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Editor’s Corner: The Return of Conference Season

Jun 3rd 2016
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Conference Season is back full force and this column will explore some issues raised during the recent Scaling New Heights event, expectations for the upcoming AICPA Practitioners Symposium and Technology Conference, and future events this year.

That’s right, it’s the time of year when accountants assess their practices, their client base, and their professional knowledge to evaluate what they need and what they need to change. There’s plenty of CPE to be had out on the road, but in the 14 years or so that I’ve been attending accountant-centric conferences and the like, it’s the networking that counts most.

Those who choose to leave the relative security of their desks and office spaces – be they what they may – finds that being among their peers and thought leaders adds the most value and validity to their chosen career. So, what’s on everyone’s minds these days?

Well, after recently attending the bookkeeper-centric (though not exclusive to them) Scaling New Heights event, hosted by Woodard Consulting, we decided to pose a question to everyone we ran into: “Why is being a firm of the future so important?” The variety of answers we received, on and off camera, were quite telling, and we plan to continue the discussion (as we are want to do) at future accounting confabs, including the upcoming AICPA Practitioners Symposium and Technology Conference.

First off, you need to establish what everyone believes a “firm of the future” is. By and large it is believed that it is not simply a term bandied about by a particular product vendor, but the concept of a firm being future ready. As such, the firm is able to embrace not only technology but business practices, such as specialization, becoming more advisor than compliance officer, and moving away from billable hours.

There were even some who went as far to say that accountants needn’t think of themselves as futurists or being forward thinking, but should be prepared for today by being, as one attendee put it, “a firm of the now.”

The idea of “change” and managing said change has been a looming specter on the profession for several years now, mainly because as professionals who service businesses and individuals, they too must adjust to the changes impacting their clients. As we’re aware, accountants by nature are cautious and measured in anything they do and, as such, have been slow to adjust to the vast changes impacting not only their clients, but their profession as a whole.

This isn’t to say there aren’t “future ready” firms or those that haven’t made changes to their practices and behaviors that allow them to, at the very least, keep pace. But between the increased need for clients to keep pace, themselves, and the advent of technologies that allow them to do so, or even make things more competitive (or complicated), it’s a wonder accounting professionals today can keep up.

Certainly, networking and seeking out advice and camaraderie in the arms of a conference or a professional community site does help. But while everyone is trying to figure out what third-party app works best with what current system they or their clients are using, or even what business model or marketing tactics to follow, there’s little discussion around a much deeper issue.

What I want to throw out to you, and to anyone we run into during conference season, is what is being done to truly educate not just about the latest products or processes, but about the very nature of being an accounting professional.

Perhaps if you just entered the profession in the past few years, you, by nature, have a better sense of how things can sustainably be done to compete and offer value to your clients. But for those who were simply taught in the ways accountants have “always done things,” at least over the past three or four decades, there is an even greater chasm to cross than simply accepting there’s a new way of doing … well, everything for your practice and your clients.

In short, there needs to be a mental rewiring of sorts in order for the profession at large to begin to embrace all that is being offered to them. Not just for the purpose of being “future ready” but really to just get through the year and, hopefully in the process, remain valid and valuable. It may also help the accountant-focused vendor community who tend to support the events accountants attend each year.

Let’s see what conference season brings. As ever, your thoughts are welcome. Let’s keep the conversation going!

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