Disruption is now: How firms are keeping up

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Disruption in the accounting profession is coming sooner than we think, experts say. Blockchain, for instance, will move from concept to reality within the next three to five years; and tech-focused accountants need to convince their firms how to embrace change fast.

These insights and more came from a panel of experts at Boomer Consulting’s BTC Summit, held Aug. 14-17 in Kansas City, Mo. During the session on Aug. 15, the audience, which was mostly comprised of the consultancy’s Talent Circle members, were invited to ask Boomer consultants questions live.

The blockchain preoccupation

First up was the topic of blockchain, evidently foremost in the minds of the most tech-savvy accounting professionals.

The hyper-secure technology has the potential to underpin technology like smart contracts, which would simplify, and securitize, many firm processes and firm-client interactions.

Marc Staut, principal at Boomer Consulting, said that while blockchain would change the profession’s perspective, it won’t be so highly disruptive as to eliminate jobs. “It will change the way we do things,” he said. “While there are many proofs of concept right now, there are no real apps in use. But three to five years is a realistic time frame for when we’ll see blockchain’s major impact. Take the time to learn [about] it now.”

CEO of the consultancy Jim Boomer noted that to keep abreast of which direction blockchain technology is headed, accountants should keep track of where investments are being made.

According to research company CB Insights, heavy investment is pouring into cryptocurrencies such as Coinbase and Ripple; financial services blockchains like Chain; and several payments platforms like ChangeTip (acquired last year by Airbnb) and BitPesa.

Getting firms on board with new tech

Attendees wanted to know how to effectively get their firms interested in and on board with implementing new and useful technology.

“It doesn’t come down to tech so much, but the story,” Staut said. “You have to really understand why [you need new technology]. What is it going to mean for the firm and for its people? If you get them to buy into that vision or message, the technology is a tool to help facilitate that movement.”

Dustin Hostetler, chief innovation officer, had a more colorful way of putting it. “You’ve heard of FIFO – first in, first out? Well, it can also mean fit in or f--- off.” Attendees appreciated the joke, but he went on to more fully explain that staff accountants, managers, and most importantly partners who don’t want to change the firm for the better are simply not a good fit for the firm, and their presence is a weight that drags the organization down.

Staut added that the idea that “older” partners are the ones standing in the way of new technology implementation is a myth. “There’s no difference between young and old,” he said. “It’s about mindset. I often hear, ‘Oh, we have five partners retiring in two to three years; then it’ll be different.’ That never happens. The left behind partners then try to protect the old way of doing things because they finally feel like they’ve figured it out. They have to change their mindset. Are they buying into the future vision for this firm? The answer is, no.”

The talent

While firms are moving towards a more tech-centered future, they are also, in tandem with this trend, spending more time recruiting non-accounting majors. This does not necessarily mean software engineers or IT professionals, but individuals who majored in the STEM field and can, for instance, perform high-level data analytics.

Answering a question about what IT skills are desirable in a new hire, Staut said, “I don’t see a difference between IT skills in demand, and skills that are in demand in general for the profession. STEM majors present a big opportunity for firms. Having someone who can manipulate data and turn it into useful information is valuable.”

Sandra Wiley, president of Boomer Consulting, added that while technology for accounting services are improving rapidly, so are HR and talent management solutions, and soon, the talent professionals at firms will be turning to the accounting technology consultants and asking them to vet those new solutions.

“It’s all about performance management in a much different way,” she said. “I see a lot of firms patting themselves on back, saying, ‘We’re finally having evaluations two to three times a year.’ That is really old school. Every firm in our [Boomer] Talent Circle is looking for how do we tear that all apart -- how do we have these conversations every day, every week.”

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