The CPA profession is facing unprecedented levels of disruption, Illinois CPA Society president and CEO Todd Shapiro told a gathering of accountants this week -- but while wrenching, it also presents major opportunities for accountants.

“Disruption isn’t a bad thing,” Shapiro said in his opening keynote on Tuesday at the 2017 Midwest Accounting and Finance Show in Chicago. “And It’s coming whether we like it or not.”

Technology is driving much of this change, Shapiro acknowledged, citing statistics that suggest as much as 40 percent of basic accounting work could be automated or eliminated by current technology by 2020 -- but it’s far from the only driver.

Disruption isn’t just about technology,” he said. “It can be an aging profession. There are more CPAs in their 50s than any other demographic.”

With the vast majority of firms facing succession and staffing issues, and the number of people sitting the CPA Exam flat, Shapiro asked, “Who’s going to continue to serve their clients?”

And all the while, increasing regulatory complexity and the continuing outpouring of new standards and rules only adds to the disruption. “One of the challenges with audit quality is that the standards are changing so rapidly,” he explained.

In the end, he said, “Disruption isn’t about technology -- it’s about how we’ll serve business in a world of change.”


SPOT THE OPPORTUNITIES

As the profession faces all these changes, Shapiro stressed that it needs to take steps to make the most of the opportunities they present, particularly to young accountants and to firms that are nimble and willing to be forward-looking.

“The key is to understand what the drivers of disruption are,” he said, “and to identify the opportunities.”

Technology, for instance, is enabling new offerings in cyber-security, data analytics, risk management and other advisory services -- though it will call for accountants to develop new skills.

Data analytics will certainly be among those new skills, Shapiro said, noting that data science is now a default choice for accounting majors at the University of Illinois, but they won’t be limited to technology. In-demand talents for 2020 will include creativity, critical thinking, emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility.

“You can thrive in disruption,” he said, “but if we’re going to be successful in a world of disruption, we need to be lifelong learners.”

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Daniel Hood

Daniel Hood

Daniel Hood is editor-in-chief of Accounting Today and Tax Pro Today, and has covered the tax and accounting field for over 20 years.