The pace of change is accelerating in almost every aspect of the accounting profession, the general economy, and society at large, and accountants must do more just to keep up, warned technology leader Jon Baron.

Baron, who is managing director, professional segment, at Thomson Reuters Tax & Accounting, gave attendees of his keynote address at the company’s annual user conference, held here last week, an outline of the host of issues that are impacting the profession, including the constant barrage of new regulations and tax law changes, the Affordable Care Act, the enormous increase in tax-related identity theft, the ongoing retirement of the Baby Boomers, and the impact of globalization, among others.

“Changes are coming at an accelerating pace -- this can create business model changes like nothing we’ve ever seen before,” Baron said, but it also creates problems. “Change management may be our biggest challenge -- just keeping up. And this is not a one-time change; it’s a mindset shift to constantly keeping up.”

By far the most important driver of change is technology, Baron suggested, citing a host of facts to highlight the escalating pace of new developments:

  • Internet penetration has gone from 77 percent in 2010 to 88 percent currently, and access speeds have almost tripled.
  • By 2020, 80 percent of adults on earth will have a smartphone.
  • Americans spend an average of 5.6 hours a day online.
  • 40 percent of 50-64-year-olds check their smartphone at least several times an hour
  • More than a thousand new apps are created every day. (“Several are useful,” Baron quipped.)

The rapid growth and expansion of technology has already rendered many occupations redundant – and will do the same to others. Tax preparation, for instance, is considered highly vulnerable to automation, Baron noted.
“It’s beyond accounting -- we need to think about staying relevant to our clients,” he said. “We’ve got to become much closer to our customers and become more relevant. Anyone can do tax returns and audits and bookkeeping.”

Unfortunately, accountants may not be doing as much as they should to stay relevant, particularly in terms of technology. Baron shared the results of a recent survey in which 83 percent of accountants said that they do not use the cloud, 64 percent don’t use secure client portals, and an astonishing 35 percent don’t have Web sites. Further, 76 percent still deliver tax returns primarily on paper (though that was better than in a survey from last year, in which 88 percent reported primarily using paper).

“Is your firm keeping up?” Baron asked. “Is it living in today’s world?”

 

 

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