NYSSCPA President: Profession Is Changing, We Must Change with It

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Jul 24, 2017
Harold Deiters NextGen Conf
NYSSCPA President Harold L. Deiters III, presenting the keynote address during today's NextGen Conference, recalled that when he first got started in the accounting profession, there were a lot of people, partners even, who didn't believe that computers would ever change the nature of their jobs. While this seems like a laughable proposition today, he said many are making similar mistakes when it comes to cutting-edge developments that are already taking care of routine tasks that had been historical mainstays for the industry. If CPAs want to succeed in today's world, Deiters said they cannot hide from the changes that are coming but, rather, embrace them and adapt. 

"You've got to broaden your horizons. You can't just think in terms of, 'I'm a tax preparer' or 'I'm an auditor.' Now you've got to be a service provider. You don't want to be replaced by a program with an intuitive side that can speed through audits and use algorithms that [can detect things] that don't look right. That's what the technology is doing," he said. 

He said that, as a forensic accountant, he regularly uses software programs that can take a company's financial information and quickly ascertain what ratios or equations don't make sense based on the industry information—based on algorithms derived from analyzing failed companies compared to healthy ones. Deiters said there are similar types of programs in all areas of the profession, and CPAs today must take it upon themselves to learn how to use them and understand what they are trying to tell them. 

With more routine tasks either automated or outsourced (Deiters noted that many firms are finding it easier to send basic jobs to firms in India or Pakistan, where they can be done for a fraction of the price), the days of the tax preparer sitting in the back office pushing out forms, or of the auditor sitting in the conference room not talking to anyone, are coming to a close. In their place will be client-focused CPAs who add value through attention and insight. 

"It can help you be a trusted adviser to your clients, not just ... a commodity, not just, 'Hey, I did a great job and now I'm going home.' Businesses want more than that [from] their CPAs. Now they want a trusted adviser, they want their accountants to come in and say, 'I looked over your financial information, compared it to the industry, and here's what might need to change, and I can help you do that,'" he said. 

What clients want these days, he said, is for their accountants to be invested in trying to help them succeed. This endears CPAs to their clients, who are much more likely to stick with the firm than move on to somewhere else. He noted, too, that this approach creates a whole new level of revenue for CPA firms and helps the clients feel there's value added to their experience. People look at taxes or audits as necessary evils that must be done for the sake of the government. The kind of client-focused advisory work Deiters talked about, however, helps them better understand what it is they're paying for and how it can help them in the long run. 

Deiters also warned his audience against thinking that the increasingly global scale of the economy won't apply to their clients or their firm. While it used to make sense to think that the activities of a small mom-and-pop shop would be restricted mostly to its local area, Deiters said CPAs can't make that assumption anymore. Through the Internet, businesses can sell goods and services to people around the globe. He noted that there are multinational companies worth millions of dollars that have only about 10 or 15 people working for them. This means that even small practitioners must take on a global outlook and understand the challenges their clients may face, not just in their immediate area but in far-flung countries thousands of miles away. 

"It used to be you had a sole CPA firm handling the small mom and pops. The stationary stores or delis and hair places. They had to deal with the local economy, local tax issues, state tax issues, federal tax issues, but that was it. But what have a lot of them done? They've opened up websites and said, 'We can triple, quadruple our sales by going online and selling our wares there.' ... It's not so easy anymore to just put your head in the sand and say, 'I only deal with local clients,'" he said. 

In the face of these changes, Deiters said that CPAs must specialize. Soon it won't be enough to just be an auditor. People will need to be a forensic auditor, or an internal controls auditor, or an IT systems auditor. To this end, he highly recommended getting additional credentials that demonstrate that level of specialization. While getting these credentials may seem a little like alphabet soup after a while (Deiters noted his six credentials means a lot of letters after his name), he said they communicate important things to clients. 

"I wanted to compete in my market. If I want to get work from attorneys, they need to know I'm an expert, and I do that by getting credentials. ... I will tell you, all those credentials, people make fun, but it has really, really helped my career; it has helped me bring in business, and when the public looks for someone they are going to trust with whatever their problem is, they want to know they're dealing with a professional," he said. 

And beyond credentials, he added that, with the increasingly client-centered nature of the CPA profession, more and more firms are demanding better communication skills from their staff. If you don't have those skills, Deiters said, it's important to get them. He noted that joining the NYSSCPA is a great way to do so. 

"I would encourage you to get involved. It does a lot of different things. It's going to help you out in your career. It's good for the profession. ... But more importantly, you're here [at this conference] to better yourself, and it will help you [do just that], help you communicate with your peers better, or you might, at worst, make a friend," he said. 

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