Approximately 800 accounting professionals from around the country gathered recently in Washington, D.C., not to try to lobby Congress or push a tax agenda, but to learn and absorb tools and tips from the mother ship, Thomson Reuters Tax & Accounting, at the 30th annual Users' Conference for Professional Tax and Accounting Firms. Gail Perry reports.
At the opening ceremonies of the annual Thomson User's Conference, the keynote address was presented jointly by Thomson Reuters' President, Americas, Workflow & Service Solutions Jon Baron, and Senior Vice President and General Manager, Workflow & Service Solutions, Americas Professional Tax & Accounting, Teresa Mackintosh.
Baron explained that the theme of the conference was "r u ready" and specifically, he asked if attendees are ready for the future. The text message abbreviation called attention to the digital world in which we now operate. Baron pointed out that shifts in clientele and demographics are changing rapidly and are affecting the traditional accounting practice in a big way.
Mackintosh zeroed in on the contention that accounting firms need to change their focus from the older demographic groups (traditionalists, age 65 and older, and Baby Boomers, age 46-64) to the younger, growing segments of society (Generation X, age 31-45, and Generation Y, age 9-30). She emphasized that members of the younger demographic groups rely heavily on technology and expect the same from any professionals that they might hire.
Mackintosh related a story of a dinner party she attended a few years ago with eight Gen-Xers, "all very affluent professionals with fairly complex financial lives. In my opinion, they should use a professional accountant." When she asked how many of them actually use an accountant, only two of the eight replied that they have an accountant. The others make their financial decisions on their own, without the aid of a professional. Mackintosh explained that these people and others like them are "crazy busy, raising families, establishing themselves in their careers, and they don't have time for message that don't target specifically what they need." They also tend to squeeze in personal financial work at odd hours of the day and night. Mackintosh concluded that they had chosen convenience over expertise.
She went on to emphasize that value of reaching out to these professionals and increasing an accounting firm's clientele by communicating with younger people on their terms, using technology that can be available to them at any time and that provides the opportunity to transact business electronically.
Both Baron and Mackintosh demonstrated features of Thomson tax and accounting software that are designed to address the needs of a younger clientele, including portal technology and mobile technology, described by Baron as "white hot."
Baron offered conference attendees four choices that accounting professionals have when considering their preparations for the future:
1. Go along with the flow, changing your attitude toward clients slowly
2. Ignore expected future trends, don't be prepared, don't change how you do things, don't adopt to new clientele and technology. "If you choose that path, frankly, you will wither and you will die."
3. Have a vision of where you want to be down the road, 10 years from now. Look at the changes in technology and demographics, embrace them, build a plan for the future, and create your own future.
4. Get the heck out of the profession!
Conference participants spent three days attending classes and workshops designed to introduce users to new features in the Thomson software line, help them refine existing skills, teach them tips for improving their business operations, and demonstrate how tax and accounting firms can take advantage of new technological innovations to advance their practice, improve workflow and productivity - and provide the kind of services expected by their increasingly tech-savvy clients.