As CPAs Learn To Anticipate The Future, An Unimaginable Crisis Hits_Part One

For five years, the Maryland Association of CPAs (MACPA) and futurist Daniel Burrus have been evangelists for identifying future trends and capitalizing on opportunities they present today.

The concepts taught in The Anticipatory Organization™ Accounting & Finance Edition, co-created by Burrus and experts provided by MACPA, has led firms to make fundamental changes – new service offerings they hadn’t considered, for example, or a new mindset to approach clients with future-looking advice and guidance.

Then the coronavirus swept through China, Europe and the United States, killing tens of thousands worldwide. Businesses closed their doors, and one after another, states issued stay-at-home orders. Unemployment is up; the stock market is down, way down.

Was there any way to predict the coronavirus and its effects using the learning model? Can it prepare accounting firm leaders for once-in-a-lifetime events such as this?

Tom Hood

Tom Hood

MACPA president and CEO Tom Hood says no. And yes.

No, predicting the coronavirus itself wasn’t possible. Hood says it’s a black swan event – rare, severe and generating assertions after the fact that we should have seen it coming.

But yes, The Anticipatory Organization™ teaches participants to act on what Burrus calls hard trends, or future facts. The entire MACPA staff, along with firms, took all 28 lessons, offered through MACPA’s Business Learning Institute. According to the teaching model, firms can be certain of changes in technology, demographics and regulations. Undeniably, technology will continue to advance, the population will continue to age, and new regulations will continue to evolve.

Using the Training to Get Ahead of the Coronavirus Effects

MACPA was ready on the regulations front. The AICPA led the effort to extend tax deadlines in light of the COVID-19 shutdowns, but before the parent organization said “go,” MACPA had secured signatures from the two Maryland senators on a letter asking Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin for relief.

Additionally, in response to shutdowns of non-essential businesses ordered in New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, MACPA planned for Maryland to do the same. Any profession left off the “essential” list in the initial executive order would have to petition the state to be included afterward – a process that could take weeks. MACPA emailed the governor and other state officials on Saturday, March 21. They responded right away, saying accountants would be considered essential, and the shutdown came Monday.

Another to-be-expected event on the regulations front? A flurry of state and federal relief packages. “When government gets caught in a big thing like this, they react and put legislation out. It’s a huge opportunity,” Hood says. MPs can help their clients react quickly to take advantage of programs to keep their businesses afloat.

As for technology, firms that had already moved to the cloud and set up the infrastructure to allow remote working – a hard trend seen years ago – are faring much better than those that lagged behind and are scrambling now.

Observers have long said that technology changes are exponential, but the spread of the coronavirus reveals what that really looks like, Hood says. At one point, COVID-19 cases in New York were doubling every three days, for example.

Playing it Safe: The Worst Thing to Do Now

Daniel Burrus

That’s why futurist Burrus says that looking ahead and acting now, or “pre-solving” problems, is critical. Burrus, author and CEO of Burrus Research, says that in his work with more than 1,000 companies, 93% of the CEOs told him that most of the problems they’re dealing with now could have been pre-solved a year earlier.

Agility is important as well because no one can predict everything, but agility means reacting quickly after a disruption occurs, Burrus says. That’s why coasting isn’t an option. Agility has less value every year because you can’t react fast enough.”

This is true even now, in the midst of the massive global disruption of COVID-19. Be agile, but don’t take a wait-and-see attitude. Hard trends won’t wait. The coronavirus will not stop digital disruption. In fact, the opposite will occur. Focus on new ways of helping clients get through the crisis. Burrus says accounting firms can be the disruptors – positive disruptors.

Burrus poses this question: “How will you and your organization be remembered after it is over? Will you squander this defining moment, or will you do something about it now?”

Part Two: Looking Ahead Pays Off With High-Growth Service Lines, More Satisfied Workforce. Read Part Two.