As waves of changes wash over the accounting profession, firms can’t afford to turn their backs on the future, warned Maryland Association of CPAs chief executive Tom Hood; instead, they need to learn to surf.

“How many of you are so busy, you’re too tired to raise your hand?” he asked attendees at his keynote address to the Thomson Reuters Synergy 2015 user conference, held here last week. “We’re so busy keeping up, how do we make time to be future-ready?”

When you go to the beach, Hood said, “You can either tiptoe in, or you can jump right in. If you turn to look back at the shore, a big wave can come over you and knock you down. Or you can turn and face the waves. ‘You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf,’” he added, quoting stress-reduction expert Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Hood’s overall surfing lesson for the 1,500 Synergy attendees was to get “future-ready” – to develop “the ability to be predictive and to be aware of emerging challenges, technology, and general trends.”

“Small and midsized business are looking for pro-active advice,” he said. “If they don’t get it from their CPA, they’ll leave.”

And while he noted that the profession’s traditional, “reactive” services are still necessary and valuable, he asked, “Why is a windshield so much bigger than a rearview mirror? We need to be looking ahead. And the faster change happens, the further ahead we need to look.”

He offered five main areas where accountants need to develop future-ready skills:

1. Context. This involves being aware of the business and technology trends all around us – with an eye to the future. “We need to stop focusing on the here and now, and taking a wider view,” Hood explained. “Is your office and technology in the future, or the past? Are you using the language of the future or the past with your clients? Do you know what your clients are doing in the future?”

2. Certainty. The ability to tell the difference between what will happen -- hard trends – and what may happen -- soft trends – will allow accountants to more confidently approach the future, and guide their clients into it. Hood identified four hard trends: increasing government regulation, technological change, demographic changes like the retirement of the Baby Boomers, and growing globalization, and encouraged attendees to identify their own hard trends that may be relevant to their practice. (See “Report from Council: Anticipate the Future” for more on the Anticipatory Organization tool that Hood and MACPA have developed with futurist Daniel Burris.)

3. Capacity. “We have to start making time -- doing things smarter and faster,” Hood said. “If you’re not sure how, ask a Millennial.” Among his top ways to create time: maximizing current software and tools; using the latest and most efficient technology; developing workflow and process efficiency; focusing on your A clients; cross-selling; and engaging your people.

4. Competence. This is a given for the accounting profession, but Hood emphasized, “We need to anticipate, to act decisively, to navigate complexity, and to be effective in the face of volatility.”

5. Core beliefs. The core values of the profession -- trust, integrity, objectivity, excellence and lifelong learning – need to remain, as do the core values of each individual firm. “In the midst of change, often what will not change are your purpose and your core values -- and you need to communicate that,” Hood said. “Many firms don’t have a strategic plan -- but you always have a purpose. You just need to remember it.”

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