CPAs brainwash themselves. Here’s how to fight back and finish strong.
by Jason M. Blumer
THRIVEal +CPA Network
I hear it all too often from the old guard retiring: “I’m worn out,” or “we are merging because we don’t have the stamina to make the last 5 years,” or “I’m too old for all of these techy changes,” or “developing the next set of partners for our firm is just too time consuming.” My Dad said this stuff before he retired in May 2009.
It seems the end of a public accountant’s career is steeped in misery, being “worn out” and adverse to change. Not a very exciting picture for those entering universities deciding what to major in! Is this what the younger generation has to look forward to when they retire?
I’m 15 years into my career now with another 30 to go, and that outlook is not very appealing to me. And it certainly doesn’t match the excitement I feel right now as we are at the pinnacle of a major change in our industry that could determine our direction for the next 40 to 50 years. If we are going to finish strong in our profession, we must start now to correct our thinking.
I believe we’ve been lied to, and I believe most younger professionals have believed the lie that public accounting is boring, it “wears you out” and you’ll be running from the profession when you finally get to retire. Here are a couple of lies we often peddle and believe:
1. Change is bad – Our industry seems to be adverse to change. Everyone has experienced change in their careers and personal lives. Why does change seem to be avoided by our industry? There are many reasons, but I believe technology stands out as one of the biggest. Technology is the next industrial revolution. The business process enhancements that technology brings to our industry is hard to get your hands around unless you grew up with technology as part of your daily life. Technology and the growth of cloud-based software is truly a paradigm shift. Generation Y is the first generation that can say they grew up with technology. They have always had technology as part of their communications, pleasure and work. But Baby Boomers, those currently running most CPA firms across the country, did not grow up this way and did not even use technology for a large part of their career. Embracing technology has been difficult for some Baby Boomers, making change a bad word. Other areas of change have also been hard to swallow: how we dress, where we work, what type of computer we use, becoming paperless, automation and process design, using template websites, social media, mobile computing, managing remote clients, managing remote staff, the cloud, succession planning, etc. So much change is happening at one time, that it is truly hard to manage – but that doesn’t make change bad. That is a lie.
2. S.A.L.Y. – S.A.L.Y., or Same as Last Year, has been a mantra in our industry, and is another lie we’ve been taught. When we aren’t sure what to do, we can always copy last year’s workpapers. But over time, performing our jobs the same way we did it last year has led to many years of doing the same thing each year with little improvement or refinement. And we’ve trained the next Managers to do the same thing. Now that a new generation is becoming our client base, we are being asked why we are doing things the same way. We can only answer, “because that is what we did last year.” That lie will stop with a new generation, because our new generation clients are demanding something more. At the core of this lie is our industry’s lack of innovation. We are unable to create new models of service, or work cloud-based process improvements into the service of our new clients. Well, from here forward, SALY must be fired from our firms if we are to remain viable. We can innovate as an industry, and we must if we are to move forward serving a different generation with different needs. We can’t train the next generation of staff the same way we were taught. That will eventually drive another nail in our industry’s coffin. As the leaders of the New Firm, we must teach vision, extraordinary leadership and innovation to the next generation of leaders. Our inability to innovate is a lie, and we don’t have to do things the way we’ve always done them.
As an encouragement, and to mirror the lies above, there are some things that are true about our industry, and how we can finish strong:
1. Our industry is changing – There is a pocket of change rising up from the ranks of “working for the man.” Younger generations are starting their own firms with different visions from how they began their career. Did you know that? Did you know there is a group of CPAs doing things differently? You can find them on Twitter and Facebook if you look. There is a lot to learn when managing your own firm, and that will come in time. You learn the necessities of firm operations with real experience, but you can’t manage innovation. You must allow it to happen organically. The best news is that there are New Firms being started and purchased, and the owners love the change in the industry. They are making way for innovation and embracing change. They are trying new services, asking clients for their opinions and continuing to improve. They don’t mind if their staff wears jeans, and they trust their remote employees to do their jobs accurately and timely. They are scrapping the time sheet, taking away the billing metric burdens of traditional firms and going paperless. They are making more money and enjoying this exciting career. The fact that our industry is changing will hopefully be a welcome message to those about to graduate with an accounting degree. Those about to embark on their journey for the next 50 years in the public accounting industry can know that you can finish strong, but you must embrace change. Change is happening, and this is true. And it is a good thing.
2. Cloud technology is changing the face of business – There are two aspects of this statement worth mentioning. One, today’s business environment is loaded up with inefficiencies. And we don’t really know how bad it is because we’ve never known anything different. We’ve always run our processes with paper, and now you should stop doing that because you can stop doing that.
If you don’t believe me, take some time to document how many times you touch paper or how many times you touch the same piece of paper. Our small business clients (as well as our firms) are drowning in inefficiencies. The cloud has created what I call “disrupted business processes” and has broken our processes into many cloud-based granular steps. We can now address our processes differently, and we should bring this to our clients.
The second point I want to mention here is that the CPA industry is poised to stand between the innovative cloud vendors and our clients to change their freakin’ lives. I’m serious! Becoming the experts at moving our clients to the cloud and addressing their inefficient processes is a great task we should lead! We are the best ones to do it! No one else has the ear of the small business community.
The cloud vendors building highly innovative systems online need us to be that go-between. If we study these cloud systems, we can give our clients efficiency, better work/life balance, less staff costs, more timely financial information, a renewed focus on business intelligence (dashboarding) and a host of other benefits that the cloud brings. Cloud technology is turning the standard business process upside down – this is true.
In summary, finishing strong takes action NOW! You can’t hope to finish strong or hope that you don’t wrap up your career as a bitter old coot. Becoming a champion of our exciting, creative, and ever-changing industry starts with a mind change right now. You have to decide to do it.
You have to understand that you have often been lied to (though perhaps unintentionally) and that the truths of our industry are very exciting. Who knows what technology we will be asked to leverage in the accounting space over the next 5 to 10 years? Who knows what will happen to our national landscape as baby boomers exit en masse within the next 5 to 10 years? I think exciting opportunities will be laid out before us to drive our industry in the direction we know it should go. I want to drive that change in our industry. Won’t you go with me?
Jason M. Blumer is managing shareholder of Blumer & Associates, CPAs, PC. He wears flip flops and jeans, says “dude” a lot, and often works in coffee shops with headphones blaring the latest Bloomberg podcasts (though he doesn’t understand most of it). Jason loves new game-changing cloud technology and plays rock and roll too loud. His daily duties include consulting, process design, blogging, marketing and business development, innovative thinking, tax work, coaching, fraud consulting, practice management, and acting as a change agent. As the industry has changed, the need for new CPA firm leadership has emerged for the younger generation ready to move into the world of firm ownership. Jason founded the THRIVEal +CPA Network to accommodate the needs of this new younger generation. The THRIVEal +CPA Network looks to enhance the CPA/Accountancy profession based on the foundational tenets of Community, Collaboration, Technology and Innovation.