desk phones will not exist in five years.

• There were 10 billion downloads in the Apple iTunes store in 2011; this year the number is on pace to double that.

• Ten percent of all photos ever taken were snapped in 2011, with that percentage likely to hit 15 this year.

• From the beginning of recorded time until 2003, we created 5 billion gigabytes of data, while in 2011 we created that amount every two days.

Baron then compared these indicators with Thomson Reuters-gathered statistics on the accounting profession. A majority of accounting firms continue to deliver a majority of their tax returns to clients on paper and only about 50 percent have a Web site.

“You hear everyone talking about [the cloud] in the accounting profession, and we’ve had it available since 1999,” said Baron, but only 18 percent of surveyed firms are using cloud applications of any type.

“The good news is you’re competing against these people,” Baron added.

Baron also mentioned future trends on Thomson Reuters’ radar, including new tablets, the launch of Windows 8 and the corresponding movement toward “touch” interaction.

He closed his keynote by circling back to his oft-repeated phrase. “Digitalizing your firm is not optional,” he said. “It’s an absolute necessity.”