It’s a relationship that has been needful, fruitful and even distrustful at times, but accounting firms and the vendors that serve them are an essential component to moving business in general forward.
For all of these reasons and more, the AICPA and their marketing arm CPA.com have been assembling top executives to their New York offices in an annual, UN-style meeting known as the Executive Roundtable. Through this moot, the present and future of the profession and those that serve it are discussed in detail. So what came of this year?
Representing approximately 40 companies targeting the attentions of the accounting community, executives were questioned about their own challenges with the profession, their own competition and where they may be headed. Overwhelmingly, thoughts turned from what was once a heated debate about cloud to one of blockchain and artificial intelligence.
Meanwhile, they realize the profession as a whole continues to struggle with cloud not so much as a "why" question but "what makes the most sense" and “am I moving fast enough?” Vendors clearly feel the pain of their accountant customers and recommenders but in the same right also need to keep pace with what their competitors are doing and what business trends demand (and will).
The overall tone of the meeting was summed up by AICPA CEO Barry Melancon, when he said, “What we are trying to set a tone for globally is this notion that our profession is incredibly valuable and in order to be successful we have to be a profession that is in a constant state of transition.” To that, he added, "It is even more frightening to accept that we are on a job that will never be done.”
The point being, both vendors and accountants are trying to keep up with a future that is already happening. And from an accountant perspective (yes, there were several present at the Roundtable) they are looking for, what I deemed to be partners, no pitches from the vendor community.
So yes, AI and blockchain are technological advances that are happening now to vendors and accountants alike. Where it will take both remains to be seen, just like cloud from 10 years ago. Another consensus, on this point, was that these advances will happen much faster than cloud did in terms of their impact on product and profession.
In the end, with all of this “change” happening and not about to slow down, what are the majority of firms (who, by the way are solo owned or have fewer than 12 employees) to do? Again, it seemed to be up to the vendors to step up and act more like partners to firms to help manage this change. As Jeff Brown, a partner at Top 100 firm Moss Adams so eloquently put it during a large-firm, Q&A session, “If I was a smaller firm, I'm worried I don't have the resources to serve my clients and figure out what to do with AI” and the next wave of technological change.”
To this point, CPA.com VP for Strategic Alliances & Business Development Michael Cerami said, “The training that needs to happen to become a better advisor goes well beyond technology.”
This is true. Somehow firms have to be motivated to change, or at least deal with it, and without proper training on new systems and the ability to manage change outside of just learning tech, stagnation and possibly irrelevance will happen.
So, we go forward from this meeting with the question: Will we see more of a partnership between the vendor and accounting community around these specific issues?