The Top 100 People: The major issues facing accountants

There can be no doubt that the accounting profession faces a great many challenges (though many are coupled with tremendous opportunities), and with so much change going on, it can be difficult to figure out which challenge to address first.

So, as part of this year’s Top 100 Most Influential People survey, Accounting Today asked, “What is the most important issue currently facing the accounting profession?”

Many of the T100 refused to pick just one; others made the point that many of these are issues are intertwined. Nonetheless, a few issues bubbled to the top: the game-changing impact of technology, the critical importance of staff, and the need for accountants to maintain their relevance in a period of massive change. A selection of their thoughts on those topics — and a number of other issues of concern — are below.

(To see the full responses of all the candidates for the Top 100, click here.)

Hood-Tom-Maryland Association of CPAs 2018
How to reposition and reimagine accountancy for the 4th Industrial Age. The future is continuing to accelerate and disruptions from outside the profession are on our doorstep. There is a need for CPAs to embrace and extend new ways of working, adopt a culture of innovation and accelerate the transformation of their work. This will require new skills and new ways of learning.

This transformation is even more challenging as we face the largest “shift change” in history with the baby boomers retiring at 10,000 people per day and millennials are now the dominant generation in the workforce. The bottom line is that we need to elevate and accelerate this transformation to keep our profession relevant in this rapidly changing world.

— Tom Hood, CEO, Maryland Association of CPAs and Business Learning Institute
Wright-Candace-Postlethwaite & Netterville
The rapid change of technology continues to be the most important issue we are dealing with. There are negative implications, such as increased risks and the importance of cybersecurity. There are also significant opportunities that are being brought about through increased information, data analytics and artificial intelligence.

Technology is impacting all accounting professionals — public accounting firms are changing our audit processes to incorporate more focus on data and security, and we are seeing our clients incorporate more and more data into their monthly analysis in order to stay current, identify trends, and maximize opportunities.

— Candy Wright, Chair, Private Company Council
Golden River-Michelle-Fore 2018
Relevance. CPAs have boxed themselves into a corner, low-bidding on compliance work that a lot of buyers don’t see as having much value. Competing on price just further eroded whatever value was perceived there. We turned ourselves into “just a vendor” to a lot of them. For a whole lot of reasons, it’s time to reverse this. I see some good action taking place but there’s still a lot of work ahead to elevate us back to highly valued strategic business advisors across the board.

— Michelle Golden River, President, Fore
Patil-Hitendra-AccountantsWorld 2018
The success factors that worked for accounting firms till now will not work in the future. In future, what exactly will the clients pay accountants for? The DNA of the profession’s most-used business models are under stealthy but massive transmutation. The only choice is to adapt, adapt fast — and ride it, not deny the facts and fight them to protect the current state. …

Adapting the business models of accounting firms — actually of the accounting profession itself — to the changing expectations of the clients and in the era of highly automated work processes — is the most important issue facing the profession.

— Hitendra Patil, Director of Practice Development, AccountantsWorld
From a talent and competency perspective, are we going to embrace technology or brace for it, be proactive or reactive, opportunistic or risk-averse? This is a race for relevance of our storied profession in a fast-paced digital age, where the pace of technological advances could overwhelm the human capacity to absorb them unless we take action to reskill and upskill.

— Jeff Thomson, President and CEO, Institute of Management Accountants
Alan-Anderson-AccountAbility 2018
I think the biggest issue we are facing is our relevance. CPAs in public practice have become basically compliance junkies through their traditional services (audit and tax) and need to move to a broader client service mindset. The fear that is evidenced by protecting the compliance orientation ... is delaying the progress that we can be making. ...

I honestly believe that there is a shelf life to the audit of a historical financial statement that is shorter than we think. We will be quickly moving to real-time, transaction-based monitoring, and we need to be in a position to garner insights from these new data. It will be a change from looking in a rearview mirror to looking ahead.

— Alan Anderson, President and Founder, Accountability Plus
Next IFAC CEO Kevin Dancey
The most important issue is writing ourselves into the future.

Business and accounting as we know it is rapidly changing. From the constant march of new technology to growing climate risks and geopolitical uncertainties, there is disruption across business and civic life. And as business models change, the role of accountants is changing with it.

As a profession, we must address these issues head-on. Accountants are well-positioned to lead in many areas, but we must be able to anticipate and embrace change. The future is ours to lose — or win.

— Kevin Dancey, CEO, IFAC
Grissom-Angie-Rainmaker Companies 2018
Changing the mindset and the firm and leadership model in accounting firms is the big opportunity/issue. Firms that understand the need to let go of the way things once were and empower and equip their teams to address the real needs of clients and team members will be successful. Those that do not adapt will be left behind.

— Angie Grissom, President, The Rainmaker Companies
Peterson-Carl-AICPA 2018
Ensuring that we have a diverse and knowledgeable pipeline of students truly interested in accounting, entering the profession and working their way toward earning their CPA.

— Carl Peterson, Vice President of Small Firm Interests — Firm Services, AICPA
Wiley-Sandra-Boomer Consulting 2018
Complacency. The current and future leaders in this profession are terrific; the challenge is that they make good money and changing the business model from compliance to consultative will require new everything: new training, compensation systems, hiring methods, technology, processes, niche building, service models — and the list goes on and on. Change is hard, and all the changes happening now are not making transformation easy. The reality is, everyone knows that things are changing, but most are content with where they are today, so they are waiting for more pain before they make major moves.

— Sandra Wiley, President, Boomer Consulting
The most pressing challenge today is to evolve with the exponential pace of change in our capital markets. We’re seeing advances in technology significantly impact both accountants and companies, driving entirely new business models, company structures, and talent models. Digital transformation is unlocking possibilities for more real-time insights. The news cycle is moving faster than ever, and different types of information outside the historical financial statements are moving the market.

In this environment, independently assured information has never been more valuable, creating vast new opportunities for the public accounting profession to enhance our value proposition.

— Joe Ucuzoglu, CEO, Deloitte US
Padar-Jody- new 2019
The disconnect between the partners’ skill sets and the next generations’ skill sets. Somewhere they need to meet in the middle. All technology and no experience is not any better than all experience and no technology. How do we bridge the gap to remain a viable profession?

— Jody Padar, CEO and Principal, New Vision CPA Group
The most important issue facing the accounting profession involves people. ... We must challenge ourselves by asking these questions:

How do we evolve our skill sets and bring colleagues along in time to remain relevant?
How do we reach students more effectively and convey the value proposition of being a CPA?
How do we ensure an inclusive environment?
How do we retain and advance colleagues across the various segments but especially public practice?
And how do ensure that CPAs remain the preferred and trusted advisor for their clients, customers, and business partners?

— Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, Executive Director – Finance Thought Leadership, Oracle, Cloud Business Group
Bishop-Ken-NASBA 2018
From my perspective, the most important current issue facing the profession is the legislative effort to deregulate the profession. Anti-regulatory bills introduced across the country, primarily with argument of increasing employment opportunities, range from eliminating education and testing requirements to the elimination of certification and license.

— Ken Bishop, President and CEO, NASBA
The most important issue facing the accounting profession, by far, is the tidal wave of technological disruption in the profession. We, as a profession, need to educate ourselves, develop skills, and evolve in order to become the strategic business partners our clients and colleagues are seeking.

— Sean Stein Smith, Assistant Professor, City University of New York, Lehman College
Johnston-Randy-K2 new 2019
Choosing a new, long-term service offering that will be profitable. If tax and audit compliance revenues decline, and automation offsets Client Accounting Services revenues, picking a new advisory service that can be leveraged will be critical.

— Randy Johnston CEO and Founder/EVP, Network Management Group, Inc./K2 Enterprises
Doughtie-Lynne-KPMG - new 2019
Lynne Doughtie corporate headshot
One of the most important issues facing the profession is the challenge of integrating new technologies while continuing to enhance audit quality at the same time. ... It will be critical for the profession’s workforce of tomorrow to have the skills to use these technologies. As we build the talent pools equipped with these skills ... it will be very important to focus on workforce diversity and ensure it reflects the broader marketplace.

— Lynne Doughtie, Chairman and CEO, KPMG
Resistance to change. ... Even with all the major change, we still encounter leaders who will vehemently argue against simple change ideas like dress for your day, offering a truly flexible work environment, hiring non-CPAs or empowering NextGen talent through delegation. ...

Many leaders aren’t facing the strategic management changes needed for a variety of reasons, but mostly resistance comes from an attachment to the way it always was, a satisfaction with the status quo, an appreciation for the great money being earned today and a hope that if they hold out long enough, they’ll retire or sell before the disruptors make impact.

I believe that resisting or slowing the imperative changes is both irresponsible and selfish.

— Jennifer Wilson, Co-Founder and Partner, ConvergenceCoaching
Yetter-Diane-Yetter Tax 2018
I think the most important issue facing the accounting profession is the retirement of senior professionals and the lack of mid-level professionals to take on leadership in the industry.

— Diane Yetter, President and Founder, Yetter Consulting Services and Sales Tax Institute
Leary-David-Cloud Accounting Podcast
The struggle to show clients the value that they as professionals provide. As more “hourly billable” work gets automated to the point in which there isn’t much left to bill for, clients are going to start asking, “What am I paying you to do, if it is all being done automatically?”

— David Leary, Co-Host, Cloud Accounting Podcast
Juggling the demands of today and tomorrow is the key challenge for both professionals and firms. How do you stay competitive and boost profitability, while also keeping up with technology trends and maintaining relevance as a professional? Balancing these short-term and long-term demands is a crucial issue for every professional accountant. It requires strategic implementation of technology and an openness to change.

— Sharada Bhansali, President and Co-Founder, AccountantsWorld
Clients’ expectations have changed. We live in an era where you can work with a fitness expert without going to the gym. You can work with a therapist without leaving your living room. And you can visit a doctor right from your phone. How will this community adapt to the changing expectations that their clients have for highly skilled professional services?

— Ariege Misherghi, Leader, Accountant Segment at Intuit, Intuit
Addressing the lack of diversity and inclusion. ... To truly be successful and remain relevant, we need to change who has a seat at the table. Candidly, we probably need to drop off the table at a local thrift shop and convene a virtual, dynamic team that is not based on seniority and history, but is driven by competencies relevant to the challenges and opportunities at hand. These agile leadership teams should reflect the global businesses and customer base we serve. If greater than 50 percent of CPAs today are women, we should see that in the leadership of firms and stop settling for around 20 percent. ...

It is through change and diversity of thought we can inspire the generations who will lead the profession into the future, unencumbered by conscious and unconscious paradigms that insist you pay your dues or that you must reflect a certain leadership profile.

— Clar Rosso, EVP, Engagement and Learning Innovation, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants