Accounting’s calendar crumbles

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Tax Day was July 15.

Let that sink in for a minute.

For literally decades, the single-most important day in the professional calendar was April 15 (and even in those years when obscure local holidays meant it came a day or two later, we all still thought of it as April 15). And then 2020 came along, and suddenly Tax Day is in July. July! What’s next — getting rid of deadlines altogether?

Well, maybe.

Month-ends, quarterly reports, annual filings: These are all artifacts of earlier times, of technological and organizational limits that we are rapidly overcoming, and of business models that make less and less sense every year. On your clients’ side, most of those deadlines were chosen because it was too burdensome, if not plain impossible, to gather the necessary information more frequently. On your side, all those deadlines created reliable, repeatable revenue, and gave structure to your year, but they also tied you to creating compliance-based products that are highly vulnerable to disintermediation.

As technology gets smarter and smarter, regulatory filings and company reports and financial statements will all become easier and faster to create, to the point where they can happen any time, and with less and less input from outside advisors. Compliance work won’t go away, but it will become more and more of an automated, continuous process, and the old regulatory calendar will slip into disuse.

As you’ve heard (no doubt ad nauseum), accountants will need to move up the value ladder to survive, offering advisory services that really help clients succeed, as opposed to simply keeping them in compliance. Those advisory services, it turns out, come in two flavors, and both of them are completely independent of the calendar.

The first flavor is the kind of service that’s at the core of client accounting services, which is one of the fastest-growing niches for firms these days. It’s the day-to-day business advice that accountants can offer when they’re interacting with clients and their financial systems on a real-time basis. It will range from help with mundane operational details to identifying once-in-a-lifetime strategic opportunities, but one thing it won’t be is tied to particular dates. (“What about the monthly close that I’m doing for them?” you ask. You’ll certainly still be doing the tiny portion of that work that isn’t completely automated, but more and more businesses and their stakeholders will refuse to wait up to 30 days for information that new systems can provide to them immediately — and so the 30th of the month will have less and less importance.) Instead, the work will be daily, and you’ll be in the thick of it all the time, providing value on a 24/7 basis.

The other flavor is the advisory/consulting work that is increasingly going to replace deadline-driven compliance work. This breaks with the calendar in the opposite way: Instead of being every day, these engagements will be one-off gigs, where you’re brought in to solve a particular problem or lend your expertise to a particular project. They’ll begin and end according to the client’s need, not an arbitrary deadline on a calendar. (And because they’re not annuity work that returns every year, once they’re completed, your calendar will look empty — unless you fill it up with sales and business development efforts.)

However you look at it, the old calendar is crumbling, and it’s time to start figuring out how you’re going to replace it.

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