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How Clients' Expectations of CPAs are Evolving


Thanks to advancements in technology, the future of work is changing, and the accounting field is no exception. In this article, Derrick Lilly, communications director for the Illinois CPA Society, talks about the AI age and how CPAs must prepare for a new age of accounting, one in which clients expect strategic business advice in addition to number crunching. 

Sep 13th 2021
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Whether it's race cars or companies, time changes everything. It’s inevitable, so we evolve. For CPAs to retain relevance as we race into the future, they must evolve to meet companies’ and clients’ expectations. In imagining a future where tech has eliminated the CPA’s traditional compliance functions and transformed when, where, why and how work is done, the majority of the Illinois CPA Society's board of directors and executive and leadership staff agreed that, by 2027, the global economy will have moved deeper into an interconnected knowledge economy in which the quantity, quality and accessibility of knowledge, such as human expertise and trade secrets, are crucial factors in economic growth and are considered important economic resources. In this future knowledge economy, CPAs will be expected to better leverage their deep insights into companies’ and clients’ financial lives. 

Sage’s recent “Practice of Now” report, which surveyed more than 3,200 accountants around the globe, found that 82 percent of respondents say their clients’ expectations have widened to include the provision of business advice. Simply put, the days of CPAs thriving simply as trusted number crunchers are over. The Society says companies and clients will need and expect their CPAs to proactively provide strategic guidance and insights in all areas of their business based on their unique needs and goals. 

Arrow Electronics CFO Chris Stansbury says it best in “Audit 2025: The Future Is Now,” a KPMG and Forbes Insights report: “Clients are no longer looking for just a rearview mirror view, but a view through the windshield on where we are going and how to navigate the landscape.”

Many CPAs argue that they provide these types of insights now, but consider this: According to a survey of accountants and business professionals across the nation, the top challenges for business leaders include planning for growth and expansion, getting expert financial insights, maximizing cash flow, minimizing overhead costs, staying in compliance, finding time to focus on accounting and financial matters and maximizing profit margins. However, less than 40 percent of the business leaders interviewed reported that their accounting firms had ever conducted an assessment of their organizations and offered tailored recommendations to them. 

Furthermore, The Sleeter Group found that 72 percent of small business owners across the country have changed CPAs or accounting firms because they “did not give proactive advice, only reactive service,” and more than 60 percent of respondents said this played a significant or large role in the change. 

The takeaway is that CPAs have almost unlimited access to company and client data at their fingertips, and they must use it, interpret it and communicate its value to stakeholders if they’re going to be the most trusted and strategic advisors of tomorrow. As Illinois CPA Society President and CEO Todd Shapiro advises, “It’s time to get in the driver’s seat, take the wheel and steer companies and clients toward greater profitability and wealth.”

This article was originally published on the Illinois CPA Society's website and is part three of a seven-part series taken from "CPA Profession 2027: Racing for Relevance," a 2020 Insight Special Feature from the Illinois CPA Society.

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