2017 Top 100 People extra: The accountant of tomorrow
As part of our Top 100 Most Influential People report, we asked all the candidates: “How will the accountant of 10 years from now differ from the accountant of today?”
The candidates' full responses follow.
Few would argue that the accounting profession will look vastly different 10 years from now. Allan Koltin in Accounting Today recently identified the levels of services businesses are expecting of their accounting firms and matched that to the amount of money the firms’ clients are willing to spend on these services. This report was very eye-opening, especially because the compliance services for which many firms are known are now commodities that are considered price of entry and no longer growth drivers.
The report cites higher-value services as the main growth drivers for the next 10 years. Accountants will need to quickly determine how best to capture the growth opportunities within these value-added services, and the answer for many will be technology.
Moving to cloud-based technology is not yet commonplace in the accounting profession, but I believe it will be in 10 years. Firms that are embracing cloud technology are realizing the benefits — including anywhere, anytime access to information so that they can increase client response times, and having a central database to make it faster and easier to access files and fulfill client requests. Perhaps most importantly, moving to the cloud helps firms gain efficiencies to free up resources to focus on critical value-added services, the real growth drivers in the profession.
—Karen Abramson, CEO Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting
The accountant of 10 years will be very different from the accountant of today, and technology will play a major role in that change. Routine tasks performed by accountants today will likely be automated in the future. For some that may seem frightening, but I find it exciting. It provides tremendous opportunities for accountants to build new skillsets in technology and data analytics to support the audit of the future. It also frees up professionals to work with their clients in a more strategic capacity — because complexity in the business world will continue to increase.
Beyond new technology skills, accountants will need to have a deep understanding of their clients’ businesses to succeed in the future. And they’ll need to use that knowledge to help their clients anticipate, prepare for and respond to the key issues, challenges and opportunities facing their businesses.
At RSM we believe we are well-positioned for these changes. We are investing in technology and building new skillsets among our people. Even more importantly, “The Power of Being Understood” isn’t just a tagline, it’s the way we approach each engagement with every client.
— Joe Adams, Managing partner and CEO, RSM US
We live in a culture of DIY – do it yourself – and the companies like Intuit, Xero, Sage Live, etc., are giving companies more tools to be able to do their books and even taxes on their own. There are workflows built into the systems to ease the confusion of trying to make your financials workable. The accountant 10 years from now will not be able to rely on the standard workflows they have created and used to keep business. They will have to continue to innovate and provide a higher-value service than the tools themselves offer.
Pulling from the restaurant industry, many restaurants are rolling out the ability to order from a kiosk at your table instead of using the wait staff. The POS systems have provided a way to replace the need for someone to come take the order — so the staff needs to find other ways they are valuable in the process.
Fourlane has always been big on training the customer based on the “why” instead of the “how to.” Why we set things up a certain way takes what the product now has the ability to teach you to do on your own, into understanding the affect this will have on your business.
— Marjorie Adams, CEO, Fourlane
For nearly a hundred years, since the formation of the IRS, accountants have been generally regarded as compliance-focused, check-the-box necessary evils. Technology is, and will continue, to unlock time that we will be able to leverage to become connected advisors.
— Amanda Aguillard, Co-founder, Elefant
We will be operating even more in the cloud, making the audit of “virtual assets” even more of an issue.
— John Ams, Executive vice president, NSA
The accountant of the future will focus on quality, innovation, talent and relevance.
1. Quality isn’t just a form or a checklist. Quality is a culture built into the fabric of the firm. From understanding the client’s business to their industry, the professional standards and how audits should be performed, quality is comprehensive and continuous.
2. Innovation is paramount to the continued success of auditors and their firms. The auditor of the future uses data and data analytics. These are the most powerful engines auditors can use to provide insights for management to generate foresight. The auditor of the future will step up today and question the profession's practices to drive change, to be innovative, and to remain relevant.
Accounting professionals continue to be in high demand. More students than ever before are majoring in accounting, but the gap between those graduating with accounting degrees and those obtaining a CPA license is widening. This represents a threat to the profession in general, but it is even more of a threat to audit services. Audit services themselves, as well as the platforms used to provide those services, are becoming ever more complex. This not only requires top-notch audit talent, it requires progressive firms to hire professionals outside the accounting profession: data scientists, human resource professionals, engineers and information technologists.
This audit of the future encourages auditors — including young accountants — to utilize their talent, skills, knowledge, education, experience and training. Repetitive tasks are minimized, and accounting, audit training and experience are essential. The audit becomes stimulating and the auditor becomes more valuable to his or her client, thereby encouraging talent to pursue and to remain in the audit profession.
4. All audits have a fundamental purpose because they are required for the audited entity to maintain financing or to meet regulatory requirements. But purpose does not automatically equate to relevance. Multiple definitions of “relevance” exist and center around the concept of something being meaningful. Therefore, audit relevance should be understood as making the audit more meaningful to the individual client.
The future auditor will address the unique environment of the client, including the goals of the audit committee (or equivalent), management decision-making style and strategy and the company’s relationship to their industry, [or] the audit is not relevant.
— Alan Anderson, President, Accountability Plus
While the biggest change will come from technology, accountants should not forget to examine changes in society, culture, client needs, client service, governance, etc.
As technology replaces much of the compliance work of data entry, analysis and the collation of information, the accountant in 2027 will have to be able to leverage technology and develop a platform to extend her value proposition both internally and externally. More accountants will have to develop compelling brands and service delivery models that clients trust. This will be a challenge!
Technology will force the accountant to do the most complex work, rather than the mundane. In 2027 the accountant will have to coordinate various internal or external specialties. By then, AI will do the work that team members do today. To survive in 2027 the accountant will have to learn how to do high-level work that that solidifies the relationship with the clients.
— August Aquila, President and CEO, Aquila Global Advisors
I always say now is the best time ever to start a CPA firm, so you could say I’m bullish on the future of the profession. Opportunities have never been greater for practitioners who embrace technology, shed outmoded work processes and incorporate new billing and operating structures. Firms in the next decade will be devoting more time to high-value advisory work, will use technology to deliver better insights to clients and operate more virtually, and will be involved in a whole host of new fields that require assurance and trusted guidance for businesses.
— Erik Asgeirsson, CEO, CPA.com
The shift from compliance to advisory services will mean that the firms who are embracing the technology that is automating those compliance-type tasks will succeed, in that they have time to focus on the advisory work.
I see this every day in my role working with firms of all sizes — from top 10 national firms to 15-person bookkeeping shops. Quite simply, firms that are willing to invest in apps, processes, and personnel who embrace this change will thrive. Firms who don’t, won’t.
As we continue on with innovations like artificial intelligence, machine learning, Blockchain, and other emerging technologies, it’s truly going to be a “get onboard or fall behind” scenario for firms, and it’s going to happen fast.
— Kim Austin, Business development manager, Intuit
We are at a hinge point in our economy, at the beginning of a transition from the knowledge economy to the relationship (or transformation) economy. Since knowledge can now be embedded in artificial intelligence, such as IBM’s Watson, and deep learning technology, CPAs will move towards guiding transformations for their customers.
We’ve lost sight of the definition of a professional: “Someone who is responsible for achieving a result rather than performing a task.” Ever since the billable hour and timesheet regime entered this profession, we’ve been more focused on six-minute tasks — much like day laborers — rather than transforming our customers from where they are to where they want to be.
Technology will obviously play an increasing and instrumental role in the life of the CPA, and because of that the relationship will be the focus on the future professional. We have to make investments in those relationships, since you can’t build or strengthen relationships while staring at clocks (billable hours). We have to realize that efficiency cannot be the overarching goal when it comes to people. Sure, we can be efficient with things — and technology and the natural human learning curve will take care of efficiency gains — but when it comes to people, we need to be effective. Who describes their marriage as efficient?
Day-to-day roles will change as well. More emphasis will be placed on para-professionals, R&D, designers, data scientists, system engineers, and people who can show compassion. Technology will eliminate jobs, but that’s natural in any dynamic economy. I remain optimistic about the role of technology, since it will free us up to do more valuable work. Nobody mourns the loss of bowling pin re-setter jobs, and all professions have too many surgeons piercing ears.
Beyond that, it’s very difficult to make predictions, especially about the future, since creativity and innovation should always take us by surprise; otherwise government could plan it and socialism would work.
— Ron Baker, Founder, VeraSage Institute
Much of the activity we currently perform will be automated in the future. Some studies claim that only half the skills employees use today will be needed in 2020, let alone 10 years from today, and the percent is even higher for the accounting profession. It sounds threatening, but at the same time, it’s an opportunity to focus on more value add for our clients and not on routine, low-value commodity services work.
If we start with client expectations, remember that they already have very powerful tools today, and 10 years from now those tools will be much more advanced. With these tools at their fingertips, they will be able to perform many things we do for them today on their own. They will expect professionals who serve them to be expert in the digital world and new technology, and to provide them more guidance in driving business growth beyond what they can do on their own. Clients will need professionals who can provide them with up-to-the-minute information and data analytics on what impacts their businesses and insight from us on what the data really means. They will expect a forward look from us to drive them in the right direction to enhance their position and accelerate their growth. What they will want is our insight.
The convergence of machine learning/AI and Blockchain will impact the profession in that our work will effectively be “assisted” by machines in the near future. For example, we’ll be far more efficient as we’ll be assisted through the processing of tax returns, as raw data will be analyzed and we’ll be guided through the process. Tax systems will simply be smarter, not only in guiding us through the calculations and highlighting areas we might need to review, but will also provide advice and guidance for the client. Accountants will not be required to do detailed research work as that will be done through artificial intelligence. True business analytics will come into play, given the amount of data we’ll be able to collect and the machine assistance we’ll have to put real meaning around the data, and that will assist us in providing guidance for our business clients.
There will be massive changes in how we perform audits. “Sampling” will fall by the wayside as data can be ingested and catalogued in total, with the computing power we have today. The concept of the continuous, real-time audit will come into play, and we’ll be assisted in our judgments — although the human element won’t entirely disappear. Fraud detection will be easier, and far faster. Blockchain will move the auditors’ role away from having to check transaction data, and it will be used to test audit assertions as well.
If we embrace the technology available today (and that technology which we can see just over the horizon), we’ll be performing at an even more rewarding level. We’ll be driving business growth, rather than measuring it after the fact.
It’s very exciting to be a part of the accounting profession today, especially in view of what the future holds. We just have to embrace change management and make it part of our culture.
— Jon Baron, Managing director, Professional Segment, Thomson Reuters Tax & Accounting
For centuries accountants have looked to the past to understand the present; for the first time, though, through a means that has never before existed, accountants will have access to real-time data to shape the future. We know the accountant of 2027 will use the tools at her disposal to provide real-time insight and information: she’s a technologically savvy business advisor with the communications and data analysis skills to collaboratively and strategically guide clients with a global perspective, good instinct and unique insight. That’s what will change. What won’t change is an accountant’s commitment to quality, independence and integrity. We often talk about how automation could mean the death of the audit; however, I foresee it going in the other direction. The PCAOB’s expansion of the auditor’s report in order to provide investors more valuable information is one indicator of where audit is headed. That trend will only continue once integrated reporting becomes the norm. This profession is just getting started.
— Joanne Barry, Executive director and CEO, NYSSCPA
The accountant of the future will be 10 times more productive and valuable to the business. She’ll have more powerful tools at her disposal to mine and analyze data, manage projects, communicate with clients, and add value.
— Bob Berchtold, Podcast host, “The Abacus Show”
The accountant of the future will be sitting at a control center and monitoring his or her clients accounting, tax, and portfolios of information in real time on a dashboard. The compliance work will all be automated. Client questions will be answered first by artificial intelligence (think Watson-like). The future accountant will truly be a trusted advisor. The accountant will design the dashboard to his or her specifications and “alerts” will be generated if something needs to be addressed. Otherwise, AI will do the mundane work. The world is changing and digital information will flow automatically from point to point. Workflow will not be an issue as it a self-contained process. Accountants will be looked upon as knowledge providers in the ways that they will give advice. Consumers of information will need to meet with their trusted advisor to plan the actions to take to become more profitable, liquid and solvent. The machines will aggregate, compile and organize data, and automatically prepare the financial statements and tax returns based on the processes that are programed into computer.
Blockchain technology will almost eliminate the need for an audit or make an audit almost instantaneous. If we look at the definition of accounting today, “It is a systematic process of identifying, recording, measuring, classifying, verifying, summarizing, interpreting and communicating financial information. It reveals profit or loss for a given period, and the value and nature of a firm's assets, liabilities and owners' equity.” All of this will be done electronically from start to finish automatically within the next 10 years. This is why I say that the accountant of the future will be one who helps clients understand what the financial statement means and what steps to take to become more profitable, liquid, and solvent. Therefore, the future accountant will be an “advisor” or more likely a “trusted advisor” who installs the systems and processes, that the business utilizes to capture data that rolls into financial statements that are created via machine learning and AI for adjustments, accruals, rather than by the accountant as it is done today.
— David Bergstein, Evangelist, Accountant Segment, Intuit
As audits become increasingly automated, there will be less emphasis on ticking and tying and vouching, and greater emphasis on understanding the overall picture painted by the data, better understanding inputs and assumptions, and identifying and evaluating trends, patterns, and outliers. In other words, technology will reduce some of the more routine aspects of an audit, and allow the auditors to spend more time and energy and focus on the more critical judgments and processes.
This will require substantially more business and analytical skills and may also result in a demand for more specialists to be involved in audits. There are certain skills that are necessary to appropriately assess what data to target and interrogate, what types of information within data sets are important, and what represents an outlier versus an exception. This is the ultimate marriage of knowing the client business and embracing the emerging technology.
— Wayne Berson, CEO, BDO USA
As a result of unforeseen advances in technology, a phone today is not just a phone, it’s a “smartphone” that’s a lot more than a just a phone. it’s also a camera, video recorder, voice recorder, appointment calendar, map and so much more.
Drawing a parallel, I’m pretty sure that by capitalizing on tremendous technological advances, accountants 10 years from now will not be just accountants, they will be “smarter accountants.” Moreover, they will also know how to complement their natural intelligence with artificial intelligence to minimize their work while maximizing its impact on their practice and clients’ businesses. That’s how they will be offering a lot more services than the accountants of today!
— Chandra Bhansali, CEO, AccountantsWorld
With these trends and new technologies, the accounting profession is going to transform. Artificial intelligence, robotics, and Blockchain are on the verge of automating many traditional core accounting tasks. Therefore, accountants 10 years from now will do more and do better with much less effort and time.
There will be a major paradigm shift. Software solutions created for small businesses diminished the relevance of accountants. Forward-thinking accountants will easily capitalize on significant advances in accounting technology to offer a full suite of profitable services tailored to each business client’s needs. The domain of services offered by accountants will expand considerably in the future.
— Sharada Bhansali, President and Co-founder, AccountantsWorld
In 10 years, I believe we will see a more segmented profession wherein there will be traditional accountants providing core products and services that range from tax engagements and accounting services to attest services, and an increasing number of technologist accountants, who will likely have had a very different education and experience background. Additionally, I expect there will be a trend toward specialization in areas that may not be considered as traditional accounting, today, as CPAs and CPA firms are increasingly providing reliance for areas such as sustainability, technological security and electronic transactions.
— Ken Bishop, President and CEO, NASBA
Accountants 10 years from now will look more like business owners instead of accountants. The firms in the future could be run by technologists, strategists, and strong sales people. Firms will fully be operating in the cloud, will be selling more monthly packages, and will be focused more on consultative services than accounting only.
— Jason Blumer, Founder and CEO, Thriveal Network
We won’t recognize the “accountant” of 10 years from now. Demands on increasing skills in the areas of data analytics and critical thinking will drive the evolution of the profession. The accounting professional of the future will be a key player in terms of strategy (both inside companies and advising clients), business redesign to reflect the economic drivers and business process design and re-design. Because of continuing developments in technology, the historical compliance role played by many in the profession will be largely automated.
— Gary Bolinger, President and CEO, Indiana CPA Society
In order to remain relevant and future-ready, accountants must focus on the future and predictive analytics rather than the past. Technology will automate the aggregation of data and and many of the tasks accountants now perform. Continuous learning, collaboration and a team approach will be a necessity.
— Gary Boomer, Visionary and strategist, Boomer Consulting Inc.
Accountants today focus primarily on compliance and transactional (hindsight) services. In the future, we must evolve to provide advisory and business transformation services (insight and foresight) that help our clients develop the right strategies to be successful and future ready. Our value should come from interpreting data rather than gathering, entering and organizing it.
— Jim Boomer, CEO and shareholder, Boomer Consulting Inc.
The typical accountant of today offers attest and tax services. The accountant of 10 years from now will have taken that “trusted advisor” concept to the next level. Accounting firms will transform into advisory services firms that will also offer attest and tax services. Attest and tax offerings will continue to become more commoditized as they become more automated. Those firms that are able to make the shift early will be well positioned 10 years from now.
Jim Bourke, Partner, WithumSmith+Brown
The accountant 10 years from now will be more of an advocate and will be more comfortable with discomfort. They will be even more known for critical thinking, analysis and scenario planning. They will hold their ground in being considered a trusted advisor, but they will also need to be more vocal about what their analysis means and why it’s important. They have no choice but to be continuous learners and how they do this will be acknowledged in new ways that may not mean time in a classroom, but will be focused on what they know and how they deliver value.
— Jennifer Briggs, CEO-designate, Indiana CPA Society
I am confident that those who have not adopted automated technology, allowed for remote workforce, [don’t] have the understanding that the hours your team put in isn’t a direct reflection of their worth, and [don’t] move to a more consultive level of work will be literally out of business. Hopefully, those who refuse to adopt this technology and move into a niche have a plan. Otherwise, they will be among the many Walmart greeters across the world (not saying that is bad!).
— Dawn Brolin, CEO, Powerful Accounting
The accountant of the future will exemplify many of the traits commonly associated with the Millennial generation. Most importantly, accountants will embrace technology and use it freely to interact with and serve clients. Many accountants will use emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence.
Accounts will have access to more information, helping them to provide more value to clients. Tax accountants will spend less time inputting tax form data, such as income information, which can come directly from the IRS. AI capabilities will also capture information for many other items on tax returns. The tax preparation process will become increasingly virtual as clients securely review their returns online, sign off on the return and send it to the IRS electronically.
As the IRS continues to move toward better technology to serve taxpayers and tax professionals, clients will have full visibility to their status and information at the IRS through a comprehensive online tax account. This will allow tax professionals to view clients’ information and obtain authorized access to intercede on behalf of the client to handle any tax issues that arise.
Because of increasingly sophisticated technology, tax accountants, especially those serving primarily personal clients, will continue to shift to an advisory role on tax return preparation and will need to take on additional and specialized roles. Traditional tax specialists, such as Enrolled Agents, will need to earn accepted specialty designations in the areas of technology, limited attestation, human resources, financial planning, and others to add value to their services.
The bottom line: Technology will challenge accountants to provide more value-added services to their clients and will provide many new opportunities for growth and efficiency. As such, the client/accountant relationship will evolve, creating new ways of doing business, such as value-driven billing techniques and specialized advisory services.
— Jim Buttonow, Director of tax audit & notice services, H&R Block
The accountant of 10 years from now will be much more technologically sophisticated than the accountant of today.
—Paul Caron, Publisher and editor-in-chief, TaxProf Blog
More than half of CPA firms currently use cloud services of some kind, and by the end of the decade I expect it will be virtually all. CPAs will operate remotely to a much greater extent, using technology to stay connected to clients and colleagues, and we’ll see that general practices will be much less common as specialization allows firms to differentiate themselves in the advisory landscape. It’s an open question how many firms will continue to operate on the partner model, but there’s no doubt to me that hourly billing will continue to recede in favor of value pricing for services.
—Michael Cerami, Vice president of business development and corporate strategy, CPA.com
An accountant in the “old days” – which, when it comes to technology, is just 10 years ago – was accustomed to off-the-shelf software offering very structured, very defined data. Today, the amount of data and the richness of that data has exploded. Some might say there’s so much data we don’t know what to do with it. And for today’s accountants, that is a complex task: understanding what the data is, where it comes from, what it means, and how it can be used. It is this understanding component that is critical when navigating accountancy’s future landscape. Artificial intelligence, or machine learning, is further complicating the accountant’s engagement with the exploding amount of data and understanding how it is being used in an organization. Truly, accountants 10 years from now will have to be even more technically adept. We’re in an era when the advance of technology will continue to expand exponentially. Future accountants will be required to manage in an ever-widening sea of data, and will need to embrace technology when it comes to how they do their jobs and the tools and techniques they use.
— Richard Chambers, President and CEO, Institute of Internal Auditors
He or she will probably be able to write code at least semi-fluently, and will probably be able to use that skill to customize computer-aided assistance to augment his or her workload more skillfully.
— Jack Ciesielski, Publisher, The Analyst’s Accounting Observer
The accountant of 10 years will be dramatically different than the accountant of today. A lot of the transactional services that accountants provide today will be entirely eliminated. Services such as writeup, basic tax return prep, annual audits etc., are all at risk to be replaced by automation. As a result, the role of the CPA in the future will be far more strategic, insightful, and focused on client value.
— David Cieslak, Principal, Arxis Technology
Future accountants will no longer be technical, but relational. They will need to understand a client’s business and industry and provide counsel to help them with their issues and opportunities. It will be important to become a part of the client’s team. The value will be in being proactive with their clients to help them grow and adapt.
— Lauren Clemmer, Executive director, AAM
There will be much fewer accountants as automation, AI and Blockchain solutions will power much of the work that is done manually today. Many who make a living on reconciling transactions will have to transition to roles that include more advisory as automation eliminates the need for the “grunt work.” Brick-and-mortar tax preparation firms will be much fewer and become more of meeting places for advisory or drop off. Much like the Happy Tax model, the separation of roles from sales, marketing and biz dev and the actual accounting/tax prep will become more enhanced.
— Mario Costanz, CEO, Happy Tax
Consulting requires synthesizing input into a point of view and applying it to a client’s conditions for future improvement. It requires excellent communication skills incorporating many modalities — advice and counsel, coaching, facilitating, speaking, teaching, writing — serving knowledge up in ways that will resonate depending upon the circumstance. Consulting also requires persuasion and influence skills. The above skills are not resident in most of our auditors, tax professionals or client accounting service teams. They are acquired willy-nilly on the job, with very little formal training. But in future it’s going to be a major component of the job, and therefore needs to be part of the core training curriculum.
— Gale Crosley, President, Crosley+Co.
The accountant will have a broader scope of skills and will be required to advise on matters beyond the current scope of attesting on historical data and reporting on past transactions. I also believe that broader scope will create the need for future accountants to make a risk tolerance adjustment. Despite potential liability under current standards and regulation, the marketplace will be more open and encourage broader advisory services and be less tolerant of a practice consumed by risk aversion.
— Loretta Doon, CEO, California Society of CPAs
While artificial intelligence will unleash new levels of productivity, the role of accountants will change in the new cognitive era. In this new workforce paradigm, the way we work will be transformed. As the workforce of the future becomes a reality, business leaders need to develop a technology strategy that aligns with corporate values, builds stakeholder trust, and protects the company’s reputation.
— Lynne Doughtie, Chairman & CEO, KPMG US
There has been much attention and comment lately about the expansive tools offered by technology, and their capacity to supplant auditing’s traditional techniques. One important difference for accountants in 2027 will be the broader education that will be needed to prepare the “complete auditor” for the challenges they will face.
— James Doty, Chairman, PCAOB
In 10 years, accountants will run entirely paperless practices that leverage scan-and-fill technologies to eliminate basic data entry. That also means exchanging documents with clients will require the use of secure file-transfer portals — standard e-mail platforms have already proven to be insufficient when it comes to keeping private information out of the hands of would-be criminals.
— Phil Drake, Founder and CEO, Drake Software
Artificial intelligence will remove more manual processes for accountants and help them become more like business consultants. While many fear this type of technology will replace jobs, AI will be complimentary to accountants and help them perform better. By automating processes, this will give accountants more time to think about growth strategies and the trajectory of their clients’ business rather than the tactical tasks. Essentially, we will see a shift in accountants focusing on the bigger picture for their clients’ business to create growth and jobs, especially in the vast small-business economy.
— Rod Drury, Founder and CEO, Xero
I think the profession is going to look very different in 10 years than it does now. Current research suggests that the profession is already evolving based on disruptive technologies that automate entry-level accounting and finance functions with technologies that allow for processes to be automated. Accountants who are already in the profession and those preparing to enter the profession will both need to retool to increase their knowledge. One way to do this is through the CGMA Competency Framework, which helps outline the skills an employee needs to thrive in a number of roles within an organization.
Further, accountants with high-order critical thinking and analysis skills will continue to be needed; however, how, when, and where they do their jobs will be different — in far shorter a timeframe than a 10-year horizon. Emerging technologies have the impact to alter the role of both public and management accountants. In fact, this shift has already begun as many CPAs and firms are extending and expanding their products and services to position themselves for the future.
— Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, Chair, AICPA
It’s interesting to think about what will be the same and what will be different. Some things will be the same: our core mission of independence, objectivity, skepticism, being a force for good in the capital markets, providing management and investors with confidence and trust in the underlying financials of the enterprise — I am confident those will be the same. The big difference will be in the “how.”
When I started out in professional services in the 1980s, there were two tools of the trade — a pencil and a simple calculator. That’s it! No fax machine, e-mail, laptops, smartphones, or tablets. And now we can’t imagine life without these things.
The accountant 10 years from now will be doing a lot less manually intensive work. Things that are routine will likely become automated, and the premium will be on the professional judgement and expertise of an auditor or finance professional. I know that there is a lot of fear of automation, and some kinds of jobs may diminish, but I also see new jobs being created, and the role of the human being augmented. Imagine an environment where corporate [Internet of Things] devices connected to audit apps communicate how much depreciation they should have, or Blockchain technology being an immersive tech versus a speculative one to improve data structure. Or even drones! Yes, drones leveraging imaging technology to see through storage tanks or silos to enhance the audit are all part of how our industry will likely change over the next decade to deliver the audit of the future.
There is no doubt that we will have to learn how to do what we do today while working closely with technology — and learn how to be a “cobot,” given the rise of robotics.
— Cathy Engelbert, CEO, Deloitte
Two differences will become apparent:
- Accountants 10 years from now will be opining on real-time and projected data, versus historical data.
- Accountants 10 years from now will be more effective business advisors to clients.
— Domenick Esposito, CEO, Esposito CEO2CEO
They will be tech-savvy, likely working remotely most of the time, and offering services that more closely resemble business consulting than the traditional mix of audit, tax and advisory services. In 10 years, the work done by today’s one- to three-year staff accountants working in public accounting will be done by computers. As a result, firm services will shift from doing that compliance work to advising clients based on insight gleaned from it.
— Jina Etienne, President and CEO, NABA
The accountant of tomorrow will need to be technology-savvy, flexible, innovative and have a leadership style that crosses generations and embraces growth and thought-leadership. No longer will an accountant come into the office and spend eight hours working towards his/her billable hours goal. The accountant of tomorrow will need to develop skillsets in other business-focused areas to be better equipped to participate in the success of their careers and/or the firms they work for.
— Kim Fantaci, President, CPAFMA
Technology will have a dramatic impact on accountants in the coming years:
- Accountants will be more mobile because of the advances in technology that enable them to access data from the cloud and work remotely.
- Accountants will most likely use artificial intelligence to conduct research and identify financial issues and trends. With the rise of Siri, Alexa and Google Home, there’s a strong likelihood that accounting professionals will become accustomed to talking to their devices and research services.
- By embracing the application of advanced technologies, accountants will be empowered with data and analytical skills while still maintaining a firm foundation in accounting, auditing, tax, and financial reporting.
- Research services are likely to be more interactive. Answers to complex questions will be quickly accessed on platforms in which users will input the relevant details of a given transaction and receive authoritative guidance.
— George Farrah, Editorial Director, Tax and Accounting, Bloomberg BNA
The accountant of 10 years from now will be seen as more of a business consultant and technologist for small and midsized businesses. Real-time access to clients’ data and business intelligence breakthroughs will provide accountants with many new tools and opportunities to offer new services to their clients.
— John Farrer, Founder and CEO, Right Networks
Future accountants will be required to have a host of technical skills that most accountants do not possess today. The core requirements of independence, objectivity, and professional skepticism that are the hallmarks of a good accountant will not ever change, however.
— Lewis Ferguson, Board member, PCAOB
It’s incumbent upon the profession to make sure that all CPAs understand that the role that technology is playing to reshape business and the work environment as a whole. Our hard-earned role as trusted advisors will not change, but CPAs are going to need to rely more heavily upon strategic and analytical skills than they have in the past. The ability to understand and adapt to increasing change will be essential. As a whole, the profession needs to make sure that we’re working with educators at all levels to cultivate these skills in the next generation of CPAs.
Positioning accounting among students as a profession poised to thrive in the future is essential to meet this challenge. We have always been a forward-looking profession that is unafraid to take bold steps when necessary to prepare for the future. And the bold step of re-imagining the skills we’re going to need in the future will be required to retain our central role in the economy. Taking these steps and embracing change will ensure that we have a strong pipeline of diverse talent to add value for our clients, businesses and allow us to continue to protect the public interest well into the future.
— Joanne Fiore, Vice president of professional media, academic and student engagement, AICPA
Ten years from now, accountants and auditors will benefit from having a greatly expanded toolkit at their disposal. Data analytics, artificial intelligence, and other tools will help the profession to enhance its understanding of businesses, its ability to identify risks, and its delivery of confidence and trust.
Blockchain is an example of technology impacting the profession. It has the potential to transform the audit, as well as financial reporting at large. By streamlining processes and eliminating duplicative work, it can help create a more efficient and more secure way of conducting an audit while potentially providing better-quality data and allowing the accountant and auditor to focus on those areas that are of greatest risk to the business and the capital markets.
— Cindy Fornelli, Executive director, CAQ
Ten years from now, a successful accountant will have the skills to visualize technology’s use within a business while at the same time deploying their own technology to evaluate a customer’s processes. The accountant will see the threats for manipulation or error and then be able to articulate solutions and controls to mitigate those threats.
— Brian Fox, Founder and president, Confirmation.com
The technology, tools and approaches that accountants will use 10 years from now will be drastically different from today. In fact, the title of “accountant” might become misleading or obsolete. Accountants of 10 years from now will need to be working in a much more interdisciplinary fashion, able to collaborate with broader types of specialists and professionals from other disciplines on their teams, many of which will be intercultural or global in nature. Successful accountants will be those who can adapt to change and continually improve their skillsets while maintaining their focus on the core values of integrity, public interest, and investor protection.
— Jeanette Franzel, Board member, PCAOB
That is the big question. Automation and artificial intelligence will put increasing downward fee pressure on routine compliance services. Clients will embrace it. Geographic and regulatory restrictions will become less important and drive a proliferation of new, non-CPA competitors. The bottom line will be a push to specialize and offer value-added, strategic services.
— Lee Frederiksen, Managing partner, Hinge Strategy
Successful accountants will focus on building strong human relationships with their clients, help them truly grow their business, embrace the cloud and technology to help their clients work most effectively, and all [use] value-based pricing.
The accountant 10 years from know will need to focus on data interpretation, advisory services, and teaching their clients how to read predictive key performance indicators to help them stay ahead of the game.
— Hector Garcia, CEO, QuickBookkeeping & Accounting
Technology continues to shape our society and profession. As accountants and auditors get a better grasp of data analytics, their ability to help shape the future of their organizations and their clients organizations will increase. The use of predictive analytics will enable accountants and auditors to proactively identify trends, risks and opportunities and quickly translate the information into business opportunities. However, the use of technology has its risks. Hackers can get access to private data, thus increasing the risk for identity theft, unauthorized release of proprietary data, and data corruption. As such, the accountant of the future must possess IT and advanced data analytic skills to ensure that adequate controls are built into our IT systems, as well as those of our clients, to ensure the integrity of the information we are entrusted with.
— J. Russell George, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration
As we continue to unlock the power of machine learning and automation, accountants and bookkeepers will need to pivot their service offerings and scale to focus on other aspects of their work, such as increasing the business advisory aspects of their job, in order to stay relevant.
We’re already seeing more accountants use these skills to position themselves as a trusted advisor for their clients’ businesses. Additionally, many accountants are becoming not just financial advisors, but technology advisors — helping their small-businesses clients harness the overall ecosystem of small-business technologies to increase efficiencies and expand on business functions. This vital human element of accounting is something that robots will never be able to replicate or replace but one that accountants will need to adapt to in order to survive.
— Keri Gohman, President, Xero Americas
Advances in financial reporting technology will dramatically change the profession. The accountants of 2027 will need to be able to adapt to a faster pace while continuing to exercise sound judgment in an ethical manner.
— Russell Golden, Chairman, FASB
The accountant of 10 years from now will require a different skillset. The current training available to accounting students trains them to be compliance-oriented. Although that knowledge is a good foundation, the accountants who will succeed in the future will be those who can use what technology can provide to free them up to be creatively consulting with their clients.
— Louis Grassi, CEO and managing partner, Grassi & Co.
I believe that professionals in the industry in 10 years will possess different types and levels of education than accountants do today. While there will be typical accountants with CPA designations in firms, there will also be MBAs, JDs, futurists, and other professionals with specialized industry expertise across a variety of industries in firms. I think we will see more free agents and more of a variety of work arrangements. Virtual workforces will continue to rise in number. I believe the typical CPA firm will change and with this the staffing model will continue to adapt as well so that we can best serve clients.
— Angie Grissom, President, The Rainmaker Companies
We can’t even begin to imagine the technologies that will exist 10 years from now and how they will change the role of accountants. What we do know for certain is that innovation will continue to occur at a rapid pace and technology will become increasingly important for the profession. Accountants who continually adapt new technologies today will be better positioned for the future.
It’s safe to say that 10 years from now the majority of the collection and reporting process will be automated. This means accountants will be focusing even more on generating objective insight, influencing and leading the decision-making needed for sustainable success. They will need to have a deep understanding of the business and be able to communicate their insights with impact.
— Andrew Harding, Chief executive, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants
In 2014, we pioneered by coining and positioning the term "taxologist" in reference to the increasing intersect of tax and technology for tax and accounting professionals. Within the next 10 years, data will be transmitted electronically and near real-time to government authorities, which will lead to a strong need to understand underlying financial systems — possibly new blockchains (digital ledgers) that will be accessible by governments — as well as new government-mandated technologies which will be deployed in support of digital accounting and tax. As a result, the accounting profession will be forced to evolve into a hybrid technology and accounting role.
— Joe Harpaz, Senior vice president and managing director, corporate segment, Thomson Reuters Tax & Accounting
I think in 10 years we will be using technology in ways we can only imagine today. I believe those advances will continue the transition from compliance to knowledge and planning. I think we will continue to see more regulations placed on us and our work. I think how we do our work will get easier but we will have enhanced responsibility for our work. I also think we will communicate with our clients much differently than we do today.
In reality, who could have predicted 10 years ago where we are today? I am not sure any of us will think out of the box enough to accurately predict where we will be in 2027.
— Roger Harris, President and COO, Padgett Business Services
The accountant of the future will be more technologically savvy than the accountant of today and will likely be more knowledgeable about the use of big data, artificial intelligence, robotic systems, and complex algorithms. All these skillsets will nevertheless never replace the good judgment and professional skepticism needed of an auditor and accountant.
— Steven Harris, Board member, PCAOB
I believe future skills for successful accountants will include high emotional intelligence, collaboration skills, conflict resolution skills, data analytics and expertise in information systems and cyber security.
— Joey Havens, Executive partner, Horne
Advances in financial technology and the progression of an interconnected web of organizations such as banks, small businesses, and accounting firms will fundamentally change the perception and way accountants operate.
Accountants will truly transform into the role of the client’s most trusted advisor. They will be empowered to leverage financial technology to automate less impactful work, increase productivity with staff and focus on higher-margin activities of the business.
— Ryan Himmel, Financial partnerships lead, Xero Americas
In 10 years, the accounting profession will continue its path to being more and more technically savvy than it is today. The exploration of artificial intelligence and machine learning coupled with changes in leadership (as younger partners take the helm) will have a profound impact on how firms do business. As a result, we will see leadership proactively seeking more technology solutions across service lines, marketing, and HR, as well as throughout the back office operations of the firm.
Changes in the workforce will also impact the profession. Technology will impact how and where we work and communicate. Numerous firms are now operating without geographic boundaries, providing flexibility and quality of life for their team members.
I think the industry will continue to see a proliferation of mergers and acquisitions. There will continue to be a number of larger firms proactively seeking acquisition opportunities to expand their geographic footprint and deepen their knowledge leadership. At the same time, as Baby Boomers continue to retire, we will see mergers and acquisitions occur at the local and regional level particularly since many firms have done little, if anything, to develop a solid exit strategy. Local and regional firms are left with the option to sell the firm or close and years of hard work close with it.
— Christine Hollinden, Principal and founder, Hollinden
They will be a proactive, consultative trusted advisors providing insight with integrity to help clients and employers make sense of the changing and complex world. This means a shift to much more future-focused, data-driven, and anticipatory role and less rear-view-mirror thinking and services.
They will have these new skills:
- Critical thinking and problem-solving
- Anticipating and serving evolving needs
- Synthesizing intelligence to insight
- Integration and collaboration
- Technology savvy and data analytics
- Functional and domain expertise
— Tom Hood, CEO and executive director, MACPA
The one word I would use to describe the accountant of 2027 will be “consultative.” As the compliance work continues to become nearly all automated and sourced from different staffing models, the CPA of the future will need to be more like a quarterback on the football team. They are the leaders of the team (the client relationship). Their job is to distribute the ball to the playmakers (understand client needs and facilitate advice/guidance in multiple areas). They might not be the expert in every area of an organization’s needs, but they know how to uncover/identify the need and get the right person to the table. The CPA of the future will go beyond the numbers to better navigate the success of people and organizations. Not only is the CPA a person a leader can trust, but he or she is also a person that can get stuff done.
This presents both a challenge and an opportunity. We (leaders in the profession) must take the responsibility to understand that a mindset, skillset and toolset shift must occur inside our profession. Our new hires and future leaders can’t be developed the traditional way. We need to devote much more focus on developing our team members’ facilitation, networking, problem-solving, and client relationship skillsets and toolsets.
— Dustin Hostetler, Shareholder and chief innovation officer, Boomer Consulting
The accountant of the future will depend even more on the ability to make sound judgments and on having an analytical mindset, which encompasses intellectual curiosity, critical thinking and comfort with big data and advanced technology; along with a natural curiosity and professional scepticism.
The audit of the future will require greater expertise in risk analysis; quantitative skills to challenge predictive models; and understanding of risks beyond financial statement exposure, including regulatory, cybersecurity, industry-specific and sector-specialized issues.
From a hiring standpoint, our teams are growing more diverse in both expertise and background. We’ll always need people with traditional business and accounting skills. But we’re broadening our reach by tapping into those with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and data/analytical backgrounds, to meet the demand for new client services. This year, we will hire more professionals with science and math backgrounds than many of Silicon Valley’s most innovative global technology companies. And this will only continue. Diversity of skillset matters to us, as does diversity of experience and thought.
At EY, we are enhancing our own learning curriculum, as well as working in partnership with universities to help upskill auditors for future opportunities. We have made significant investment in a virtual academic resource center that, among other features, delivers real-world audit experience directly to the classroom. Access is available to a range of faculty from nonprofit institutions, and these resources are currently being used by thousands of our people globally.
While the accountant of the future will employ new and changing skillsets, the one thing that will remain unchanged is his or her deep commitment to integrity. Trust and integrity are at the core of our culture and values and will always be at the foundation of all that we do.
— Stephen Howe, Managing partner, EY
The “accountant” in 2027 will provide less accounting work (because technology is doing it for them) and will be more consultative and provide a wider breadth of services. He/she will spend more time client facing and use the information provided by technology to offer proactive solutions and provide various consulting services that add value to the client relationship. The time spent with the client will help the accountant better understand their client’s issues, concerns, future plans and opportunities … enabling the accountant to truly be a trusted advisor and add value to the client relationship. As firms and accountants adapt to the new profession, they will need to develop a different skillset and mindset to thrive.
— Charles Hylan, Partner, The Growth Partnership
They will be a consultants to their clients in areas beyond just tax or audit services. No longer will they be viewed for transitional work, but they will be focused on the bigger picture with clients. They will be forward-looking, not historically focused. They will begin to be trained differently in school and I believe the profession will attract a different type of professional that is less focused on just numbers and more about client interaction. Accounting will become an even sexier profession than it already is.
— Sarah Johnson Dobek, President and founder, Inovautus Consulting
Accountants will have to improve their ability to gain insight, observe when underlying data or fraudulent transactions have occurred, and question the facts more than any time in the past. While others may be making the connections to various systems for the accountant and interfaces should become easier, it will take more skills to build the appropriate information to remain competitive and communicate this to other team members or clients. The practicing accountant is likely to need more technology skills and better communications skills.
— Randy Johnston, Executive vice president and partner, K2 Enterprises; CEO, NMGI
Information technology will certainly be transformative for the accounting profession. Greater automation of the profession will leave less room for the current entry-level roles as smart software and other systems replace bookkeeping and accounting work. Accordingly, the accountant of 10 years will be functioning at a consistently higher level and will focus more of their time on higher-value-added activity.
In addition, I think the accountant of 10 years from now will be much more global in nature. Employers are increasingly valuing global mobility and international experience of their employees. And many of the larger accounting qualification bodies are expanding globally to offer various qualifications outside of their home markets.
— Warner Johnston, Interim head of North America, ACCA USA
The commoditization of individual tax preparation and basic tax planning services, together with the growth in consumers demanding individual tax and personal financial planning services, will cause a shift in the way accountants provide those services. Providers will increasingly move into an approach where these services are provided in an integrated way and where they focus on a single point of contact model — also coordinating needed services that the accountant may not provide directly — for their clients. There will be a shift in proficiencies for these accountants to coaching and life planning, with an emphasis on developing soft skills. There will also be a deep reliance on technology, with a greater use of automation and artificial intelligence.
— Edward Karl, Vice president of taxation, AICPA
I believe that technology taking over much of the “lower level” work for CPAs (tax, accounting and audit), will free up younger and beginner CPAs to do more meaningful and satisfying work. Experienced CPAs often believe that you have to have seven or eight years of experience to really be able to provide consulting services. Consulting firms hire beginners and get them up to speed quickly. The CPA profession will be more focused on that challenge. The tagline that so many firms use, “CPAs & Consultants,” will actually be a true statement in 10 years.
— Rita Keller, President, Keller Advisors
We will need to transition to a consultative, data analytic role as traditional tax return and accounting work will be increasingly automated and commoditized. The accountant of the next decade will evolve beyond relying mostly on their career-acquired tax and audit knowledge, to partnering with AI/cognitive applications to direct proactive real-time guidance to the business owners we work with.
— Roman Kepczyk, Director of consulting, Xcentric
It will be as different, if not more, than it was 10 years ago. The emergence of bots and AI will have a significant role. Accountants will still be around, but the tasks they perform will be very different.
My quote of the year is, “If your job is eliminated by a robot, it probably sucked anyway.”
— Ed Kless, Senior director, Sage
The accountant of 10 years from now will differ from today’s accountant in that they will be wired to be much more of an advisor and consultative solution provider than today’s accountant. Today’s accountant still remains imbedded in the preparation of the product or service, and technology will replace much of this going forward. My vision for the accountant 10 years from today is that they will be the client’s trusted business advisor and be capable of helping them with any of their business or financial problems, whatever they may be.
— Allan Koltin, CEO, Koltin Consulting Group
Skillsets are changing rapidly based on technology changes. Data analytic skills will be vital in the audit field. Audits will be more focused on cyber-assurance and quite possibly have greater focus on integrated reporting. For tax, those who remain will be more focused on corporate tax and wealth planning or wealth management.
— Mark Koziel, Executive vice president – public accounting, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants
The accountant of today will become extinct. The accountant of tomorrow will be less focused on what the numbers are, and rather on what they mean. The biggest gap in getting here is that those doing the training today of young accountants are still too focused on getting to the correct answer and not working to add meaning or value beyond the figure itself.
— Art Kuesel, President and owner, Kuesel Consulting
The accountant of 2027 will focus on strategy for their clients. They will have a far more collaborative relationship with their clients. Technology — such as mobile apps, the cloud, Blockchain and more — will offload time-consuming manual labor including data entry to create more room for big-picture involvement. Numbers will be far more accurate and virtually in real-time, thanks to the technology systems each firm sets up.
The client of the future won’t have time for paper-fueled workflows or reviews. Audits will take a fraction of the time, thanks to the automatic tracking of AR and AP. Payments for services will be value-based rather than hourly.
— Rene Lacerte, Founder and CEO, Bill.com
The accountant of tomorrow will be more strategic, less tactical; more analytical, less detailed; their business model will involve more packaging and fewer separate and distinct services, while their fees become value-based, rather than hours-based.
— Gregory LaFollette, Strategic advisor, CPA.com
The accountant will move from the role of historical researcher and task-driven profession to foresight advisor. What does that mean? Technology can do many of the things accountants used to do from a transactional standpoint. It can’t do everything right now, which is why we still have traditional audit and tax preparation, but with artificial intelligence moving in and the transformational technology applications, the need will continue to decrease. Accountants 10 years from now will need to focus on proactive advisory of their clients rather than be a reactive agent. Accountants need to be able to take data and proactively communicate with their clients about possible trends and opportunities their clients should take to increase revenues and their bottom line. The profession now is reactive; we will need to be more proactive. This will be done with more training and experience in big data analytics and accounting analytics. Transactional accounting will be done by computers. This does not mean the accountants will be out of a job. Accountants will work with the machine instead of against it.
— Patrick Lee, Assistant professor of accounting, Southwestern College
Accountants of the future will be even more analytical, using technology to interpret data and predict performance in order to guide financial decisions for companies.
— Kristen Lewis, Director of marketing, EisnerAmper
The accountant of tomorrow will be automated using machine learning/AI to make processes like audits/taxes more valuable and less prone to error.
— Taylor MacDonald, Senior vice president of channels, Intacct
The accounting profession’s true core purpose is to serve as a purveyor of trust. Yes, CPAs have traditionally approached this role through applying objectivity and integrity to financial transactions and outcomes. As computers and systems increasingly apply augmented intelligence to big data streams, the accountant’s added value will derive increasingly from judgement, communications, data analytical skills and the ability to truly go beyond the numbers. Perhaps the accountants of tomorrow will gradually come to be renamed in line with the critical function they play as trusted business advisors versus the current term “accountant,” which points to the origins versus the future shape of the profession.
— Janice Maiman, Executive vice president of communications, public relations and brand, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants
In 10 years, the accounting profession will look vastly different than it does today. Technology continues to change and newer applications are using artificial intelligence. The accounting profession must evolve with the changes in technology or we will find ourselves left behind. Accountants will be more fluent in technology and recognize the continued need to invest in it. We will find new and better ways to use AI in our offices while offering more in-depth analysis to better serve our clients. Recent technology changes have brought us cloud computing, hosted software, virtual servers, etc. Programs such as QuickBooks Online allow us to check on our clients while allowing them to maintain their records, or vice-versa. I am anxious to see what is next and excited to be part of this future.
— Stephen Mankowski, President, NCCPAP
In 10 years, accountants will be far more resourceful than accountants today. Technology and integration have reduced the need for data entry so accountants can now focus on client management, better planning and advanced consulting with clients. This type of environment will also require firms to work more in teams under streamlined services that allow a culture to develop. These organizations will thrive and although they may appear simple in nature they will have identified a service model that will continue to advance and grow well into the future. Even small firms will have identified a service model that will require specialization, well-organized teams, and dynamic leaders to be successful.
— Sean Manning, CEO and co-founder, Payroll Vault Franchising
In 10 years, practitioners will use artificial intelligence on a daily basis in a myriad of applications. Through the automation of data collection and access to complete data sets in real time, I think we will see a leveling out of workload through the year as opposed to peak seasons for audit, etc.
— Samantha Mansfield, Director of professional development and community, CPA.com
The accounting function remains mission-critical to business, which means it has a place at the top within the hierarchy of a business. But the status quo will no longer suffice as clients are looking to their accountants to offer higher-value services, such as advisory and consulting services, to help them remain competitive.
Emerging technologies will help enable this shift to higher-value services. At Wolters Kluwer, we have been moving from static content and manual data-entry processes to automated workflows that are leveraging data and predictive intelligence and analytics. We believe this is the wave of the future, as professionals are seeing the potential to harness technology to complement their traditional services to provide integrated solutions to their clients that provide more value.
Artificial intelligence, in particular, is not only poised to unleash the next wave of digital disruption, according to a June 2017 McKinsey report (“Artificial Intelligence: The Next Digital Frontier?”), but it has already made its way into the accounting profession. The McKinsey report also indicates that early AI adopters are from sectors already investing at scale in related technologies, such as cloud services and big data. What this means is that this trend is here to stay and accountants need to understand the benefits and how it can potentially work for them and grow their business.
— Jason Marx, CEO, Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting, North America
Due to tax simplification, tax preparers would likely be unnecessary for taxpayers with routine tax situations. I believe there will still be a need for tax assistance for individual taxpayers with complex tax situations and for small-business owners. Technology will probably result in a shift from tax return preparation to tax consulting.
— Chuck McCabe, Founder, president and CEO, The Income Tax School
The accountant in 2027 will very likely be benefitting significantly from advances in Blockchain technology, which promises an incorruptible global digital ledger of economic transactions, updated continuously by untold numbers of users, and completely transparent. Blockchain has the potential to reshape core accounting areas including audit and compliance, and more broadly, recordkeeping and the manner in which business is conducted in general.
With Blockchain, we may even see a shift from double-entry accounting, which has been our standard since the 1500s, to a triple-entry method where all accounting entries that involve outside parties are also sealed cryptographically by a third entry.
This is a lot to digest in 2017. But in 2027, business owners will work collaboratively with their accounting advisor, who, thanks to Blockchain, in conjunction with artificial intelligence, big data and other advancements, will focus primarily on strategic areas related to profitability and growth, taking the trusted advisor moniker to new levels.
— Scott McFarlane, Co-founder and CEO, Avalara
The accountant of the future is a consultative problem-solver — one who understands how to apply new technological capabilities and innovations to the most complex accounting and audit challenges, and produce consistently high-quality results.
— Mike McGuire, CEO, Grant Thornton
I think the future accountant in the United States will be as well-versed in IFRS as in GAAP, will be almost entirely paperless, and much more specialized in their area of expertise. We’ll probably see a lot more mergers and acquisitions as large firms eat up the small shops.
— Trisha Ann Melikian, @parva_x
To be honest, we’re going to see profound changes to the profession within five years, not 10. Automation and powerful data analytics are transforming business, and that is reshaping the kinds of services accountants will provide and how they will interact with employers and clients. Blockchain and other innovations will accelerate the evolution of the audit. We’ll continue to see a rise in advisory services and whole new categories of assurance — cybersecurity risk management, for example, is one area that will be important for the profession going forward. That’s going to require different skillsets for the profession, and different ways of acquiring and measuring competencies. What doesn’t change? Trust, integrity and the deep knowledge those in the profession have of the clients and businesses they serve.
— Barry Melancon, President and CEO, AICPA
The accountant’s role in 10 years will be less labor-intensive and data-driven and with fewer original reports being prepared. Because of this there will be reduced staff hours with much less scheduled and mandatory overtime. Overtime will not be eliminated but it will be project- and transactional-oriented. Training will still be in accounting functions but there will be additional emphasis on business, accounting and cyber-controls and system integrity and adequacy, interpretative thinking and development of useful analytics, and coming up with ways to exploit artificial intelligence, and robotic and blockchain functions. The CPA’s judgment, experience, intuitiveness and validation contributions will become the currency of the future accountant. Tax preparation and compliance will play a smaller role because of an expanded role of government-driven document collection and use, but planning and tax avoidance will become more significant as international business grows. Business performance scrutiny will be the fastest-growing segment of accounting practices but auditing and attestation, which CPAs will still have an exclusivity in, will remain the largest revenue producers and the most profitable since the ratio of staff to owners in this area will increase.
— Edward Mendlowitz, Partner, WithumSmith+Brown
I think technology is going to greatly change the role of the accountant over the next 10 years. Technologies like AI and robotic process automation will automate many of the mundane accounting tasks and the accountant of the future will be able to spend more time on true “value add” activities with their clients/companies.
— Stan Mork, President, ITA
To consider the accountant of the future, we have to start with what will have changed through and around us. Technologies such as artificial intelligence, conversational user interfaces, augmented reality and jester-based visualization combined with untethered access to rich data elements and insights will fundamentally change how we engage with one another. Add to this the customer of the future: an explosion of the gig economy worker and continued growth in the self-employed sector driven by tomorrow’s entrepreneur who has grown up entirely connected to technology. This has already enabled us to eliminate yesterday’s heads-down data entry and shift accountants to head’s up advisors. As the data and AI continue to mature, we are able to provide rich insights to accountants to help them see and predict exactly what their customers should do on a wide range of financial topics ... predicting cash flow, assessing the right expansion strategies, making the best credit and capital decisions. We are already delivering smart bots to help accountants and in the not-too-distant future, accountants will be able to do virtual scenario planning … wherever their clients may be. The gig economy will apply to accounting, as well, and firms will be able to both insource and outsource specialty services on demand. The best part about the future accountant is the impact they can have on the small business and gig economy worker … improving their confidence and success rates, which will contribute to a more robust economy on Main Street.
— CeCe Morken, Executive vice president and general manager, Intuit ProConnect Group, Intuit Inc.
She won’t be an accountant! Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration. She will have to understand technology better than, or as well as, debits and credits.
— Caleb Newquist, Founding editor, Going Concern
Greatly. While I'm not sure what they will be called, the Millennials of today will be the Xers of tomorrow. As we've seen the skills of the Boomers and X Gen change looking out 10 ten years, the practitioners will be far more virtual. Those still struggling with paperless will be way left behind. Practices at all levels will be performing highly sophisticated skills, and on an international level. I'm also predicting far more national and international travel, limited only by what can be accomplished with technology. The CPA of 2027 will be more of a consultant and less of a technician. We will be processing information faster than imaginable and our CPAs will require the ability to advise clients on strategic macro thinking. I believe there will be far more African-Americans in the profession, as well as more practitioners of Asian and Indian descent.
— Jay Nisberg, President, Jay Nisberg & Associates
To meet the challenge presented by man versus machine (artificial intelligence and machine learning encroaching on and potentially displacing large segments of the accounting profession) accountants will need to master higher-level analytical and strategic skills, and harness the skills of A.I. and ML. At the same time, accountants will need to excel now more than ever at understanding human nature — perhaps one of the more difficult things for machines to achieve — to continue to help individual clients, businesses, and the economy grow and thrive, and to continue to provide investors confidence in the markets and the companies in which they invest, through high-quality, reliable financial reporting.
— Edith Orenstein, Associate editor, MACPA
I don’t think a firm or a CPA will look anything like what traditional or “old-school” firms look like today. They will resemble Radical firms; however, I believe even that model will evolve. I think CPAs will still be analyzing financial data, however the how and the what we deliver will be completely different. We will still be needed to put context around the numbers. Our core will be composed of technology, including artificial intelligence and data as inputs, but the information delivered to our end user will not look anything like it does today. We don’t know what we don’t know yet. Our firms will have work/life balance, as technology will be doing the work that used to take our firms hours to complete. My concern is, can we evolve as fast as we need to?
— Jody Padar, CEO and principal, New Vision CPA Group
Historically, the technological innovation — and it’s impact of transforming accountants’ business processes — has emerged mainly from technology companies rather than from accounting firms. More and more “process knowledge” has transferred from accountants’ brains to technology. It has been resulting in steady evolution of accountants’ business models. Technology is now maturing at a much faster rate than ever before. But it also means the knowledge and experience gaps will no longer be competitive advantages — as technology will level the playing field even more.
Given this new realm of realities, accountants will need new competitive edges. And those will come from their new abilities to impact the lives of their clients. It means:
- The future accountant will be more like an independent director of clients’ financial lives — and businesses.
- The future accountant will discuss, debate and decide the strategic intents and outcomes for guiding and leading the future of businesses of their clients.
- The future accountant will have much stronger oratorical skills; and much deeper understanding of behavioral aspects of business decision-making.
- The future accountant will allocate minimal time and efforts to data creation and information analysis but maximum to application of insights from information onto the business situations of clients.
- The future accountant, armed with richer vision — created by more profound understanding and mastery of causal-effectual business life cycles — will increasingly influence governmental policy-making to create more conducive business environments in the country.
- The future accountant will be their clients’ first and preferred contact to tap for decision-making.
- The future accountant will have a part of the practice devoted to creating and owning technology startups within their firms — startups that turn their intellectual property into competitive advantage driving unique, specific solutions, i.e., the future accountant will create and own technology solutions that fit into overall technological landscape to decisively tilt the playing field to their advantage.
Not just transforming what they do and how, the future accountants will transform the “who” they are as persons. From traditional, technical experts, they will become transcendental, trailblazing catalysts for their clients. — Hitendra Patil, Director of practice development, AccountantsWorld
I think that much of the work accountants do today — such as tax preparation, audits and compliance — will become increasingly automated. Instead, I think our profession will move more into an advisory role. For instance, Blockchain may disrupt the need for an auditor, but the professional who used to do audits may become someone who can advise firms and clients how to design their own Blockchains — what elements to include in the audit process, etc. The need for human professionals won’t be replaced by technology, but the skillsets we employ 10 years from now will be drastically different than what we use today.
— Brian Peccarelli, President, The Tax & Accounting business of Thomson Reuters
Change happens so fast that 10 years from now will be vastly different than just five years from now. The accountant of the future will no longer be involved in transactional processing, especially as a service. Accountants of the future will be focused on data analytics that they will use in their ongoing interactions with clients as integrated trusted advisors. Being a data scientist will be one of an accountant’s core competencies.
— Carl Peterson, Vice president of small firm interests, AICPA
In 2027, the role of the accountant will differ in more ways than the profession has seen in the past couple of decades. There will be an expectation that accountants not only understand the four core concepts (AUD, BEC, FAR and REG) of accounting but also have a background in business intelligence or data analytics. As data, machine learning and artificial intelligence continues to force its way into the everyday life of an accountant, their role will change dramatically from being an overworked tactician to a highly skilled strategist. For instance, if an auditor no longer requires four-to-six weeks of time to review a years’ worth of finances — their role will be focused on how to efficiently analyze the outcome and provide their client with impactful recommendations. Failing to make this transition points to the level of value they’re adding to the profession.
In addition, and more specifically, “tax season” will be more a formality than a burden for accountants. The administration tasks of preparing and examining financial records year-round will be streamlined and accountants will take on more responsibilities outside of finances to ultimately advise their clients on how to grow their business. The role of the accountant will serve as a finance and business consultant with a highly skilled background in accounting, technology and management.
— Roger Philipp, CEO and owner, Roger CPA Review
The average accountant in 10 years will be a gig contractor who has the freedom to select their preferred projects and do their work from wherever they choose.
But I’ll say this: The gig economy is already present in Accounting. We get 30-40 national-firm CPAs every day who want to go out on their own as independent contractors. That future accountant is already here.
— Jeff Phillips, CEO, Accountingfly
Accountants will have different leadership skills than the accountants of today. The accountants 10 years from now will look more like futurists, strategists, technologists, data analysts, knowledge engineers, and strong communicators. Our role as accountants will continue to shift away from just compliance work and more toward decision-making for companies and customers based on the data we interpret. Ethics will play a role in our decision-making, and we need to conduct ourselves with the highest integrity to maintain our reputation as trustworthy advisors.
— Elizabeth Pittelkow, Director of accounting and compliance, ArrowStream Inc.
The accountant 10 years from now will essentially be unrecognizable from today. The ethics and integrity that are the hallmark of the profession today is the only constant in this sea of change. As robotics and artificial intelligence automate the rules-based functions we commonly associate with much of the audit, I believe we will move from a skills-based profession to a competency-based profession where technical skills will be assumed, but prized competencies will be holistic business understanding, critical thinking and problem-solving. At the individual level, accountants will be strategic, high-level advisers who orchestrate teams of lawyers, financial planners and investment experts. At the business level, accountants will drive business decisions and create value by delivering order and understanding to growing volumes of accessible data (both structured and unstructured).
— Amy Pitter, President and CEO, Massachusetts Society of CPAs
I suspect that the accountant of the future will in many ways be unrecognizable to the accountants of my generation. With further advances in technology and information availability, accountants will need to be more adaptable and innovative than ever before. Demand for accurate, real-time financial information will drive the need for more transparency, and audits likely will be ongoing.
— Terri Polley, President and CEO, FAF
Artificial intelligence and Blockchain have the potential to drastically change and reduce compliance-based services which have historically been provided by CPAs. A decade from now CPAs (those that change to survive) will be providing strategic, in-the-moment advisory services to clients. More CPAs will also possess MBAs, as the profession will evolve to more openly accept the critical thinking MBAs bring to the equation.
— Charles Postal, Managing partner, Santos, Postal & Co.
When I look forward 10 years, compliance will not be the focus of the accounting industry. It won’t go away, but it will no longer be the key service that business customers seek out from accountants — or that our professional peers want to provide.
Instead, accountants will focus on holistic solutions that can entirely transform a business. Compliance will be a natural byproduct of that well-rounded service, but one that is likely outsourced or offshored from the client-facing professional.
This will happen because the advisors of 10 years’ time will have come to understand that they are in a unique place to mentor small businesses in areas that will keenly impact their success. Clean data already allows us to interpret, analyze and hypothesize scenarios that help our clients make real business decisions – and the ways in which we can access and unpack that data will only get more powerful. As such, specialist services such as tax planning, succession, personal finances, business system integration and training will become key to an accountant’s success.To manage this opportunity, many advisors will develop niche services as the key to scaling and profitability. This gets back to the economy of scale: more produce with less cost of production.
Accountants of the future will also alter the way they communicate and offer their services online — using social platforms as a natural way of doing business. Facebook Messenger is the perfect example of a business going to its customers. I operated my business using this platform for years. And who knows what the next social platforms will be? Technology is always evolving.
While I believe that tax advice may be provided via machines — such as Amazon’s Alexa or IBM’s Watson — the physical advisor will stand as the concierge and absolute specialist. Freed by technology from the obligation of more administrative work, accountants of 10 years’ time will have the focus to deliver powerfully bespoke and data-driven services, while commanding the prices he or she deserves.
— Melanie Power, Head of bookkeeping, Xero
Many accountants won’t be sitting in an office or cubicle during most of their workday. Many will be part of a firm with staff and partners scattered without regard for the limits of geography.
Accountants will transition from performing compliance and routine recordkeeping tasks to facilitating their clients’ access to programs performing those tasks. The accountants’ role will be in interpreting data and providing advice.
The accountant 10 years from now has a high probability of being a member of the Millennial generation (which is already the largest segment of the workforce in the overall American economy). Millennials are already reshaping the relationship firms have with their people and young professionals have with their career paths.
— Terrence Putney, CEO, Transition Advisors
The accountant 10 years from now will rely on technology more than ever. Time is a crucial metric for accounting firms and using technology to automate processes and therefore reduce time will be the driving force behind profitability. Picture this: In 10 years there will be cloud-based software that links a client’s books to their CPA’s accounting software. Tax returns can be generated in real time and questionnaires sent to the client will automatically populate on a tax return. This frees up accountants to develop strategies for their clients to build their business and their wealth. Instead of being reactive to their client’s needs, accountants will be proactively generating business solutions.
— Jeremias Ramos, Editor-in-chief, The Daily CPA
The automation of certain aspects of our work will liberate time and energy to focus on what I call financial intelligence — the insights and foresights that inform better decision-making. Assignments will reward the curious and those who are able to draw patterns from both the numbers and the culture of an operation to present a picture that business owners can use to make strategic decisions. It will be very progressive and rewarding work.
— Ian Rhind, CEO, Wolters Kluwer Corporate Performance Solutions
The accountant of 10 years from now will believe that both financial accounting and sustainability accounting are necessary to create a complete depiction of corporate performance. Accountants will be trained in sustainability accounting, just as they are trained in financial accounting. It’s imperative for CPAs to be well-versed on sustainability accounting and disclosure as they continue to serve as valuable advisors and counsel to companies.
— Jean Rogers, Chair, SASB Standards Board
Accountants will continue to climb the technology learning curve. Over the next 10 years, the profession will witness a much more tech-savvy accountant who will serve clients in a much stronger advisor role. This new breed of professional will be one who uses big data and artificial intelligence to operate a successful business and get out from under the daily grind of transactional work.
— Darren Root, CEO, Rootworks
The following are from an April 2017 meeting of the New Horizon Group, a think-tank of 15 of the leading consultants to the CPA profession:
- Less office space — more people work remotely and the profession becomes less labor-intensive due to technology innovations.
- No more internal IT infrastructure at local firms.
- Staff will become contractors that firms hire for projects.
- Audit sampling will be a thing of the past as technology enables 100 percent review.
- Auditors will attest on data and systems, not financials. Cybersecurity appraisals will be the biggest audit projects of many CPA firms.
- Wealth management and 1040s will overlap; from the buyer’s perspective they will be indistinguishable.
- Machine learning (aka Amazon’s Alexia) will render the wealth management, insurance and tax research areas obsolete.
- Fewer equity partners in firms.
— Marc Rosenberg, President, The Rosenberg Associates
Most of the compliance work will be done online and likely with little to no input from CPAs. The real work will be in business planning, financial advice and personal wealth management, all forward looking and not rear-facing.
— Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk, President, bbr marketing
The accountant in 10 years will be a business strategist who will be paid for their brainpower and not their hourly rate. For those who value being the trusted advisor today, moving more to consulting and less to compliance services, the transition will be difficult but not impossible. They are already helping clients navigate complex business and financial situations. For those who are happy entering numbers in little blocks and excited if given the chance to add, subtract, multiple and divide them, they are doomed.
— Jane Scaccetti, Co-founder and CEO, Drucker & Scaccetti
A lot of people truly believe that the accounting profession as we know it has died, or will be the next industry that will go extinct. No doubt, the industry is transforming to meet new demands. Perhaps the most significant change will be in the make-up of our team, how we spend our time, and the type of people we recruit to best serve our clients. Many of the functions that today provide training and experience for those new in their careers, such as account reconciliation, sampling, and financial statement preparation, probably will go away in the future. Already today we see local universities branding majors in different ways: a shift away from primarily CPA focus to more data analytics focus. The new generations will be much more diversified and will bring new perspectives required to address rapid change. Across the board, we know that those firms that will remain relevant and continue to grow will cultivate innovators. The accountant of 10 years from now (really, I’d say three to five years from now) will not be content. The accountant of the future will always look to see how we can do things differently, s/he will take appropriate risks, and, most significant, s/he will be laser-focused on building deep relationships with those they serve.
— Denny Schleper, CEO, CliftonLarsonAllen
Technology already has changed, and will continue to change, everything in the accounting industry. The biggest change will be that advances in accounting software will make CPAs’ core competencies a given — nearly any accountant will be able to deliver quality work. This means that CPAs will need to differentiate themselves in other ways — primarily through outstanding advisory services and responsive client service. These skills — traditionally considered intangibles — will become core competencies, driving better service for clients and changing the ways in which accounting firms market themselves and their professionals.
— Russell Shapiro, Partner, Levenfeld Pearlstein
I believe that the accountant of 10 years from now will be much more of an analyst than processor of tasks or transactions.
AI and RPA will perform most transactional and compliance tasks. The accountant will be needed to analyze and interpret the results — to bring insight. The challenge will lie in developing those skills much earlier in one’s career.
Today, accountants operationalize their formal education with tasks performed as entry-level staff. In 10 years, those same graduates will be expected to perform analysis and interpretation much earlier in their careers — driving a change in the educational process within universities and colleges.
— Todd Shapiro, President and CEO, ICPAS
A decade from now, accounting and finance professionals will spend almost no time on the numbers. Tax returns, financial statements, accounting and auditing — nearly all of that will be done by increasingly intelligent machines.
The CPA of tomorrow will be a strategist — a navigator who will help his or her clients, customers, and organizations steer through the minefield of business transformation, anticipate future trends, and take advantage of the opportunities those trends offer.
To do that, future-ready CPAs will need a new set of skills. These will include things like strategic and critical thinking, leadership, communication, problem-solving, collaboration, communication and, above all, anticipation — the ability to spot future trends and take advantage of the opportunities they offer.
That means those charged with educating tomorrow’s CPAs must start teaching those skills … and now.
— Bill Sheridan, Chief communications officer, MACPA
Within the next decade, the role of the accountant will change dramatically. The continuous move to cloud-based solutions and the integration of artificial intelligence will reveal a far more technologically-attuned accountant (and staff). Use of advanced platforms will fuel year-round collaboration with clients, support a remote-work culture, and aid accountants in serving as a dedicated advisor at all phases of clients’ business development.
— Kristy Short, Partner and chief marketing officer, Rootworks
An accountant 10 years from today will be delivering services beyond traditional tax and accounting and will be playing a very significant client advisory role. As core bookkeeping and accounting services are being outsourced and technology continues to advance, the accountant will be looked at as a guide, mentor and business counselor. Accountants will be more closely coupled to their clients and their businesses with technology innovations, but more so with deeper levels of trust, reliance and confidence. Accountants will be considered not only critical to a business’s operations but a key component to a business’s management team.
— Michael Silver, Microsoft Dynamics 365 partner recruitment and channel enablement, Microsoft
The firms that thrive will be focused on consulting and advisory services much more than traditional compliance tax and accounting services. Helping our clients understand their business, grow it, implement technology, plan its succession and being the well-rounded most trusted advisors is a key. Those that don't embrace technology and these unique advisory and consultative opportunities will find it hard to compete.
— Joel Sinkin, President, Transition Advisors
I think the accountant 10 years from now will be able to provide most assurance and tax services (for those in public practice) or perform most accounting/finance functions (for those in business) at the click of a button through automation or technological improvements. The value that accountants will bring will be with their unique perspective and analytical minds to not only interpret the data, but partner with their clients/colleagues to improve business.
— Mark Soticheck, COO, North Carolina Association of CPAs
CPA firms will no longer be a straight-up tax and audit company. Accounting firms are moving towards becoming trusted business advisors — a chief pricing officer (CPO) role. CPA firms won’t spend as much time on the expense side but putting more focus on revenue for their customers.
From a technical perspective, CPA firms will be more flexible. CPAs will venture out of the office more to meet with customers in person. They will spend less time in the office filling out tax paperwork.
— Christopher Stark, President and CEO, Cetrom
They will use more sophisticated and smarter technology to deliver both traditional and innovative, higher-value types of services to their clients.
They will need to better address and anticipate their clients’ needs and provide more forward-looking information to assist clients in their strategic planning. They will become more involved in their clients’ decision-making process than in the past, becoming more proactive than reactive.
— Joseph Tarasco, CEO, Accountants Advisory Group
The accountant of 10 years from today will leverage a mastery of smart technologies and deep business and financial knowledge to help clients and organizations to both see and seize their best futures. They will be judged — and compensated — by how much new value they add to efforts and enterprises. What won’t change? They will still be the most trusted advisor.
— Rick Telberg, Founder and CEO, CPA Trendlines
Another way to look at this question is to wonder what being a senior manager will look like when (and if) my 17-year-old son reached that level. First, he will leverage technology in all aspects of performing his job. He will not focus on learning details — he will deploy his ability to identify problems, bring the right experts to the table and tell the story using the presentation skills he has developed since first grade. He will collaborate from his apartment — staying in touch instantly. His network will extend around the globe. His loyalty might be thin. The question will be, can his supervisors unleash his talent? He will force us to embrace innovation — he knows no other way.
— Arleen Thomas, Managing director, Americas, and CGMA global offerings, AICPA
The accountant of the future will be very different from the accountant of today. Technological advancements will create a more tech-savvy individual out of necessity who will have a different use of technology in audit and other facets of the job. He or she will be able to spend their time interpreting and analyzing data rather than performing routine tasks. Leadership and softer communication skills also will be in high demand.
— Ralph Thomas, CEO and executive director, NJCPA
The accountant of 2027 will be more deeply imbedded in both strategy and data analytics in organizations. Automation will have freed accountants from rote tasks and will allow them the ability to extract, assess, and offer actionable strategic insights from all of the data available to enterprises.
— Jeffrey Thomson, President and CEO, IMA
The accountant of 10 years from now will no longer spend a majority of their time getting their clients’ numbers to come to life, but rather a majority of their time coaching businesses on the critical decisions they need to make in order to make the numbers exist.
— Ian Vacin, Co-founder and vice president of education and partnerships, Karbon
Technology will be the key driver — it will significantly impact preparers and auditors of financial information. For example, financial statement users will demand instantaneous, reliable information. That demand will lead to continuous auditing, which will alter how financial systems are designed and how audit services are provided.
— David Vaudt, Chairman, GASB
Over the next 10 years, we will continue to see an increase in the integration of AI and machine learning systems within cloud accounting platforms. As a result, compliance processes will become more streamlined and new business opportunities will be created. Machine learning and automation will enable accountants to get their heads out of the general ledger, freeing them up to focus on advising clients. The work will be “re-tooling” skillsets so to offer these higher-value advisory services that clients desperately want Xero to provide. As technology keeps improving and becomes smarter and smarter, it will allow Xero to truly partner with our clients and help them succeed in their businesses.
— Amy Vetter, Global vice president of education and head of accounting, USA, Xero
Compliance work will become highly automated and the traditional CPA who does tax returns will become a small section of our business left for the holdouts who can’t transform and are unable to attract a new generation of workers. The majority of the profession will be providing dynamic consulting solutions driven by technology, including AI, Blockchain and several others that aren’t even on our radar yet.
— Garrett Wagner, CEO, C3 Evolution Group
As we’ve seen recently, the proliferation of machine learning and AI are changing everything about how businesses operate. In the future, the pace of this change will only accelerate. Collective intelligence will become the norm, where CFOs can see future opportunities by integrating internal financial data, points of sale, inventory management with the highs and lows of business, they’ll be able to see what’s driving the business now and what’s driving the business in the next six to 12 months.
Accountants will be expected to provide a similar level of service for clients. The accountant in 2027 will be a true advisor, and have the solutions to instantly offer clients an overview of how financial performance will fare in the future and what do to about it. Accountants will also have the ability to offer insight into which global markets provide the most opportunity from a compliance standpoint.
— Jennifer Warawa, Executive vice president of partners, accountants and alliances, Sage
He/she will be a creative force on the client’s team, rather than merely handling compliance issues such as audits and tax returns. This will actually enhance the professional’s status as a trusted advisor. Done properly, the accountant can become the single most important advisor for any business owner. The benefits will be greater job satisfaction, more value provided to the client, and an enhanced status for the profession as a whole. Everyone will be better off except for those who do not adapt and they will be left behind.
— Tom Wheelwright, CEO, Provision
There are so many changes coming. Between artificial intelligence and potential changes to the tax laws, the accountant of the future will definitely be different than the accountant of today. There needs to be a continual shift away from the commoditized “needs”-based services (audits and tax compliance), to the client’s “wants,” which are more consultative and growth-oriented. The accountant of the future will be the shepherd for their clients and involved in bringing value to every aspect of their business.
Many accountants of the future will not be working for CPA firms. We will see significant investment by private equity and a resurgence of alternate structure practices. This is coming at an extremely rapid pace and we may see this as early as 2018.
— Philip Whitman, President and CEO, Whitman Business Advisors
The accountant of 2027 will be ICE - an Intentional, Collaborating Entrepreneur:
- Intentional: They will intentionally look at the verticals they are in, and identify the ideal client profile for that vertical. They will be more selective than they have ever had to be, but they will go deeper with the relationship and build out new services that go well beyond the current services they offer.
- Collaborator: They will understand, accept and celebrate the differences in their team. As they build out a team of unique individuals with complementary skills, they will honor the collaboration that happens within the team.
- Entrepreneur: Ambition, intuition, an ability to manage risk, lifelong learner, natural curiosity for others and a fail-forward attitude will all be required of leaders in the profession.
A different look for some in the profession, but the world will open up to those who develop these new and exciting attributes. — Sandra Wiley, President and Shareholder, Boomer Consulting Inc.
- They’ll be forward-thinking at least as often as they are historically reporting.
- They’ll be data analysts, not data entry-ists.
- They’ll be as incented to focus on talent, people and relationships as they are technical matters.
- They’ll bill on the basis of value, not time.
- They’ll love technology.
— Jennifer Wilson, Co-founder and owner, ConvergenceCoaching
Technologies will displace many of the service roles accountants currently perform, like bookkeeping, tax preparation and audit. As a result, I believe the industry will be smaller than today, and accountants who remain in the industry will play a stronger coaching role. Technologies will deliver a wide range of business information about clients — in real time — allowing accountants to provide deep insights and actionable advice to their clients. Today, accountants are largely historians. The accountant 10 years from now will be predictive … and transformative.
— Joe Woodard, CEO, Woodard Events
It’s an interesting time, not only for CPAs, but for our clients. Technology is changing our industry as fast as it’s changing theirs. Innovations in technology will continue to bring about efficiencies, increased knowledge and better processes to analyze data on a more real-time basis. However, no matter what tools and technologies are developed and adopted, I believe CPAs will continue to be critical advisors to businesses, both within CPA firms as well as in industry.
— Candace Wright, Chair, Private Company Council
Accountants 10 years from now will be more creative and more problem-solving. They won’t be doing routine work — this will be automated and they will be doing more theoretical work. They will look at the results instead of creating the results. They will have time to think about how to help businesses be more successful and less about reporting and routine matters.
— Diane Yetter, President, Yetter