Between the present and future lies the realm of anticipation. It’s not physics. It’s a type of common sense that all professionals need to learn if they want to stay relevant in society.
At this year’s Digital CPA conference in Las Vegas, professional accountants had the opportunity to discover a new set of skills. They learned how to read the future, avert the consequences of their behaviors, and create organizational cultures geared for the inconceivable. These skills form the model of the “anticipatory accountant.”
“What I’m giving you is an additional competency that will help you grow your practice,” said Daniel Burrus, Technology Futurist and Innovation Expert. “It’s the ability to anticipate; it is really a business model and a way of thinking.”
Mr. Burrus provided attendees with a simple formula for anticipating change. First, you must be able to identify “hard trends.” These are the conditions or events that are not only likely to happen but relatively unavoidable. For example, the impact of new technology on the accountancy profession in the next 5-10 years is inevitable. Second, you should concentrate efforts on influencing “soft trends” as a means to benefit from hard trends. This means that while some changes may be inescapable, we don’t necessarily have to be negatively impacted by them. We can see them as opportunities. In other words, we cannot change hard trends, but we can change soft ones.
Tom Hood, President and CEO of the Maryland Association of CPAs and The Business Learning Institute described the anticipatory accountant as being a professional that utilizes these ideas in his/her own firm and applies them when offering clients guidance. “The number one reason clients leave their CPA firms is because they’re getting reactive services and not proactive advice,” says Mr. Hood. “The idea of an anticipatory CPA is three things: they’re aware, predictive, and adaptive of emerging trends for both their firms and their clients.”
Beyond the realm of rapidly changing technologies, attendees also learned more about the dynamics of their own behaviors and how these impact both their businesses and personal lives. John Engels, President of Leadership Coaching, Inc., discussed advanced leadership skills. His presentation focused on maturity and emotional responsibility, both of which should be front-and-center when addressing problems and challenges.
“We need to put the focus not on the problem but the response to the problem, which often turns out to be more influential than the outcome of the problem itself,” says Engels. “When important issues get avoided because of discomfort, maybe it’s a compensation issue, maybe it’s a succession plan that isn’t happening, or maybe it’s a partnership agreement. What do you do?” Mr. Engels encourages business leaders not to avoid relationship challenges based on discomfort. Instead, leaders should be robustly interested in reality—not just making people feel happy. The latter is nothing more than fostering a delusion. This often requires going out of our comfort zones to address.
Both the analytical approach of Mr. Burrus and the personal approach of Mr. Engels come together to help us visualize a new organizational mindset for the accountancy profession. The ideal firm should have many features. According to Dan Hood, Editor-in-Chief of Accounting Today, these include good compensation, work-life integration, staff mentoring and training, new technologies, and challenging opportunities for staff. “If you had to pick one characteristic it would be communication,” says Hood. “Really making sure people understand where the firm is going and what role the staff can play in it.”
Experts discussed various trends that are transforming the accountancy profession right now. “We’ve got new technology trends, such as block chain, artificial intelligence, and cognitive advisors, coming out,” says Erik Asgeirsson, President and CEO of CPA.com, the event organizer. “The profession should look at this automation and increasing technology as an ally to the practice. The choice is how do you want to leverage technology?”
The trend of cloud-based technologies was the subject of several seminars at the event. Samantha Mansfield, Director of Communications at CPA.com, stressed in her seminar that the cloud is facilitating three main processes in the accountancy profession: digitization, virtualization, and introducing systems of engagement. Our society is increasingly becoming paperless and computer-based—thus more digitized. Virtualization is on the rise as technology helps eliminate barriers and interact with clients in new and different ways. Growing us of the cloud is also encouraging the introduction of systems of engagement as opposed to systems of record with clients. Systems of Record are the traditional Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)-type systems used for generating standard information (e.g., financial, production, human resources, etc.). The data in these systems is authoritative and integrated for consistency and mandatory usage. Systems of Engagement are systems that are used directly by clients for more collaborative and learning-based applications. “All of this is leading to this transformation of being a compliance-oriented profession to being an advisory-oriented profession,” says Ms. Mansfield.
Another interesting trend that stood out at the conference was nano or micro-learning, which uses online and mobile platforms to deploy educational and professional development content in smaller more convenient portions of information. Micro-learning allows accountants to learn where and when it is easiest for them, and research suggests that many learn more effectively in shorter bursts.
While some of this may sound overwhelming it doesn’t have to be. The message for the accountancy profession is actually quite empowering. Clearly, a renaissance is just beginning. Our society is changing. The needs of clients are changing. The form and content of information is changing. As a result, the profession is changing. Accounting firms and management accountants in corporations throughout the world can go forward in many different directions. The point is that you must go forward.
Mr. Engels summed it up best with one powerful tenet: “If you don’t like change, you’re going to hate being irrelevant.”
"The Anticipatory Accountant" is a trademark of Burrus Research, Inc.