AICPA president and CEO Barry Melancon delivered the keynote speech at the 2014 Fall Meeting of Council in Boston on Monday, discussing the unprecedented changes he foresees in the accounting profession in the coming years.

“The presentation today is really going to be a microcosm about the world and how it impacts our profession,” Melancon told Council members. “I would challenge you to think that the world isn’t what it used to be, and that’s OK. Begin to think about the realities of what we’re going to go through, from opportunities to challenges.”

Melancon touched on technology as the driving force in the future of the profession, with the objective of “reaching busier and more mobile clients” as a key goal. Presentation research showed that mobile usage was up 300 percent from Dec. 2010, with total digital growth also up 83 percent in three years.

To highlight collaboration as a means of ensuring success in the profession, Melancon pointed to the recent Apple and IBM mobile partnership.

“We want to often think that CPAs can do it all,” he said. “But even Apple and IBM can’t deliver the entire value proposition [that] combines mobile technology and computing power [themselves]. Both of these companies said, ‘We’re not big enough to do it ourselves.’ There’s a huge message in that: We have the opportunity to be in a lead position, but if we believe we’re the only ones to solve the problems, we won’t be as successful in that standpoint. Think about technology and how people use it. There aren’t easy answers, but there are opportunities.”

Considering the outlook of the profession further, Melancon pointed to the increasing number of international students accessing American institutions for business studies, while American students continue to move in the opposite direction.

“There are record numbers of foreign students coming to the U.S. for education,” he said. “Overwhelmingly, students are coming from Asia and studying business. The majority of Americans are going to Europe and studying social sciences. The rest of the world is accessing our intellectual capital as a country. Our next generation is interested in the non-business world—this will be our challenge going forward.”

To retain young professionals, Melancon highlighted the need to evolve the workplace in order to comfortably house a new generation of attitudes. This included the concept of “Nimbleocity,” a combination of “nimble” and “velocity,” for businesses to stay agile and ready to change, listening to the next generation in what they want in their work environment.

Melancon cited studies showing that 79 percent of millennials said their work environment was more important than salary, while 88 percent said they prefer a collaborative work culture over a competitive one.

In another study, 40 percent of firms have implemented practices that are no longer time-based, but results-based, while 80 percent of firms invest in technology that would allow a results-based system.

“If we want to be a part of a profession in the future that really delivers quality, we have to invest in that quality,” Melancon said. “We need to push the profession forward. We will not do that alone; it will take each of you to talk to your peers and move it in every corner of the country. The work is not done; in fact, it will never be done.”

Melancon concluded his speech by paraphrasing a quote from John F. Kennedy’s 1961 Inaugural Address. “’All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor even perhaps in our lifetime.’ That is the mission: to continually improve the quality of the profession.”

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