AICPA Engage took place this week and with hundreds (maybe even thousands?) of accountants from across the US and Canada congregating in Las Vegas, there’s no doubt that the future of accounting and the profession was discussed at length at the 400 sessions that took place over the course of the week.
The clear overarching theme of the conference? Change, transformation and disruption in the profession.
If you didn’t end up making it, not to worry, because I’ll break down the highlights for you right here.
CEO of AICPA Pleads Transformation & Change
If you want to know the state of the profession right now, look no further than the the CEO of AICPA, Barry Melancon’s, key note speech titled “Reimagine.” One of his opening lines was, “We are about transformation of the profession in today’s world”. This is the CEO of one of, if not the, largest accounting profession in the world talking about the importance of transforming your model and the way you do business in order to stay relevant in today’s day and age. Quite unbelievable.
The same themes and buzzwords popped up throughout his presentation which most of you are aware of; AI, machine learning, blockchain, using technology to augment accountants’ skills, etc. But the critical thing to take away here is the focus that the CEO of AICPA placed on change as he was practically pleading with the audience to heed his advice, which was essentially, change now or see your relevance decreased in the years to come.
Client Accounting Services Take Center Stage at AICPA Engage
It wasn’t long ago that bookkeeping and outsourced accounting services were not a huge interest to many firms. Well, that’s changing. Want further confirmation? William Reeb, CEO of a firm who helps others adopt change, was also on stage with Barry Melancon to talk about the importance and value of client accounting services. Essentially, that we accountants are in the best position to act as an outsourced accounting department. Accountants have the skills to act as an outsourced accounting department and that technology should be at the forefront of it all to automate this aspect of things and then use the available data to provide a forward-looking approach to their clients. He underscored the immense value and opportunity this brings to CPA’s.
Artificial Intelligence is Top of Mind
I particularly enjoyed the presentation of Mindbridge’s CTO, Robin Grosset. Mindbridge.ai is a tech startup that develops artificial intelligence based-tools to help automate the audit process. Robin, who actually helped to develop IBM’s Watson, gave an awesome presentation breaking down the history of AI and how AI is being used today.
Robin reiterated what others have been saying; that AI will augment the skills of the accountant if used properly.
Something else that I found interesting though was that while many focus negatively on the jobs that will be lost due to AI, no one talks about all the jobs that it will create. He showed some statistics that AI will actually create more jobs than will be lost.
Robin also spoke about what AI is really good at, that is, automating and dealing with repetitive tasks, and what it’s bad at, which is, dealing with broader, high level type thinking. This is important to consider as professionals re-position themselves.
In a separate presentation on AI, Marc Staut from Boomer Consulting, once again reiterated many of the core talking points on AI and analyzed some of the precise jobs it will create, many of them with regards to managing & understanding the technology itself. For professionals that choose to get a much deeper understanding of how the technology works, this will likely see demand for their knowledge increase as the profession evolves.
Seems everyone these days has a podcast and that was apparent throughout AICPA Engage as people were mic’d up everywhere. Major props goes out to Jody Padar who literally did a marathon session of interviewing different guests for 1 whole straight day (video of my interview below). Truthfully, I don’t know how she did it!
I also had the honor of joining Blake Oliver and Megan Lewczyk in an impromptu Cloud Accounting Podcast session which funnily enough had us talking about thoughts around the decreasing value of a CPA title in 2019 and whether the profession is doing enough to keep CPA’s relevant. The podcast can be found here.
I also had the pleasure of joining value pricing guru Ed Kless in a podcast he was doing for Sage.
Over and above these, there were many other podcasts taking place showing the increasing importance of this medium.
Randy Johnson’s Schooling on Technology
Technologist Randy Johnson of K2 Enterprises, a bit of a celebrity in the profession, took to the stage at AICPA Engage to school the audience on all trends happening in the world of technology. From new computers to 5G to 3D printed homes, Randy gave everyone the latest on what’s on the horizon from a technology perspective. While some of these items may not have been pertinent in the day-to-day running of your firm, it’s interesting to know about what’s coming up as your clients will likely be dabbling in these spaces.
Simon Sinek Steals the Show at AICPA Engage
Simon Sinek’s Tedtalk on “Start with Why” has been one of the most popular Tedtalks of all time (and I highly recommend his book on the subject as a good resource for accounting firms). He was very entertaining and the crowd seemed to love what he was saying.
At AICPA Engage, ee spoke mostly about how leaders need to help groom others to become leaders rather than just leaving them to figure it out on their own, especially since soft skills are becoming increasingly important due to more of the typical things being automated in bookkeeping, tax & accounting. In fact, he said the reason for him changing CPA’s recently was not due to technical skills but due to soft skills.
Speaking more on change & transformation, he also provided an analogy to Blockbuster, where Blockbuster’s financial situation was still very strong even with the onset of Netflix, but that the long term health of the company was in trouble. Blockbuster’s Board ignored this simply because they were looking at the current numbers and not wanting to modify the model rather than looking at the future of where things were heading.
Still on the Blockbuster example, when it comes to transformation in an industry, he spoke about competitors being the ones you would least expect and often not even really in the same industry (ie. Netflix was really not a movie rental business). He said that in the near future, the main competitors to firms might not be firms, it might be software companies. Hmmm… that sounds familiar given that I wrote a recent article about whether accounting tech startups can overtake accounting firms. His exact quote on the subject was, “If you try to protect the old model, protectionism will be like signing your death warrant.”
Lastly, he touched on the topic of remote work, where he himself runs a completely virtual company. He said it’s great, but it’s a lot of work to maintain the human relationships and some of the things he does is to have plenty of check-ins with the team and lots of video conferences.
Meeting Your Fellow Peers at AICPA Engage
Is this ever not a highlight? We connect with people from all over the world throughout the year digitally and when you get all of your peers in one big room, it’s a pretty good time. While I am a huge advocate of working in the online world, at least once or twice a year it’s a good idea to physically connect with those that you have been interacting with and AICPA Engage was a fantastic place to do it. Whenever you ask someone about their highlights about a conference like this, almost 10 times out of 10, they will say, “getting to connect with people that I have been speaking with throughout the year.”