Six Never-Before Opportunities for the Accounting Profession

The number 6 made from dollar stacksPerceptions will have to change.

By Hitendra Patil
Accountaneur: The Entrepreneurial Accountant

Do you remember cell phone devices before the iPhone was launched?

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It was not just technological advancements that gave birth to the iPhone. It was actually more about the ability to use human imagination to figure out how new technology could be used to invent altogether new benefits.

This is not an article about technology. It is about YOUR ability to imagine new benefits for your clients, for your staff and for your firm.

Here are six never-before opportunities for the accounting profession, in no particular order:

1. New Business Models, New Ways of Billing

Years in business, huge revenue and capital, technology ownership and talented people make one of the topmost firms actually a network of individual firms working collectively.

Accounting firm owner/partner is essentially an entrepreneur, i.e., accountaneur – leveraging human labor and risks borne by uncertainty in the marketplace.

Technological advances will make it possible in 2018 and beyond for individual smaller firms to retain their own identities yet be able to access the talent, resources, processes and intellectual property to provide their own clients new services that the individual firms do not own. Over the years, many of the knowledge-based things that human labor did in the profession have been migrated to technology. It is, therefore, imperative that accountants leverage that “technological labor” more than ever before. Historically prevalent pricing based on costs of producing work will be challenging to sustain as technology reduces per-unit cost of work produced.

In vogue will be networks of firms delivering value at each node in the network but NOT producing the work necessarily at the same node. Technology is a great leveler. It will ensure that smaller firms will NOT require huge capital to form these networks of firms. At the same time, it will distill the “value gap” between accountants and their clients. It will be clearer and more precisely defined what clients cannot do (well) that accountants can do – even when clients have access to AI- and machine learning-driven accounting technologies. Accountants will build their new business models on that value gap.

Technology has also moved rapidly to free up human intelligence time – from doing/data-entering/information-handling to leveraging insights from information in context of the clients’ businesses/goals. That means accountants will be billing for different outcomes rather than just creating the hitherto usual tax returns, financial statements and audits. Hours billed will give way to billing for objectives achieved, based more and more on engagement pricing – which in turn is based on value perceived as fair by both parties, accountants and their clients – retainer fees and project deliverables, etc.

2. New Services, New Revenue Opportunities

Data scientist, SEO manager and machine language programmer – many of the new-age designations were impossible to imagine when our grandparents worked. Yes, most of these new-age terms are associated more with technology but more importantly, what these new technologies enable you to do that you have never done before as accountants will also enable you to create new services and benefit from new revenue opportunities. For example:

  • In the blockchain world, you could be the certifier that digital value actually corresponds to the physical goods/assets that really exist, i.e., Certified Blockchain Accountant.
  • In the AI and machine learning world, you could be that board member who brings in near real-time, accuracy-certified, data-based information intelligence for less risky and surely better business decisions of the companies.

3. New Certifications Mean New Markets to Tap

Being a Certified Blockchain Accountant opens up entirely new markets for you – those in which blockchain technology providers enable their clients to achieve new growth and higher profitability.

In AI- and machine learning-driven markets, you will be able to capture market share of new types of assurance services that correlate financial information of businesses with the regulatory requirements that govern not only businesses but also technologies such as AI and machine learning.

4. New Real-time Business Decision Support through As-it-happens Audit

Blockchain, AI, machine learning and the cloud together have the perfect recipe to move business decisions from past data to those with as-is-happening data. If you could inform the business owners of their risky clients based on consistently delayed payments, it was already too late and the best-case use was to help business owners cut future risks only. Now, think of trusted transactions taking place only if there are indeed parties that cannot but comply with transaction conditions. You will have real-time data for real-time business decision support.

Audit. The whole perception of the word will change. From something that is done AFTER things happened, it will be something that is done WHILE the things happen and in many cases even BEFORE things happen – i.e., predictive audits!

5. New Skills Enhancement Opportunities for Current Workforce

The people best suited to advance the profession into 2018 and beyond are those who are already working in the profession. They already know what the profession does, what outcomes it produces and how. All that they will need to learn anew is how some of the fundamental outcomes can be produced with new technologies and processes, and which new outcomes they can produce with the insights that they already have learned.

For example: Auditors will become more of management consultants and even capital allocation advisors, not in theory but armed with predictive auditing capabilities.

6. New Branding, New Perceptions

An experienced accountant told me 13 years ago that he was “a compliance agent, friend of the past, a necessary evil and an optional partner of client’s future.” That “brand” is the most damaging perception the profession has.

If you read "Urgently Required: A New Definition of Accounting," you’d know that accountants and accounting, as defined now, will be a thing of the past. So will be the perceptions about what accountants (can) do for their clients.

The perception (and predictions) that automation will make 94-97 percent accountants obsolete will disappear because of new, more accurately reflective “brand CPAs” or “brand accountants” that make people recognize more precisely what they can expect from accountants.

People correctly perceive that they cannot themselves do the complex things that professionals like attorneys and doctors do. As time goes by, people – clients – will correctly perceive that they cannot do what professional accountants do. The New Brand Accountant will be clients’ “indispensable benefactor.”

What other new opportunities do you see for your firm?