Perspectives on the changing role of the CPA

September 11, 2017By Jess Halverson BowyerArticle, Innovation, The Changing Role of the CPA

Today’s world is increasingly one of change. This is especially true in the CPA profession, where new technologies and strategies are changing the very role of the CPA itself. Because of all this constant change, the need for CPAs to innovate has never been greater. We posed some questions to five CPAs who have been at the forefront of innovation in their careers.

Why Do You Innovate?

Meghan Applegate, CPA, Applegate & Company, CPAs: A better question is why NOT innovate? When you go to a business to purchase services or even a product, you have expectations in your mind of what you should receive. More likely than not, your expectations are very high. As innovators in the industry, we are working hard to exceed our client’s expectations of the services they believe they deserve. Innovation would include not only cost savings, but efficiencies in how we work as well as how they work in their business, meeting their financial and strategic needs, etc. From a client’s perspective, we have been put on this earth to make their life easier. Innovation is key in fulfilling this expectation.

Kent Williams, CPA, Professor, Indiana Wesleyan University: I enjoy it! A proper balance is to keep one foot in the reality of the present and one in the possibilities of the future. As professionals we have an obligation to our clients, employees and in my case to my students to remain innovative.

Stephen Lukinovich, CPA, CVA, PFS, Mountjoy Chilton Medley, LLP: In order to meet a need the market is not filling. Further, it means CPAs are viewed as thought leaders in our field. Developing innovative solutions means spending a significant amount of time building consensus, structure, formalities, and interest. Sometimes it’s trial and error. Failure is ok—although, it’s often hard to isolate why the idea did not fully succeed. Was the failure due to lack of firm participation, inability to fill a need, failure to implement, or inability to market the proposed solution?

How do you create an innovative culture?

Kent: I believe that in order to facilitate an innovative culture, leaders must provide an environment that is free from fear, builds trust, looks to encourage, hires for innovation, celebrates and learns from failure. Start small so that employees can get their “innovative legs.” If innovative experience is good, they will want to do it again. If we want innovation to permeate the culture then we need to hire for that characteristic.

Rick Dennen, CPA, Oak Street Funding LLC: Oak Street Funding is deliberate in our attention to innovation. In addition to working quickly and effectively to meet the needs of our clients, we also meet the needs of our team by giving them the tools necessary to bring ingenuity, creativity and value to the organization. Our focus on the employee experience produces job satisfaction and pride that translates to a consultative, knowledgeable and caring approach with our clients and a distinctive client experience. We continuously ask the questions “Are we doing what is right to meet the needs of our clients as well as our employees?” and “Is there a better approach?” If there is a better way, we implement it. In addition, we are focused on working collaboratively across all departments and business lines, resulting in cross functional buy-in, operational excellence, and, of course, innovation. Finally, we embrace the latest technology and the utilization of data and analytics to help us best serve our current and potential clients.

Where do you think the profession is heading and how can innovation get us there?

Tom Gabbert, CPA, mAccounting, LLC: The CPA profession is at a unique time in history. Technology changes are streamlining accounting processes and removing geographic and service delivery barriers. As a firm, we are spending much less time getting information into the accounting system and far more time working with our clients to analyze their information and helping them make informed business decisions. I believe this will only accelerate in the next few years as new technologies are developed. I also believe that by leveraging new technologies, firms will no longer be subject to geographic limitations in the clients they serve.

Rick: While there will continue to be regulatory and reporting changes in the profession, I believe the areas in which innovation will make the biggest impacts are technology, data, and the utilization of that data. With regard to technology, it is increasingly important to utilize all of the ever-evolving smart and sophisticated technologies—for both effectively managing compliance, risk and communications, as well as connecting with current and potential clients quickly, accurately and in their preferred medium. There will continue to be less emphasis on the traditional, quarterly face-to-face meetings and more on a relationship in which the client can text, email, Skype or call at any time.

What skills do you think will be important for CPAs in the future, particularly as their roles are changing?

Tom: The CPA has always been a trusted advisor, but I believe this role will take on even greater importance in the years to come. The CPA of the future will need excellent analytical, communication and interpersonal skills. They will spend less time getting the numbers right and more time analyzing the results and working with clients to make informed business decisions.

Meghan: Communication and interpersonal skills are not only required now, but will continue to be imperative as the profession changes. No longer are CPAs able to sit behind a desk and crank out a ton of tax returns/financial statements. The clients want to see you, hear from you, and see what they’re getting for the money they’re paying you. They want that additional business/data analysis and consulting to help them in their businesses.

Stephen: Ability to identify problems that exist outside compliance. Then, the ability to develop enthusiasm surrounding innovative ideas—the risk of failure and the energy required to get it off the ground normally stymies pursuing extraordinary offerings.

What MacGyver taught me about innovation and lifelong learning

August 28, 2017By Jess Halverson BowyerBlog, Innovation

MacGyver was my hero. I was 10 years old and feeling like a bit of an outcast. Big plastic glasses, a propensity to use new words I read in books out on the playground, and seriously confused by the other girls in my class. They talked so much at recess instead of doing anything interesting.

But MacGyver was a guy who was the hero because he was the outcast. He was the weirdo who used the things he learned from books to SAVE. THE. WORLD. He entered a situation and solved it with his brain (and whatever tools he had with him, like duct tape, which does fix everything). I didn’t have a crush on MacGyver, I wanted to BE MacGyver.

MacGyverPart of me knew I should be true to myself, with all that nerdy reading and the anti-establishment streak I had. But still, I was a “good girl” who also wanted to never get in trouble and to be accepted by all the other kids in my class. My insides were in a bit of a conflict, even in the 4th grade.

So I must say thank you to my parents, because they didn’t ask why MacGyver was so important to me, instead they just went with it. I begged for a Swiss Army Knife for Christmas that year – and they got it for me. It’s good to be validated.

I’ve since developed an aversion to explosions and would rather be home with my family than chasing after the bad guys. Recently when staff began talking about how to communicate what we’ve done on our INCPAS Innovation Task Force, someone made a joke about MacGyver and I started realizing how this silly ‘80s TV show actually did influence my life and work.

My role is Strategist for the CPA Center of Excellence® – which is a great title, but how I usually describe my job is “to do whatever needs done.” I imagine there’s one of these at every start-up organization, and this type of role has always been where I’ve thrived. While I’m absolutely not the only person who works on this project, I touch all the parts at some point.

Sure, I do quite a bit of strategy and planning for the Center, but I also do sales, work with the marketing team, post on social, shoot video, deliver content marketing, meet wonderful people and talk with them, develop partnerships, spend a lot of time in meetings, build online courses, tech troubleshoot, manage and build the website(s), product development, research, and run the table at events. As a part of the INCPAS management team, I also have responsibilities for the larger organization from time-to-time.

While I don’t carry duct tape with me, it certainly feels like I enter a lot of “duct tape situations” in this role. I put together what works with whatever resources are available at the moment, then later I get feedback from users on how to improve the product or process. Once I’ve gotten the resources we need to improve on version two, we cycle through the process all over again.

What’s the training for this sort of gig? It’s lifelong learning. It’s challenging yourself. It’s trying something even though you might fail. It’s being willing to stick it all together with duct tape for now, knowing you’ll do something better next time. It’s looking into your bag of tricks to see what you can make work.

This mindset is what I idolized every day at an age where I was trying to figure out myself in the world. And while I don’t really know how I got here, I’m glad I did. The gumption to follow your gut can pay you back tremendously.

The next time you think you “can’t” do something, or you don’t have the resources, or maybe it’s impossible, I challenge you to find what you can do. Go with your gut, escape today’s latest explosion, patch it up with the best duct tape and paperclips you have, learn more, do your research, and come back and fix it on version two.

To dig into innovation and what it means for the CPA profession, keep coming back to cpacoe.com. We’ll be featuring new thoughts on innovation for the next year, centering around the themes the Changing Role of the CPA, Talent and the Changing Workforce, Globalization and the Marketplace and Disruptive Technology and Innovation. Start here by reading why we know innovation is an important topic for CPAs. 

Can critical thinking be taught in university?

August 22, 2017By Jeffrey McGowan, CPA, CGMABlog, Critical Thinking and Non-Technical Skills, Learning and Career Development

As a college educator who spent over 30 years in the business workplace, I commonly hear discussions about how to improve recent college graduates or new staff’s critical thinking skills. A quick Google search of “Employer Critical Thinking” yields well over a millions hits on this topic. A quick survey of the results yields two certainties: 1) Many employers do not think new graduates have proper critical thinking skills, and 2) “Critical Thinking” is tough to define. Revealing articles include the following:

The third and fourth articles discuss a study in students at over 200 colleges and universities who participated in a Collegiate Learning Assessment, which evaluated critical thinking and other analytic “higher level” skills. Disturbingly, the results found that over four years of collegiate study, more than 33% of students “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning.” According to the Wall Street article, “at least a third of seniors were unable to make a cohesive argument, assess the quality of evidence in a document or interpret data in a table.”

Within the accounting world, the quest for critical thinking has filtered into the newly revised CPA exam. In its Exposure Draft: Maintaining the Relevance of the Uniform CPA Examination, the AICPA states that “newly licensed CPAs must also possess high-order cognitive skills, including critical thinking, problem solving and analytical ability.” The Exposure Draft later states that new CPAs will require “higher order skills such as critical thinking” due to technology changing the nature of the work and that newly licensed CPAs will be “responsible for more complex tasks earlier in their careers.”

According to Michael Decker, AICPA vice-president, “Remembering and understanding fact patterns isn’t enough.” Decker adds that these new CPAs “have to be able to assess situations and apply professional judgement.” Gone are the days from my CPA youth, where as a staff auditor, we would “foot” ledgers for accuracy and seemingly spend endless hours on the copy machine. Now, CPA firms and other employer thrust new staff into a technological maze where many times the proficiency on the technology outweighs the basic accounting/tax concepts, which many times are assumed knowledge.

Thus, based on the many comments from employers desiring higher levels of critical thinking in new hires that currently college professors and employers are in a transitory period where the teaching done at the collegiate level does not clearly align with future employer expectations of how recruits should be trained, especially in critical thinking. To try to drive home the importance of critical thinking and “soft skill” development, at Trine University, last academic year, we started a program for business and engineering majors called P2 (P-squared) which stands for Professional Paradigms, where on a weekly basis, business and engineering faculty engage students in workshops that develop dealt with “soft skills” – how to network, working as a team, telephone etiquette, managing stress, etc. However, in addition to these terrific programs (in my humble opinion), as educators we need to ask more of our students in the classroom regarding critical thinking.

Before my full-time plunge into academia almost exactly one year ago, I surveyed many different professors at different colleges/universities mostly from business, but also from a few other disciplines into teaching tips and guidance. From these different meeting, I believe the number one guidance given to me was to incorporate the “Think, Pair, Share” format where students are first given a question/problem to review, we put them into a group and have them discuss, then we can call on the different groups for their answers. I enjoy trying to teach in this style, since it normally keeps discussions lively and students are willing to offer their group answers, which avoids the Ferris Bueller “Anyone?… Anyone?…” syndrome; but it rarely offers students a chance to make a mistake on their own.

In pondering on this current perceived disconnect between collegiate teachings and employer expectation on critical thinking and my own experience, I am reminded that many of the best lessons I learned were from the many mistakes that I made (and still make) throughout my career, both technical and “soft.” So then, how can we incorporate a “safe to fail” atmosphere in the classroom that is engaging and useful? I also wonder what the 50-somethings of my youth said about our generation (tail end of baby boomers) and what areas of knowledge they earnestly wished we had when entering the workplace. Honestly I cannot remember what they said about us 20-somethings back then, but now as a 50-something, I imagine the 20-somethings of today have read/heard of their supposed lack of critical thinking.

Based on the number of Google hits pertaining to critical thinking, I believe we have a long way to go in understanding what it is and training how to do it. But I would surely welcome any insight into my quandary of how to effectively teach critical thinking to our future accountants. Anyone?… Anyone?…

What We’re Reading – 8/9/2017

August 9, 2017By Elise MayArticle, Blog

This week’s recommended reading on teamwork, technology, decision-making, and workplace culture. 

 

A bank robber can teach us a lot about team-building, according to this video featuring Howard Tullman, CEO of 1871.

https://www.inc.com/video/howard-tullman/the-most-important-thing-to-remember-when-youre-building-a-team.html

 

The arrival of Blockchain is inevitable. How, as CPAs, can we be ready to embrace this new innovation?

https://www.strategy-business.com/article/A-Strategists-Guide-to-Blockchain?gko=0d586&utm_source=itw&utm_medium=20170808&utm_campaign=resp

 

Ever wonder how successful people get from one thing to another? Here are 4 strategies successful people use in making important decisions.

https://www.fastcompany.com/40444808/how-successful-people-make-decisions-differently?utm_content=buffer254e7&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

 

CPAs, do your workplace cultures have any of these three common, but misleading, characteristics?

https://www.accountingtoday.com/opinion/three-things-that-arent-your-firms-culture

 

 

At the CPA Center of Excellence®, we help CPAs and service professionals stay ahead of change and innovation. Look for our recommended reads on topics like critical thinking and non-technical skills, the future of work, innovation, talent management, leadership, and the changing role of the CPA each Wednesday.

What We’re Reading – 8/2/2017

August 2, 2017By Elise MayArticle, Blog

This week’s recommended reading on leadership, technology, and education. 

 

Honesty is proven to boost leadership credibility in even the most dire situations.

How Honest Apologies Can Help Leaders Bounce Back

 

Blockchain is further being touted as revolutionary force in finance. CPAs, how do you believe this technology will impact your businesses?

Building the Future of Finance with Blockchain

 

Villanova seeks to keep its students at the forefront of the accounting profession with its new Master of Accounting with Data Analytics program.

https://www.accountingtoday.com/news/villanova-announces-masters-of-accounting-with-data-analytics-program

 

 

At the CPA Center of Excellence®, we help CPAs and service professionals stay ahead of change and innovation. Look for our recommended reads on topics like critical thinking and non-technical skills, the future of work, innovation, talent management, leadership, and the changing role of the CPA each Wednesday.

What Does It Mean To Be Creative?

July 31, 2017By Corey Stark, CPAInnovation, Learning and Career Development

It’s a new year and there’s a new political and economic environment on the horizon. For much of 2016, those of us participating in the CPA Center of Excellence® Online Community talked about being innovative. My question is, do we currently have the ability to recognize when we are being creative and innovative?

My normal day is immersed working in spreadsheets, and talking about that work in spreadsheets with people who love spreadsheets. Our long-term outlook has really evolved too. We work to find ways to make these dope spreadsheets even better.

Sounds pretty creative.

Well the fact is, if some innovative thought is going into what creates new solutions for your people or your clients, then you are being creative.

The public accounting profession may be one of the least progressive out there. Personality types do not, by nature, thrive in environments of constant change. Change can bring back “first date anxiety” and uncertainty that the world no longer fits in a box that can easily be taken anywhere.

I’ve sat in too many conferences where CPAs say they need to change with the modern business environment. You know what this led to? Ten years’ worth of work to try and evolve accounting standards to have standardized financial reporting throughout the world. They’re more or less scrapping this idea now. Good job guys.

Reluctance to change has led to missed opportunities in the profession in big data, talent acquisition, and who knows what else. The point is, innovative solutions don’t need to create a new product or industry in one step, but your organization needs to move in this direction to meet your full potential. It is an essential element to creating an engaged organization.

Let’s put this into practice … hey CPAs, why has the structure of firms continued in the same manner for over 100 years? Literally. 100 years. Would you prefer a car with modern amenities or would you go with a Model T? So why have accounting firm structures not changed?

On the other end of the spectrum, let’s look at the tech sector that utilizes mobile workplaces, where flex time is required, and profit sharing is in entry level compensation packages. What if a CPA firm came along that flipped the script? Most of the innovation has been done at the Big 4 firms where they have the capital and clout to make this happen. But even they can lag behind.  They just know that they can’t do it themselves and pay people whose job title should read “Guy that thinks of stuff.”

What if we had an entrepreneurial structure? What if each client was its own business, and the partner group was really venture capitalists making investments in teams? Picture how an evaluation might go differently if it was staff defending their performance not to their boss, but their investor? What if you give a group a portfolio of clients, tell them to make the budget actually work, and part of the deal is they have to run a business. They won’t have the backstop of depending on the next team to help us out with staff. Well you can go to other teams for help, but now they are billable consultants.

This new structure provides the platform for people to really think about purpose, execution and making a business work. And, really, how different is it than the present? You can keep your safe LLC structures and staff tree. All you’re doing is adding accountability to accountants to make their own future.

Did you find it funny that I tried to sell change to CPAs when this isn’t really change? The first step is the hardest, but make it your new addiction. Be tact, think bold, and find the calculated risk.  Where can you or your organization be creative? Read, comment, share. Start the conversation.

What We’re Reading – 7/26/2017

July 26, 2017By Elise MayArticle, Blog

This week’s recommended reading on emotional intelligence, cybersecurity, innovation, and leadership. 

 

Afraid that first impression didn’t go well? Increase your likability in your networking efforts with these 5 emotionally intelligent things to do when meeting someone new.

https://www.fastcompany.com/40441365/do-these-5-emotionally-intelligent-things-within-5-minutes-of-meeting-someone_

 

Is your company protected against these threats? It might be time to adapt to the cybersecurity realities of today:

An Insider’s View on Outside Cybersecurity Threats

 

Looking to become better at something in your life? Here is a stellar list of 44 books for self-improvement:

https://www.inc.com/christina-desmarais/44-favorite-books-of-high-achievers.html?cid=sf01001&sr_share=twitter

 

Stay ahead of the curve with these 8 change management models you can use to adapt and grow your business.

8 Critical Change Management Models to Evolve and Survive

 

Read the story of how two executives, new to their jobs, propelled their company forward through their leadership and teamwork:

https://www.strategy-business.com/article/Finance-and-HR-The-Executive-Partnership-That-Transformed-a-Company?gko=bcdab&utm_source=itw&utm_medium=20170725&utm_campaign=resp

 

 

What Does Your Leadership Transition Look Like?

July 24, 2017By Robert Reynolds, CPALeadership, Talent Management and People

During the past several years, our profession, like many others, has identified the need for an orderly and effective transition of leadership to the next generation of professionals as a critically important business issue. While much attention has been focused on this issue recently, the need to attract, retain and develop human capital in an organization is not a new issue. So why do so many organizations continue to struggle with the recruitment and development of the next generation of leaders?

I contrasted the differences between succession planning and transition activities with respect to leadership development in my February 2013 blog, Succession or Transition – You Choose. Succession planning is long-term focused. It is developing a culture and processes that enable you to attract the best and the brightest to join your organization, investing the time and personal energy to clearly define the personal characteristics, competencies and experiences necessary for these individuals to take full advantage of their career development opportunities, and then providing them the training and tools for success. Simply put, if the goal is filling the pipeline with future leaders, “begin with the end in mind.” By contrast, transition planning focuses on the orderly redistribution of leadership responsibilities to ensure the continuation of short-term activities.

For CPAs, the dilemma continues to be finding the proper balance between the development of the technical skills our professionals must possess to effectively serve our clients and employers, with those business or career success skills necessary to effectively lead the efforts of others in meeting the needs of clients and our organizations. Recent surveys and studies have shown that they two are considered equal in importance and critical to your future success.

With the increasing complexity of the business challenges facing our clients, and the need for greater responsiveness to these challenges, simply meeting the technical development needs of our people is a struggle for many of us at times. If this is the world we live in, how do we make the shift or find the time to address the leadership development of our team? I believe taking advantage of the many resources the CPA Center of Excellence® has to offer will greatly help in meeting the leadership development needs of our profession’s future leaders.

The CPA Center of Excellence® is advancing the CPA profession’s critical success skills through education, assessment and knowledge sharing. The Center offers a variety of tools, resources and creative educational opportunities to improve those skills in order to meet future client, employer and environmental needs and demands. The Center emphasizes a competency-based learning model and intelligent collaboration designed to assess your team’s current mastery of these critical competencies, and a road map to address the knowledge gaps identified to provide for long-term career success.

I believe the CPA Center of Excellence® is the greatest member benefit to be offered during the 20 years I have been a member of the Indiana CPA Society. If you agree succession is an important issue for your organization, and the development of your people is vital to addressing this issue, I encourage you to explore the resources available through the CPA Center of Excellence®. As with any important initiative or undertaking, remember “begin with the end in mind,” and that there is absolutely no reason “to reinvent the wheel.”

What Are Your Unconscious Biases?

July 17, 2017By Justin Hayes, CPALearning and Career Development

We can all agree our personal background (how we were raised, our education, etc.) helps to shape our moral and ethical behavior as we get older. For example, many people pride themselves on the work ethic they were taught as a child as they grow into adulthood. Or that they were raised to value their integrity and not to compromise it. These are both great examples of how our upbringing has shaped us in positive ways to be better members of society.

Although I have reflected on this personally in the past, I was not aware that what I was reflecting on was what is more commonly known as unconscious bias. Bias, of course, is having a prejudice either in favor of or against some thing, person or group compared to another. Have you ever taken a moment to consider how your upbringing could have created bias in you? More specifically, perhaps some bias you don’t even realize you have?

I have to be honest, I have not thought about this much in the past. However, I recently was able to attend the Society’s Leadership Cabinet/Emerging Leaders Alliance session where Allison Manswell, with Cook Ross, presented on the topic of “Unconscious Bias.” I hadn’t really been exposed to this topic prior to the meeting. What I learned was that in a very brief manner of speaking, “Unconscious Bias” refers to a bias we are unaware of, which happens outside of our control. It is a bias that happens automatically and is triggered by our brains making fast decisions without us consciously slowing down the decision-making process.

As I started to look into this topic, I was amazed at the amount of research that has been done. One of the most interesting things I came across was a study done by the National Academy of Sciences, which found that hurricanes with female names have a much higher death rate than those with a male name. The research determined the reason behind this was that people unconsciously associated a female named hurricane to be gentler and less violent, so they did not take the warnings as serious as they did with a male name. I also found the following exercise in the Journal of Accountancy that is interesting and focuses more on unconscious biases in CPA firms: Take the test: What are your unconscious biases?

What potential unconscious biases might you have, and how are they impacting the decisions you are making? Is this a concept you’d like to explore further in order to get a better understanding of your thought process for making decisions, or the thought processes of coworkers, clients or employers?

What We’re Reading – 7/12/2017

July 12, 2017By Elise MayArticle, Blog

This week’s recommended reading on networking, management, and innovation. 

 

Learn from a seasoned veteran of the business world on his vision of management: 

https://www.accountingtoday.com/opinion/the-art-and-philosophy-of-leadership-and-management

 

Do you cringe when you hear the word “networking”? For many people, networking can be intimidating and stressful. Here are six ways you can network if you don’t like talking to strangers: 

https://www.glassdoor.com/blog/how-to-network-if-you-dont-like-talking-to-strangers/

 

Drew Houston, co-founder and CEO of Dropbox, shares the challenges and opportunities he’s been faced with, as well as career advice for entrepreneurs. 

https://www.forbes.com/sites/danschawbel/2017/05/23/drew-houston-why-the-most-successful-entrepreneurs-solve-big-problems/#66bcdadb7acd

 

Those who came before us often can lead us the way forward. Here are some lessons from history’s greatest innovators: 

https://medium.freecodecamp.org/lessons-from-historys-great-innovators-that-you-should-never-forget-4d5e432adcde