Every year in late January (assuming it isn’t postponed by a blizzard, as happens more often than you’d expect), CPA.com hosts a very special meeting at the headquarters of its parent, the American Institute of CPAs, that gathers together top executives from some of the biggest developers of software for accountants, as well as some of the smallest, newest, and most exciting. The 40-plus tech execs all share their plans for the future, the developments they see coming in the field, and their thoughts on the accounting market. They’re surprisingly — even disarmingly — open, and they’re all extremely excited to work with each other — and with accountants.
It’s a fascinating event to attend from the sidelines, not least because it’s one of the few venues in accounting where everyone is unabashedly pro-technology, with no concerns or complaints about commoditization, the pace of change, or the need to keep up with the cutting edge.
At this year’s gathering, the tech execs were particularly excited about the future. A large part of that can be attributed to the fact that they think the profession is finally coming around to the inevitability of the cloud (if not necessarily embracing it wholeheartedly). “We’re seeing more and more smaller firms being dynamic in the cloud,” reported one exec, while another exulted in the fact that they no longer hear accountants making the argument that the cloud isn’t a safe place for their clients’ data.
They’re also excited about the tools they’re building — and you and your clients should be, too, as they’re working on a huge range of solutions for your business. From new help with audits to specific applications for all sorts of verticals, vendors are eager to serve the accounting market, and to help accountants serve their business clients.
What’s more, they’re listening when accountants say they want better integration — to a man (and woman), the vendors said that one of the main reasons they attended the roundtable was to find partners to build stronger, better integrated products that will be easier for you to use.
From the start of the meeting, it was clear that these vendors are eager to work with accountants — but over the course of the two days, it also became clear that they wouldn’t mind seeing the profession change some of its ways.
While they mainly think the cloud has reached a tipping point, that doesn’t mean that accountants are fully on board. “We’re moving to the cloud as fast as the market wants us to,” one vendor said, with the clear implication that that wasn’t as fast as the tech community might like. Another vendor dealt out the blame: “For firms to advance in technology, we need to see retirements among tech-phobic partners.”
As many of their tools are aimed at helping accountants get closer to their clients and start offering them more value-added services, it’s no surprise that a number of the executives urged accountants to start moving up the value chain: “We need to start educating accounting students about advisory services and all the other parts of the profession,” said one, and another noted that it’s important for firms to start rethinking their basic model: “If you persist with the billable hour, you won’t have a job left.”
Overall, they’d like to see accountants be more willing to change, as much for their own good as for the vendors’: One noted the dangers of accountants being content to remain “successful, well-fed — and lazy.”
In the end, though, the software community knows that it is a choice; they just hope you’ll make the choice that will lead to longer-term success for both you and them.
As CPA.com CEO Erik Asgeirsson put it, “You can try to compete with technology, to circle the wagons, or you can ask how it will help you deliver higher value.”
Daniel Hood is editor-in-chief of Accounting Today and Tax Pro Today, and has covered the tax and accounting field for over 20 years.