A Look Ahead: The Future of the Profession
Neil H. Fishman, CPA, CFE, FCPA, CAMS and Mark A. Stewart Jr., CPA, our respective outgoing and incoming presidents of NCCPAP, were recently featured in an Accounting Today podcast hosted by editor-in-chief, Dan Hood. They share the issues they've been working on, and what they see coming for the accounting profession.
The biggest issues in the profession for the past couple of years are related to technology. Without question, people are doing more and more on their computers and online versions, which are not necessarily as good as the desktop software. Of course, online makes it easier and more convenient to access records. With the pandemic, there’s been an enormous transition to videoconferencing. In my practice, I’ve always been in touch with my clients—in person and over the phone—but now we’re doing much more on videoconferencing with screen sharing. This works well because we educate our clients as part of our ongoing work. In most cases, we’re interpreting the law for our clients, so that they understand how income and expenses are being reported and why their tax liability is what it is. The last thing we want is a call from our clients saying they got a letter from the IRS or any other taxing authority.
In the future, I foresee a reduced number of smaller CPA firms who do tax preparation work. The number of people going into the profession is dropping—and at the same time, the average age is increasing. The number of people taking the CPA exam is declining and in addition, the number of people going into public accounting is also declining. If people sell their practice, it’s typically to one of the larger firms who are not necessarily keeping smaller clients. Those clients need to find new CPAs to handle their work and that is concerning for all of us.
Regarding technology, years ago, we went through the change in the accounting profession from paper to using desktop computer software. At the time, those software packages were new and did not work perfectly. Gradually, those products improved to the point where they are integral to our accounting practices. We are currently in the middle of another evolution, moving from desktop computer software to cloud technologies. These systems currently do have many kinks to work out, but over time I feel they will become integral to the accounting profession as well. Practitioners should not be afraid to dive into these products if they want to remain competitive in the future.
One unique caution about today’s technology is cybersecurity. This is important for practitioners today, not only for themselves but also for their clients. We need to take the time to evaluate if the products and data are secure before adopting a new piece of technology. Unfortunately, our firms are a one stop shop for identity theft. We have all of the information a thief needs, all in one spot. As practitioners, we need to keep this in mind every single day.
The main issue for practitioners to deal with in this coming year is, in a word, uncertainty. I find myself saying to clients something I rarely said in the past, and if I did, it may have been in jest: ‘Here is the number of your Congressional Representative, call him/her for the answer’.
Take a look at our main three business segments as practitioners: tax, financial statement attestation, and advisory services. If we have a change in control of the federal government, we’ll likely have more changes in tax policy. For financial statements, when COVID-19 hit, many standards were pushed back one year and may be pushed back even further. Advisory is the most important aspect of what we do. We now have brand new grant and loan programs for COVID relief and we’re in charge of navigating all of it. Sometimes we really don’t have all the answers. Sometimes we can’t help. That’s the toughest part of our job right now. We’re used to being the ‘answer people’ and now we genuinely don’t know in many instances.
In the future, I envision that we’ll need data analysts and interpreters integrated into our firms. Our challenge as an organization is how to help our members merge this new workforce of tech savvy people and remain competitive in an already competitive environment.
The National Conference of CPA Practitioners (NCCPAP) is a professional organization comprised of Certified Public Accountants practicing in the United States. In addition to serving as a forum for education, networking, and community impact, NCCPAP also advocates for its clients. NCCPAP influences tax administration and tax policy by regularly meeting with Internal Revenue Service representatives, state taxing authorities, and elected officials. NCCPAP members represent over one million businesses and individual clients. The organization is headquartered in Woodbury, NY. For more information visit, www.NCCPAP.org.