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How to Make Yourself the CPA of the Future 

It should be obvious but, in case you missed it, the CPA profession is undergoing profound changes. No longer are CPAs simply the transactional vendor who magically appears once a year to help clients handle their taxes. Shifts in consumer behavior, a fluid tax and regulatory environment, fintech and other rapidly evolving technology1, and many other factors are profoundly impacting the future of the accounting profession.

Now, more than ever CPAs are taking on more advisory roles and leveraging technology * to help their clients successfully navigate an ever-morphing tax code, the typically delayed and uncertain IRS guidance, and the rise of business models and verticals that not feasible a decade ago.

The future of accounting is here, and with the advent of new technology, it can change almost instantaneously.   You can be the trusted advisor in your firm, or the financial dinosaur, clinging to outdated methods.

Transforming your career is less about a fancy new resume, developing snazzy social profiles or sharing inspirational quotes on LinkedIn. It’s more about YOU. Specifically, it’s about how you think about developing your skillset, setting your career track, your willingness to learn new technologies, and your vision of your future.

How well are you adapting to all of these changes in our profession, or are you remaining static?   Change can be hard, but, like the Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, “Nothing is permanent except change.” And to change your career trajectory, first, you have to change your mindset.

Change Your Mindset: How you think about yourself 

Knowing you need to be on top of your game in your profession is the first step, but knowing how to step up your game is a bit more difficult.   A popular professional coaching model by Donna Agajanian named the ARC of Change2 starts by stating “Awareness is your way in.” Essentially, if you are not aware there is a need for change, you cannot start to create a new path for yourself.   With “Reflection” you come to understand where you need change and can make the “Conscious Choice” to initiate change in your life.

Consider a somewhat rough analogy. Let’s say you take your car in for scheduled service. Do you want to work with Tom, who only does the work recommended by the manufacturer, or would you prefer to work with Bob, who also anticipates potential issues and offers a variety of solutions to proactively address those issues before they occur? Bob’s approach to service creates a lasting bond that not only cements your trust but also results in a better reputation and more revenue for his business long-term. Be like Bob.

Take the time before you start looking for a new role to codify what you do well and any expertise you aren’t currently using in your current role. These can only enhance your value to prospective firms who will see the opportunity to deliver a more diverse group of services to their clients. Ask yourself how can you provide the greatest value to your new employer?

“You don’t want to be a commodity; you want to be the answer, you want to be their partner… You’re finally getting paid for your experience because you’re creating value for your client.”- Donna Agajanian 1

Change Your Mindset: How you think about your skillset 

Applying the ARC to objectively evaluating your skill set can have a transformative effect on your career. This involves research, speaking with your peers, and deep reflection identifying your true strengths while discovering new areas of interest and upgrading your skills as necessary.

Your new employers are looking forward and they want new hires to proactively walk alongside them into the future not just provide the same reactive services that most of their competitors do. Add that to the fact that traditional tax prep and filing have been largely commoditized thanks to DIY resources and affordable technology resources which means you need to approach your next job negotiation based on the value you can provide, not the costs it will require to bring you on board.

The simplest way to do this is through professional development. Most firms will provide these types of opportunities but don’t rely solely on what they offer. Actively go out and seek your own opportunities to develop skills and knowledge that make sense for your career track. Sure, tax and accounting compliance are vitally necessary components of the job you provide, but what other unique skills can you deliver to your new firm’s clients that could help them succeed in more intangible ways?

Don’t have any unique skills at the moment? That’s okay! Start by considering which service areas lend themselves to your current skill set or desired career track, or that you would enjoy becoming an expert in. For example, if you offer estate and gift tax services, you may want to expand to related areas, such as eldercare planning, trust management, succession planning, charitable giving, retirement planning, and family financial planning. To support any expansion of specialized services, you may want to invest in attaining new designations, such as CFP, PFS, ChFC, CFA, CLU, or others.

Change Your Mindset: How you think about technology 

The accounting profession isn’t exactly at the forefront of cutting-edge technology or driving innovation. One of the last great leaps forward in accounting methodology was the advent of double-entry bookkeeping some 500 years ago (unless you hold with the theory that it was first used in the 6th century3). However, several recent technological advances are having significant impacts on the profession.

Consider this:

Big data and data mining help you gather, store, manage and make practical use of the proliferation of information about your business, your clients, and your prospects. Artificial intelligence helps you go beyond addressing client needs by anticipating those needs in ways that were previously not possible. Cloud-based applications and services save you (and your clients) time, money, and other resources for increased efficiency and accuracy. 4

Workflow management tools facilitate a more efficient practice. You can integrate customer relationship management tools with your tax preparation software to provide a comprehensive and holistic approach to client management. Double-entry accounting is still valid. But the availability of advanced technology and tools to help you build a more effective, efficient, growing, and sustainable business that better meets your clients’ needs should change how you work.

According to the Annual Survey of New York State Practitioners conducted by the CPA Journal in 2018, of the tax preparation products rated by 2018 survey participants, ATX, CCH ProSystem fx, GoSystem Tax RS, Lacerte Tax, and UltraTax CS offer advanced workflow options. Over 26% of participants answered that they do use integrated applications, with another 14% considering it. 5

The rise of DIY tax software is fueling the commoditization of tax preparation and placing pressure on firms to differentiate. At the same time, client expectations are growing increasingly demanding. It’s a perfect storm that brings both challenges as well as opportunities.

As you continue to shift toward new technology, it’s important to keep in mind that technology is a means, not an end. It has no intrinsic value in and of itself, beyond how it can help you and your business. In fact, the wrong technology can have a negative impact that can cost you time, money, and ultimately, clients. Also keep in mind that not only do you have to purchase, install and integrate software, but you also have to maintain it. Getting references from users in your industry is a great start to pricing out maintenance, and can also help you choose the right software for your long-term goals.

Change Your Mindset: Checklist

Every firm is different, and some are more prepared for the future than others. Here is a checklist of questions to ask yourself as you begin transitioning from a transactional firm to an advisory firm (if you choose to do so).

Think about yourself

  • How can you provide the most value to your clients?
  • Do you need additional education or training to offer additional services?
  • Are your referral relationships strong enough?
  • Are you comfortable with the latest technology tools?

Think about your salary

  • Are you being paid for your value and expertise, or just your time?
  • What are you doing for the firm that they’re not charging for?

Think about the future

  • Is your skillset evolving, with an eye on the future?
  • Are you prepared to handle the changes coming to the profession?
  • What will your clients need five years from now that they don’t today?
  • How will you better serve your clients in the future?

Change Your Mindset: Change Your Life

Change is hard. It’s challenging. It’s uncomfortable. But often, it is necessary. It can also be rewarding, and sometimes even exhilarating.

The best way as you look to grow your career is to be ready to meet the future head-on. Are you ready?   The good news is that you are starting on this journey with an advantage. Take an honest inventory of your experience and your skill sets. Begin to change the way you talk about your business, how you talk about yourself, and how you talk about technology.  Listen to your clients and dive deeply into identifying their needs, both now, and in the future. This is not just an inventory of client needs, but an ongoing dialogue. It’s not enough to know your clients today. You need to anticipate their needs five or more years down the road.

If you are actively looking for a change, or are just curious about potential possibilities, we at VALiNTRYcpa are here to help you. We are one of the top financial staffing agencies in the U.S. and we pride ourselves on being more than just an accounting job board.  Our team of experienced headhunters walk you through every step of the job search process from resume development, candidate marketing, interview prep, and offer negotiation. With over 300 organizations under contract nationwide, including the Big 4, we can help you find your dream job!

Our personalized, individual attention for every candidate, whether you are just starting out or looking for a finance & accounting role that leverages your extensive experience. Contact VALiNTRYcpa today to get started!

Additional References and Reading:

1 Leveraging Technology


2 The Arc of Change


3 Double Entry Accounting History | To Know The Unknown


4 Embrace the Technology Revolution


5 Finding the Right Tax Software




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