Like most major conferences and conventions this year, the 2020 edition of the annual ENGAGE event jointly hosted by AICPA and CIMA was transformed from an in-person gathering in Las Vegas to a virtual meeting beamed across the screens of hundreds of attendees across the country. Also, like most conferences of this kind in 2020, the unavoidable focus in many of the sessions was the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and how it will impact the profession in the months and years to come.
It was only fitting, then, that the panelists for the conference’s keynote session spent their 75 minutes riffing on the theme of Reimaging Accounting in Extraordinary Times. With AICPA moderator Mark Koziel setting the table, the group took turns talking about the various ways in which accountants have proven their mettle in navigating the crisis thus far, as well as what it’s going to take to keep the profession indispensable as the economic recovery slowly moves ahead.
AICPA president and CEO Barry Melancon got things started by noting that accounting has never been a static profession and will not be one going forward. While the crisis may have acted to accelerate some of the changes that are coming for the profession, he believes that when it comes to things like developing the next generation of accounting professionals, embracing transformative technology, honing the focus on small businesses and further cementing a status as trusted advisors, accountants have already stepped up to the plate during these challenging times. “We really are the frontline workers when it comes to the economic part of this crisis,” he says.
Newly elected AICPA chair Tracey Golden pointed out that most firms probably learned more about and built stronger relationships with their clients over the last 100 days than they did in the previous several years. That’s a good start toward developing a trusted advisor status, she says, but it’s the next 100 days that will be crucial to cementing it, as many of those clients confront the kind of radical business transformation they may not be prepared for.
AICPA EVP of public accounting Susan Coffey echoed Golden’s sentiments, noting that firms may find good opportunities in the current environment to reach out to their clients with advisory services centered on things like cybersecurity, business restructuring, bankruptcy and cloud computing.
CPA.com president and CEO Erik Asgiersson, meanwhile, carried the theme of technology even further, explaining that the technological advancements the profession is starting to see come into greater prominence now have actually been around for a while, but it is adoption of those technologies that has really been pushed forward by the crisis.
Melancon wrapped things up by noting that a 60-year-old business owner would probably describe his or her CPA as the person who does the taxes, while a 30-year-old entrepreneur is more likely to see tax compliance as just one piece of a much broader and more strategic puzzle. The key for the profession, he says, is to better understand and communicate with that next-generation client.