Remember when everyone thought Y2K was going to be the end of the world as we knew it, with computer systems and electronic data crashing down around us at the turn of the new century? Some of our members were just children when the world grappled with those questions of digital catastrophe, but many of us remember it well. Experts isolated the problem, diligently worked to fix it, and widespread catastrophe did not happen. We were able to move forward, and have progressed a long way over the ensuing 20 years. Much has changed over the years, but here we are again on the point of a crisis.
COVID-19 surprised us all, breaking on us all like a tsunami wave off a calm ocean. Businesses and schools have been shuttered, tens of millions have lost their jobs, and the future of our economic and physical well-being has never been less certain. Our economy suddenly shifted into reverse, and there are a multitude of predictions ranging from the overly optimistic to the direly pessimistic as to when we will fully recover. The coronavirus has made working from home more than a convenience; it is a necessity based on safety concerns. CPAs’ interactions with their clients and within their companies may never be the same.
As states slowly begin to reopen their economies in phases and shelter-in-place orders are relaxed, we will gradually begin to transition to whatever our new normal is going to be. So, how has the CPA profession fared during these turbulent times? The crisis did hit, after all, during the busy tax season and during the first quarter for year-end closes.
The profession responded with resolve and an unwavering commitment to meeting the needs of clients and companies unmatched in my 40 years at the PICPA. The CPA’s role as trusted business adviser to clients and employers shone like a lighthouse beacon through the chaos. CPAs were required to pivot quickly from tax preparation and audit procedures to strategic advisers and sustainability gurus. They focused on relationships instead of process to guide clients and companies to the best solutions available during unprecedented times. CPAs demonstrated again and again thought leadership to legislators and regulators to help drive efforts to assist with an economic rebuild. CPAs are essential in defining our new economic, social, and national normal.
The response and our role as sustainability and recovery professionals is far from over. Economic recoveries are historically slower than retractions, and there will be no shortage of concerns that need to be addressed. I’ve spent hours in recent weeks organizing calls with leaders of firms and companies of all sizes across Pennsylvania, trying to understand their concerns and how we must lead change in the profession. There are still more questions than answers. How will workspaces evolve to allow for social distancing? Will some employees ever return to the physical office? Will services previously performed in-person now be handled remotely, and when will standards catch up? What will learning and networking look like? Are there new liability concerns? The PICPA is committed to continuing to develop and curate resources to help drive solutions and best practices.
I am proud of the profession’s action during the pandemic and its responses to the challenges presented. I am proud of the PICPA members who stepped up and found time to volunteer as subject matter experts for webinars, podcasts, blog posts, and resources for our entire membership family. I am proud of the resiliency of the PICPA team, who have matched our members’ commitment and resolve and rose to new heights to provide extraordinary service during the pandemic. There will be a new normal in how we work, how we use technology, how we interact with people, and how we define success. And while I am heartbroken and concerned by the suffering and loss of life brought on by COVID-19, I am excited by how the essential CPA will excel – as always – as life-sustaining and enriching members of our community.
What do you think will be the greatest opportunity for change in your new normal?
Michael D. Colgan, CAE, is CEO and executive director of the PICPA. He can be reached at email@example.com.