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Staying Relevant: Redefining How Accounting Firms Deliver Services.

the next generation of accounting firms will need to reflect new marketplace needs. Traditional models may not be relevant anymore, and firms that do not innovate how they deliver services will find themselves falling behind. As compliance activities continue to become more commoditized, accounting firms are moving into a more consultative role. Despite past success, firms that have been focusing solely on preparing tax returns and performing audits will need to find ways to stay relevant and keep up with the growing client needs.

Embracing Technology

New technology is leading to audits being done more efficiently--and providing accounting firms with opportunities to provide value-add services to significantly deepen client relationships. Enhanced technology does not have to mean that accounting firms will lose client hours; it can mean firms adding more clients or doing more for existing clients.

Technology will continue to evolve in ways that can be foreseen and in ways we could never imagine. For example, documents are commonly stored and accessed through the cloud. Not every accounting firm has its own cloud capability, but they all have access through software that performs specific actions, like tax software, Prepared by Client (PBC) document request software or systems that pull down a client's entire audit software and can collect and organize the data in a way that makes auditing more efficient.

In addition, advanced technology may help accountants move toward using Big Data for data extraction rather than just relying on sampling. That could create higher-quality audits and the ability to provide a more comprehensive review. Technology like artificial intelligence could be used for things like real-time or continuous auditing.

Becoming a Trusted Adviser

Technology is creating new opportunities, but it's not enough to excel in a new generation of accounting firms. As clients move beyond audit and tax compliance needs, they are increasingly looking to partner with a trusted adviser. Accounting firms need to provide consultative services that help clients better meet today's business environment, while helping them look to a future defined by rapid technological advancement. Some areas of locus:

* Emerging growth services: Growing companies are facing new challenges that come with activities like raising equity, developing new markets, expanding globally and going public. To serve those needs, accounting firms must offer more sophisticated business advisory and consulting services.

* Growth and value planning: Accounting firms can provide guidance for clients as they prepare for future growth and expansion.

* High-net-worth services: Many owners and shareholders can benefit from an independent view of their assets and the impacts on their personal taxes and planning, estate planning, generational skipping of tax structures and insurance.

* Industry specific services: Accounting firms need to understand their client's business, which means understanding their industry. They can provide an added perspective by offering industry specific services and experts.

* International tax: Helping clients as they expand their global footprint, sell or source products or materials from overseas.

* Succession planning: Private companies may have older founders who are looking to pass along management responsibilities or define an exit strategy.

* Transactional advisory: There is a hunger in the market for mergers, acquisitions and divestitures, and most clients look for outside advice when these issues arises.

* Technology services: As client technology becomes more sophisticated, accounting firms have opportunities to help them with issue surrounding enterprise resource planning systems, customer relationship management systems, data analytics, business intelligence and cybersecurity.

Hiring the Right People

The employees a firm has today may have a focus on compliance services. The employees of tomorrow will need to have specialized technology and industry skills in areas like data science, engineering, business intelligence, data collection and data analysis. Traditional accounting and tax skills remain important, but as client systems and technology evolve, there's more emphasis put on these specialized skillsets.

If a firm does not have people with consultative skills on staff, it's time for it to take a look at its recruiting practices or provide the necessary training to current staff. Recent college graduates may have more advanced technology skills, especially when looking beyond people with traditional accounting degrees. More experienced people will also be needed, and attracting higher-level talent with these skills may be preferable, but it can be difficult if the firm is asking them to build a new practice. A firm may have more success with building a practice organically by having current staff add to (heir skills through education. A case can then be built to attract specialized people once a firm has a service line up and running.

It may also make sense to consider hiring industry experienced people that may not be from traditional accounting backgrounds to serve as consultants and expand a firm's internal network of advisors.

Meeting Evolving Client Expectations

The types of services an accounting firm offers is dictated by its clients. As they evolve and are more driven by technology, accountants must meet their needs in new ways. For example, newer, younger companies tend to have less infrastructure, less history and are managed by younger entrepreneurs, who surround themselves with people who have a skillsel that relates to where they are. There's a faster pace and an expectation of quicker answers and more immediate demonstration of value. Accounting firms must still meet the needs of more traditional clients, but aligning with expectations across the board builds solid relationships and sets clear expectations.

Preparing for the Future

As the market swiftly changes, accounting firms have the opportunity to take a serious look at how well they're meeting their clients' needs now--and how they are planning to meet future needs. Accountants are expected to provide analysis on how a client's present state is positioned to meet the future. Technology is driving much of the profession's changes. Artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics are already beginning to displace audit and tax compliance hours--it's time to redefine accountants" roles to keep growing.


Anant Patel, CPA is a partner leading the Green Hasson Janks Transaction Advisory Services Practice. You can reach him at
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Title Annotation:professional issues
Author:Patel, Anant
Publication:California CPA
Date:May 1, 2019
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