By Ty Hendrickson
The role of a partner in an accounting firm is changing. Actually, the role of a partner in an accounting firm has changed and now too many firms and individuals are playing catchup.
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Accounting firms as a whole have changed significantly over the past 10 to 15 years with the influx of new technology that modernizes the work being done within the firm. Compliance work is now being done much more quickly and efficiently because of ever-improving software that automates many accounting tasks.
More of the day-to-day work is being done by software, which has caused the following to happen:
1. Firms attempted to pass the time savings down to clients in an effort to show better service to the client. Unfortunately, that has resulted in a change in the market where clients feel as though they should be constantly searching for a lower price.
2. The mindset of the client has shifted to one where they don’t necessarily see the value that the CPA provides when technology is automating so many of the processes, which again is driving down the price of engagement.
This shift in the accountant-client relationship has been the unwanted result of the new technology in our industry, but it truly does not have to result in a negative impact. While the relationship with the client has changed and many are now price shopping for their compliance work, there is an entirely different group of clients who want to see more from their accountant.
The majority of clients want to see their accountant as a trusted adviser and someone who can partner with them to help guide their business. Truthfully, isn’t this why we all went into accounting? I know I didn’t choose accounting just to plug numbers into tax software.
The firms and individuals that will come out on the other side of this change successfully are the ones that are embracing this new role as an adviser. They are the ones that look differently at their clients and work to understand them intimately in order find ways to support the client’s goals. They are the ones that are looking for opportunities to get involved with the clients and provide avenues for the clients to grow their businesses and/or achieve financial freedom. They are the ones that are changing the role for all future accountants.
So, why is this such an important topic to discuss? Because this completely changes the way accountants need to prepare for their futures in public accounting.
With the new role of a partner in an accounting firm being more client-facing and service-driven, the way we develop our future leaders needs to change significantly. Firms can’t afford to let individuals rely on their technical skills alone to make it to partner level and soft-skill training cannot wait until they are in a leadership role. If individuals and firms want to be the leaders that come out on the other side of this change successfully, investment in non-technical skills needs to happen early and often to match the changing firm culture.