Firms of all sizes are being challenged to meet the changing demands of clients and maintain relevance in the face of a rapid technological evolution that is automating many traditional core services. The convergence of technology, networks and sensors, artificial intelligence and deep learning disrupts the profession. At the same time, these technologies present an opportunity to build upon the compliance and transactional services clients need and provide the proactive advice they want and value. In short, they offer the key to leaping from technical advisor to trusted business consultant.
CPAs are well-positioned to serve as trusted business advisors to their clients, but it requires an investment in technology for two purposes.
When asked why some accountants continue to focus their efforts on the transactional and compliance services that technology is commoditizing, most respond that they don’t feel comfortable providing advisory services that are performance- or strategic-based. Their training and experience have focused on technical skills. But transactions can now be recorded and coded more accurately by machines than by humans. And technology continues to gain capabilities to search and quickly respond to queries that previously required professional assistance, judgment and time.
The ability to access, organize and report data trends is essential to management and leadership, but technology is quickly becoming better at it than CPAs (and costs less). By investing in technology that can meet your client’s information needs, you can continue providing these services while elevating your focus. It will require a shift in mindsets, toolsets and skillsets. But the alternative is obsolescence.
In the past, most firms focused on client service on a human level. Their IT strategy was driven by tax and accounting software. In the future, firms will need to spread their IT investment across:
Legal and compliance
Services and products
The client experience—for external and internal clients (employees) is crucial for making the leap to trusted business advisor. In the past, too many solution providers focused on convenience from the firm’s perspective while ignoring the client experience. You can implement all the technology you want—if it’s difficult for your clients, they won’t use it.
Consider client portals. Portals were supposed to make collecting and delivering client documents more secure and convenient. However, from a client’s perspective, they were time-consuming and cumbersome. Few clients used them, and most that did were businesses that could task an employee with dealing with them—the business owner wouldn’t waste their time or effort.
Tax organizers are another example. Paper organizers are usually ignored by clients and returned blank or not at all. Several attempts have been made to digitize them, but those efforts usually merely took a lengthy and complicated paper organizer and put it on a screen. Many firms who tried early forms of electronic organizers abandoned them after a single tax season.
Over the last two years, certain solution providers have incorporated digital organizers, document collection and electronic signatures in a client-focused way. These tools benefit firms by helping to organize information and facilitate communication between the firm and the client, but they’re designed with the client experience in mind. The firms using these solutions report excellent adoption rates for that reason.
By focusing on these areas, firms can begin focusing on value-added rather than activity-based processes. If you don’t have a firm vision and a strategic plan that addresses these areas, now is an excellent time to get started. Start with the question, “Where do we want to be in one, three, five or ten years?” Then, don’t be afraid to utilize thought leaders and peers to assist in developing your technology ecosystem. Executing a plan requires leadership and resources but your technology ecosystem will become a strategic asset once in place.
Do you need help developing a roadmap for the future?
The Boomer Strategic Planning and Visioning process helps firms build consensus and alignment around their vision, strategic objectives and measurements. Complete an interest form today so you can start taking the most direct path to achieving your desired results.
L. Gary Boomer, Visionary & Strategist of Boomer Consulting, Inc., is recognized in the accounting profession as the leading authority on technology and firm management. He consults and speaks around the globe on several topics including strategic and technology planning; mindset, skillsets and toolsets for the future; change management and developing a training and learning culture. He also acts as a planning facilitator and coach to some of the accounting profession's top firms.