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Now You See It, Now You Don't

Joanne S. Barry, CAE

Joanne S. Barry, CAE

Do you remember the tablecloth parlor trick from your childhood days? Picture this: Elegantly dressed guests sit at a finely set table, and everything—from wineglass to bread plate to cake fork—is perfectly in place. Perhaps there is a candelabra or a freshly pressed linen napkin, expertly folded. They sip fine wine.

Suddenly, an emboldened “waiter” appears and, in one dramatic swoop, pulls the tablecloth clean off of the table. The startled guests reach for their plates and glasses, hoping to avoid disaster, but before they can react, their place settings remain, undisturbed.

There is no better metaphor for what is happening in the accounting profession today.

As I travel the state, talking to firm partners and employees, communicating with CPAs in education and industry, and interacting with my colleagues from across the country, they tell much the same story: On the surface, everything is perceived to be the same. There are a few challenges to the profession, but no indication that the proverbial tablecloth is about to be pulled out from under everything.

I know that many of you, even those who have reached retirement age, continue to work because you are expert at what you do. You love running a successful practice, you enjoy your client relationships, your billings are most likely up, and life is pretty good—but recent studies have shown that things may not be so rosy.

A Changing Culture

I have often used this column to speak about the future of the profession. As much as the profession has evolved in its 118-year history, the culture of the profession has remained more or less unchanged. For more than a century, a CPA career was fairly linear: go to school, get a degree, work for a firm, take the exam, and then either remain in public accounting or move into industry.

But now change is upon us due to the progress and disruption of technology. The demographics of up to four generations working within a firm also present challenges. Student attitudes, education, and career paths are different. As firms become more specialized, and add different lines of business outside of attest work, they're hiring more nonlicensed professionals.

Numerous national studies focus on the state of the profession, but I wanted to find out what changes are happening in New York. To that end, The CPA Journal has partnered with Growth Partnership, which publishes the annual Rosenberg Practice Management Survey. This unique survey identifies firm trends in New York and even provides a qualitative analysis by leading management and business consultants within the profession.

If you don't think change can upend a profession overnight, look at what has already happened to others. I have a communications department at the NYSSCPA full of former journalists because they woke up one morning and the career they thought they were going to have didn't exist anymore. Nearly 19,600 newspaper and 36,000 magazine jobs disappeared between 2003 and 2012 (American Society of Newspaper Editors; Advertising Age). Ten years isn't a long time when talking about a profession that is considered so critical to American democracy that the U.S. Constitution protects it.

The results of the NYSSCPA-Rosenberg survey defied my assumptions and expectations—and they're not necessarily what you might assume. Look for this to be featured in an upcoming issue of The CPA Journal. Your firm's potential growth and new practice opportunities may depend on it.

Joanne S. Barry, CAE. Publisher, The CPA Journal Executive Director & CEO, NYSSCPA, jbarry@nysscpa.org.

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