With all the talk about personal and company branding, a wider problem can get lost in the shuffle - that of the accounting profession's brand. This was a central gripe during the first Innovation & Collaboration Opportunities event hosted by local firm New Vision CPA Group and its CEO Jody Padar in Schaumburg, Ill., which corralled thought leaders, influencers and prolific tweeters for a day of brainstorming the profession's direction.

"What is a person's first response when you tell them you're an accountant?" asked one participant.

"Tax season," someone responded. "I've got to file my taxes," quoted another. Others had registered wordless reactions - just groans. Many in that room don't even work in tax, but that didn't stop the generalizations. One attendee recalled a client who, upon being invited to dine with accountants, asked, "Why would I want to go out with my dentist?"

While the crowd grimaced at the comparison, the medical analogy proved handy when discussing accounting's technological progress. "Medical professionals don't use outdated tools - why should we?" someone suggested, as the profession's slow move to the cloud and social media was dissected at length.

Getting in the way of full-fledged adoption is the same outdated mindset that continues to pigeonhole all accountants as green eyeshade-wearing tax preparers. In other words, as someone stated, CPAs themselves "have done a darn good job of training clients to lower their expectations of us."

Participants shared great ideas to make over both individual firms and the profession, to encourage the older generation into the scary world of social media, to embrace diversity, and to promote debate in the office.

Now comes the next challenge: carrying the message back to the firms. There's no hashtag for that yet.

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