A Profession in Transition

by Joseph E. Seibert, CPA | Aug 31, 2017
Pennsylvania CPA Journal
The theme of my term as PICPA president is going to be “A profession in transition.” The press is full of predictions regarding the demise of the accountant, citing automation and artificial intelligence as replacements. Instead, I believe the changing marketplace can be an opportunity for CPAs if our membership focuses on the following: 
  • Transitioning leadership from baby boomers to the next generation
  • Embracing the change that technology is bringing
  • Increasing the diversity of our membership to be more reflective of society
Shifting leadership to the post-baby-boomer generations is critical to our future success. More than 50 percent of PICPA membership is over 50. Many will be retiring in the next five to 10 years. Many others will be reaching the 40-year lifetime membership, which means no more dues. We must energize younger generations to participate in the PICPA and support our profession. I would like to accelerate our current initiatives by increasing the participation of younger members in our Council brainstorming meetings as we set the direction of the PICPA. We need fresh perspectives on how to connect, interact, and keep the PICPA relevant for them. The profession’s viability is protected by the PICPA, and we need our organization to be strong and adaptable. 

We also need to embrace new technology and own our share of the new roles being created. Powerful tools are going to change the way audits are done. The market wants continuous information, and we can be at the center of certifying the validity of the financial information published by the business community. To do this, we are going to need to have a deeper understanding of the internal controls at organizations and to have the artificial-intelligence-based audit tools that monitor transactions as they enter our clients’ accounting systems. While these tools will be able to review 100 percent of transactions instead of a small sample, they are going to need highly skilled auditors to establish the parameters that the tools use and to evaluate the results. For tax professionals, maintaining compliance with highly complex tax laws and regulations will be easier with thoughtful analytics and systems to properly identify and classify transactions. Tax planning and structuring transactions will not go away, but they will become more important as we will have more time to focus on these value-added services. For advisory professionals and corporate finance leaders, we are going to need to be in front of the transition of routine accounting and finance jobs to the “bots.” The changing landscape of the back office cannot be stopped, and nobody wants to run a company that spends twice as much as their competition on back-office functions. To be successful, we will need to lead the transition with our clients and our companies by defining the processes that can be automated, determining how to establish appropriate controls so they are not at the mercy of an error in automation, and retraining our workforce to add insight and value when we are no longer transaction processors. This will be both challenging and exciting for current and future CPAs. 

PICPA’s role in this transition will be critical. It will include the following:
  • Creating technology awareness and training
  • Assisting with the regulatory process as new standards are developed
  • Training CPAs on those standards
  • Highlighting CPA thought leadership
  • Collaborating with those with complementary skills
Finally, and we repeat this time and again, we truly need to increase the diversity of the profession. The best way to address this is through mentors. At a very early stage in my career, I had several professionals that took an interest in me and my career. They guided me on how to be a professional, took me to client/professional/civic organization meetings (including the PICPA), and challenged me to continue to learn and grow. As a result, the CPA profession has changed my life and that of my family. I believe mentors are the secret to increasing diversity in the profession as well as growing the pipeline of talent to replace the baby boomers.
Effective April 1, 2017, the PICPA created the Pennsylvania CPA Foundation to be laser-focused on the profession’s pipeline and diversity initiatives. To make this work, membership needs to provide the Foundation with two things. The first is time: be mentors to high school and college students, and educate them on financial literacy topics and how rewarding a CPA career can be. Second, if your life has been enhanced as a result of being a CPA, make a financial contribution to the Foundation so we have the resources to drive our initiatives.

The PICPA is 120 years old. Success has been built as a result of prior generations upholding the highest professional and ethical standards as they helped the economy evolve and grow. I look forward to carrying the baton as we continue along this transition to a more diverse profession in a new digital economy.

Joseph E. Seibert, CPA, is a partner with KPMG LLP in Harrisburg and 2017-2018 PICPA president. He can be reached at jseibert@kpmg.com.
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