By Gail Perry
The annual CCH User Conference, designed to provide a forum for networking with industry experts and other CCH users and to provide information on how to increase productivity and efficiency, generate more business, and better use the tools that accountants currently have at their firms or organizations, hosted a sellout crowd of 1,200 in San Diego this week, and the message was loud and clear: The accountant is no longer merely a number cruncher. The opportunity, if you choose to accept it, is to be a collaborator with your clients, a partner in planning, a guiding light, a seer, if you will, who reads the future in the numbers.
We're not talking about crystal balls. Get your head back to your Kieso and Weygandt, because this is what you were trained to do in accounting school. You just got lost along the way in resizing spreadsheet columns and straightening out the miscoded data entries, filling in the blanks on tax entry forms, and sharpening your blue pencils.
I've attended four or five CCH User Conferences, the exact number escapes me. I've watched enthusiastic product developers ooze geeky coolness when they show off the technological wonders of their problem-solving programs. I've listened to company leaders who CAN'T SIT STILL when they literally shout about the problems that their products solve. I've seen those ah ha moments when the accountant attendees get it, when they realize that the program has become the workhorse, when they catch their breath and pause to think of all those lost hours they spent footing and ticking and correcting transposed numbers.
And the message was always the same: We can fix this for you. Trust us. Let us take you to the next level of computerized goodness. Oh yeah, it was a soft sell, and much of the conference did and still does focus on learning the ins and outs of products you already own. But there was (and is) always that whispered message as you pass by a product demo booth, this could be yours too, you could save even more time, perform work more accurately, love your CCH even more, if you just take a moment and see what I have here.
And that was the message. Save time. Make more money. Let the computer (and our programs) do the dirty, boring, tedious, repetitive work. And some would bite. Others would say no thanks. But it was all about a push, or even a pull, to get the accountants on board, get with the new century, bring your shop up-to-date, don't be left behind. Accountants need to be convinced. They're not about to jump into a new trend until they know it's not just a trend, it's here to stay.
And then, Monday morning, in sunny, warm, shimmering-by-the-water San Diego, Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting CEO Kevin Robert stepped on the stage and he didn't talk about software.
"Cloud computing along with the proliferation of mobile devices is absolutely changing the working landscape. Your clients connect to you because they carry their office wherever they go. You need to be there."
And by "be there", Robert wasn't saying you need to have those devices. You already know that. Mobile gadgetry has become when, not if, purchases. You know you'll get the tools even if you don't have them in your budget today. You want them, because who doesn't want to have apps and anywhere-accessibility and OMG lightweight luggability?
No, he didn't need to tell anybody, like he did a year ago, that a tablet purchase is on the horizon. The Robert message was you need to be there. You need to be wherever your clients are, inside their businesses, inside their heads, talking to them on their oh-so-smart phones, tweeting your goodness, sharing your insights, sticky, like the doctor they contact whenever they get a cough.
The accounting work is done - you watch it happen as your clients' computers talk to your computers at computer be-ins in the middle of the night. Cloud collaboration is a given. If you're not there, forget it, because someone else will take your spot and be the sticky accountant. Business owners didn't know what they were missing, but they're learning, and as soon as your clients hear what's going on across town, they're going to be gone.
I used to take my kids with me when I shopped for groceries (stick with me, there's a connection). They rode in the cart. I didn't take them down the cookie aisle. For years, my children thought the only way to get cookies was when Mom made cookies for them at home. If you've been pushing your clients around in a metaphorical grocery cart and not letting them know that a cookie aisle exists . . . be prepared for the inevitable day when they discover that aisle on their own.
Karen Abramson, president and CEO at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting CCH North America, laid it on the line. Your clients are going to ask you to make things easier for them. Since when is that your job?
It doesn't have to be your job. Particularly if you're winding down your practice. But the message at CCH this week was, if you plan to stay in business and succeed, you need to give your clients the mobile solutions, be there in their pocket when they need to text you with a question, and be proactive about telling them what the numbers mean. Predict. Quantify. Be insightful. Know the clients' businesses and what would make them better. Be their collaborative partner. Give them tools for being more successful, and by all means, be available. If you want to keep them as clients, make things easier for them.