Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the 2014 Thought Leader Symposium sponsored by the CPA Practice Advisor. My hat is off to both Jim Baker, the publisher of CPA Practice Advisor, and Gail Perry, editor-in-chief, for planning and running the session. It was an enlightening experience.
This event brought together many of the leading practitioners, consultants to CPA firms and professional association leaders to discuss changes in technology and other current issues facing practicing CPAs. The group also got to interact with representatives of some of the leading technology companies serving CPAs and small business – Intuit, CCH, Thomson Reuters and Avalara. The symposium provided a great opportunity to discuss some of the strategic issues of the day and where the profession is headed in the future.
A big part of that future revolves around technology and a good part of the discussion by the group focused on moving to “the cloud.” But there was some disagreement as to how fast that transition will happen. Many of the technology consultants at the session feel it can’t happen fast enough, and actually encouraged the technology vendors at the event to discontinue their legacy systems and basically force movement to the cloud. They felt that the efficiency and security the cloud provides is superior to operating independent computer systems. Others in attendance stated that the costs/benefits of moving to the cloud were not necessarily that clear, especially for smaller CPA firms that would find it more expensive over the long run to have to pay the user fees associated with cloud computing. So the jury is still out as to how fast CPA firms and their clients will be moving to the cloud.
Another key discussion point at the session revolved around the changing demographics/aging of the profession and how that will be affecting firms as many partners hit retirement age. Succession planning for firms of any size is critical for their future and the anticipation is that there will continue to be a lot of mergers and acquisitions among mid-market-size firms taking place over the next several years as the firms and the market shake out and deal with retirements.
Hiring qualified staff and the hunt for talent continue to be key issues for most firms. Most CPA firms are operating at maximum capacity now and cannot really expand unless they can hire more people to do the work or outsource. That also affects the whole idea of CPA firms moving to higher-level, value-add services. A number of people at the session stated that many CPA firms are more comfortable providing their traditional “compliance services” and do not have the time, staff or motivation to develop these new service areas.
The one thing that was clear from all the discussions at the symposium is that the future for the CPA profession is a bright one. CPAs continue to be highly respected and trusted by the public, so they have a huge competitive advantage to help them meet the various challenges they will be facing as we move to the future.