Down payments on the future of accounting

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Everywhere you look these days, it seems like you can find people making big investments in the future of accounting, putting up money and time and effort to innovate in just about every area of the profession.

Think of the Big Four spending millions on artificial intelligence, cognitive computing and the data-based tools and services of tomorrow, or the American Institute of CPAs and its firm partners spending tens of millions to build their Dynamic Audit Solution and completely revamp the audit. Or how about those Top 100 Firms that are merging in non-accounting businesses that focus on everything from IT security to marketing to HR services? I need hardly mention the software providers, from big players like Wolters Kluwer and Thomson Reuters to new upstarts like botkeeper and Mindbridge AI, that are pursuing accounting innovation on a multitude of fronts.

So, what are you doing to build the future of accounting?

Now, most CPA firms are small busineses, and obviously, no one expects them to invest millions in capital in creating innovative tools or new services or groundbreaking business models. But that doesn’t mean that smaller firms and sole practitioners should or can afford to leave all the investment to the big guys. No matter what size your practice is, you can and must put something into building your own future within the profession of the future.

Make no mistake: This will require both money and time. Not millions of dollars, to be sure, and you won’t need to quit your day job to focus on the future full-time, but you’ll need to build funds for innovation into your budget, and time for it into your calendar. Here are a few ways to start making an investment now:

  • Set aside an hour a week. Reserve a space on your calendar where you’ll do nothing but read or think or even talk in a small group about what the future of your firm and the profession will look like. Need conversation starters? Look no further than the next item.
  • Read a book — or 10. Amazon will be happy to guide you to a thousand different titles on everything from blockchain, AI and the subscription economy to value pricing, the evolution of the modern advisory services firm, or how to build your own app.
  • Attend a conference. There are plenty of great conferences in the accounting space that are focused on the future, like the AICPA’s Engage and Digital CPA gatherings, or Woodard Events’ Scaling New Heights, and the annual Accountex show. Vendor user conferences and state society events are also great places to explore. Go with specific questions you want answered, but also keep your eyes and your mind open — and be prepared to put in some very full days to get the most out of your time and money.
  • Test an app. Find an application that purports to solve one of your or your clients’ pain points, and dive into it on a trial basis.
  • Invest in new skills. If your firm is of any size, chances are you can find an employee who would be eager to learn the latest in marketing techniques, or how to code, build a blockchain, or conduct high-level data analysis. And in small or solo practices, you yourself can benefit from continually expanding your skill set — just remember to go beyond merely keeping up your technical chops to really explore new areas.

These will all take commitments of time and money — but they should be within the reach of even the most modest practitioner. And while they may not mean that you personally will reshape the entire accounting profession, they should help make sure that when those big investments I mentioned earlier begin to pay off, you won’t get left behind — and you’ll be in a better position to capitalize on them.

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