Why Compliance May Not be Dead After All

Engage Keynote
Sandra Wiley
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With advancements in technology that can handle the once daunting, but billable hour-filling work that CPAs have been traditionally known for, the call for accounting professionals to move towards a more advisory role and add value has been loud.

Moreover, word from vendors of such products and services and even the AICPA and CPA.com (which markets products and services to CPAs) has been that if CPAs are to survive they need to move away from compliance work.

The fact is, for nearly a decade, the death knell for compliance work has been sounded for but after attending this year’s AICPA ENGAGE it was clear that is not necessarily the case…at least, not without some caveats. Once more, technology is playing a role in the message to CPAs and the kind of work they can (and should) be doing, compliance included.

As we all know, compliance work remains the “bread and butter” for so many firms, especially smaller ones. Now that current tax and even audit technology exists to (for lack of a better phrase) make compliance great again, profession leaders are walking back the death of compliance stance.

“Compliance will not completely go away. At the very low end it may to a degree, but certianly not at the high end,” said AICPA Chairman Bill Reeb. “We have so much compliance work to do most of us keep talking about being advisors, but it doesn't happen. We should enjoy the expansion that is there.”

Reeb was mainly referring to current messaging, which is the recognition that CPAs do need to move into a more advisory role, but most compliance work is still very necessary for them to oversee and technology is there to see it done more effectively and efficiently; particularly audit work.

“Immense powers of technology come into the audit of today. We need to be imaging the audit as if we created it today with the technology that exists today,” said AICPA CEO Barry Melancon. “Everthing we do today has to be done with an advisory angle, including audit work."

Reeb followed up Melancon’s point during a co-keynote session, adding "every one of the partners and managers at a firm has to learn how to provide advice, it's no longer an option.” He also noted that it is conceivable that in several years on an audit there will be more technologists involved. 

The call for audit’s evolution was also noted during last year’s Digital CPA event, when Melancon shone a spotlight on the work the AICPA and CPA.com are doing to help it move towards the future.

“We are taking on the challenge of changing what audit is… today our challenge is also to create the capacity to see new opportunities, new services that we don't yet offer. If we do not do that we aren't guaranteed our space,” Melancon had said.

In a related matter, Melancon noted how CPAs’ core service requires a skillset that is beyond the traditional accountant.To that end, this year’s PCPS CPA Firm Top Issues Survey showed that finding qualified staff was the number one concern for every firm size aside from sole practitioners.

Keeping up with complexities, managing privacy and risk were also among the top CPA concerns. The charts below indicate the top CPA concerns based on firm staff size.

CPA Firm Issues

Issues in 5 Years

About Seth Fineberg

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