TR’s Rushton: Choose to wield technology

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In the face of unprecedented levels of change and significant new challenges, the tax and accounting profession faces a stark choice, according to Charlotte Rushton, the president of the Tax & Accounting business of Thomson Reuters.

“We can choose to have technology inflicted upon on us, or we can choose to wield technology as a competitive advantage,” she told the more than 1,600 attendees in her opening keynote at the company’s annual Synergy user conference in Denver on Wednesday.

New technologies and new approaches to implementing technology can offer significant help in addressing the three main challenges facing tax and accounting professionals, which she outlined as:

  • The scarcity of quality talent. Citing the American Institute of CPAs, Rushton noted that 75 percent of today’s CPAs are expected to retire over the next 15 years, while turnover rates within the profession average 16-19 percent.
  • The increasingly complex tax landscape. In a recent study, she said, 46 percent of CPAs cite keeping up with tax law as a major challenge.
  • Compliance work is being commoditized. Compliance fees are projected to decline by more than 8 percent over the next few years, she warned.

Technology can help solve all of those pain points, but it also plays a broader role in the unprecedented levels of change that accounting and tax pros are facing.

“Our industry is going through a major transformation, and only those who are adaptable will survive,” Rushton warned. “But who wants to change? Change can attract more clients. Change can lighten your workload and let you do more interesting work. Change can attract better talent. We all want that kind of change. But who wants to actually change?”

In the end, however, accountants and tax professionals won’t be able to avoid it. “Change has become the defining characteristic of our profession,” she said, “so we need to embrace change not just to survive, but to thrive.”

New technologies

As part of the keynote, executives from Thomson Reuters shared some of the new tools and approaches the company is rolling out to help accountants and tax pros adapt to change.

To start, they emphasized the importance of staying up to date on technology.

“Newer clients aren’t just looking for the latest tools — they’re demanding them,” global head of products Swati Garodia told attendees. “It’s a natural extension of what they do in their everyday lives.”

And it’s not just clients who expect firms to use the latest technology.

“There’s also a retention angle,” according to Brian Fox, the founder of online audit tool Confirmation, which Thomson Reuters acquired in July. “The expectation of students coming out of schools is that they’ll use technology, and it’s incumbent on firms to adopt it. If we don’t do better, our staff won’t put up with it.”

Added Mark Edmondson, president and CEO of Inflo, which partners with Thomson Reuters to bring its data ingestion and analytics tools to TR’s audit products: “Many of these students are so tech-savvy that if you put that technology in their hands, your change management becomes totally different — they’ll drive it from the bottom up.”

It’s also important for firms to pay attention to how clients want to interact with them, according to Garodia: “In the past, they wouldn’t work with you if they couldn’t talk to you. Now, they probably won’t work with you if they have to talk to you.”

In response to this change in preferences, Thomson Reuters has been boosting the capabilities for digital collaboration in its products, particularly in the Onvio Client Center of its cloud-based Onvio platform, making it easier and more efficient for clients and accountants to share information and work together — or apart.

Garodia and the other TR executives highlighted a number of other new and recent tools that the company has rolled out, including:

  • Checkpoint Edge: This tax research tool uses artificial intelligence to let professionals ask questions and search for answers in regular language.
  • K-1 Analyzer: Thomson Reuters recently partnered with Top 10 Firm Crowe LLP to create this tool, which uses AI to get useful information out of the vast amount of unstructured data in these partnership forms.
  • Onvio Advisory: Building on the company’s Practice Forward program, which teaches firms how to develop advisory services, this tool helps firms establish forms and set processes for these kinds of services. Noted Garodia, “We know how important the shift to advisory is for accountants, and we know that small businesses that use accountants as a trusted advisor are much more likely to succeed.”
  • More APIs: The company plans to invest significantly in application programming interfaces to make it easier for its products to interact with those of other software providers.

As part of the keynote, Thomson Reuters also announced the winners of its inaugural Luca Pacioli Awards.

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