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Why Everyone Is Talking About the Evolving Role of the CPA


Dec 12, 2019

Traditionally, a CPA is viewed as a financial gatekeeper. Responsible for the overall financial activities of a company, including accounting, financial planning and analysis, cash management, bookkeeping, and transactional processing. Daily responsibilities would include planning, implementing, managing, and controlling all financial-related activities of the company.

Recently SAGE, a market leader for integrated accounting, payroll, and payment systems, surveyed 3,000 global accountants on the changing role of accountants. The study found that most accountants (83%) have clients that expect more in terms of services and resources than they did five years ago. Also, nearly half of clients (42%) expect their accountant to provide business advisory services, over and above accounting, compliance and tax services.

"Most accountants (83%) have clients that expect more in terms of services and resources than they did five years ago."

It’s no surprise that over time, as client needs, company cultures and technology evolve, so do the demands placed on a CPA. What was traditionally a role centered on cost, compliance and recording has now expanded to include strategy, vision and collaboration. As the role evolves, so do the expectations that company leaders have for them.

The Collaborative CPA

Being a proactive CPA means being strategic and becoming growth-oriented rather than restrictive. Finance leaders have a window of opportunity to collaborate with CEOs, CFOs, CIOs and other members of management to implement strategies that will aide in achieving vital business objectives such as increasing efficiency, improving collaboration and visibility within departments, increasing organizational agility and fostering innovation.

Becoming an active partner in collaboration requires a CPA to possess strong leadership and communication skills. To foster this relationship, CPAs should think about putting themselves in the shoes of a CEO or operations manager to better understand critical objectives, challenges and even personal ambitions that could affect decision making. And while being an enabler is key, collaboration should go both ways. CPAs need to be able to communicate their needs and objectives for the organization and trust they, too, are being heard. 

The "Doer" CPA

CPAs are becoming more strategic thinkers and doers than in years past. A proactive CPA’s role is to truly understand and improve upon an organization’s strategic vision and execute it. That means understanding the interlinked parts of a supply chain, procurement, marketing, business development and operations, as well as the organization’s overall attitudes and beliefs toward how resources are being allocated.
"CPAs should think about putting themselves in the shoes of a CEO or operations manager to better understand critical objectives, challenges and even personal ambitions that could affect decision making."

A CPA plays an essential role in shaping and strengthening the structure that supports the company’s cross-functional teams. That means weaving finance into the fabric of the business by providing critical data and recommendations, driving ethical decision making, and working with internal teams to foster the culture of empowerment and accountability for business goals. This alignment helps bridge financial and non-financial metrics for the overall health of a company. 

The Tech CPA

While the past few years have brought uncertainty and volatility, they have also provided CPAs with a unique opportunity to demonstrate their abilities in a whole range of strategic areas outside of finance and into information technology. Cloud computing, big data, analytics, mobile and social technologies are having a dramatic impact across almost every function and activity within businesses today. The CPA of the future must have a strategic vision regarding technology advances, and possess the ability to not only manage disruption, but to also identify and invest in the business models, products and services that will lead to sustainable, profitable growth.

There are sure to be many developments within the next few years that will continue to impact and shape this role — but it is truly an exciting time to be a CPA. Financial leaders have emerged as trusted advisors to the business and strategic partners to the executive team. With their involvement becoming higher in an organization and the added value of their insight on financial and non-financial practices, a CPA now has the opportunity to become a representative of broader, business-wide change than ever before. While large companies have always had more resources, advancements in technology allow us to now bring this value to smaller companies as well.

 



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About the Author

Summit CPA Group is a fully distributed accounting firm with a non-traditional approach to accounting providing Virtual CFO Services, 401(k) Audits, and CPA Firm Augmentation. Operating under a profit-focused model, Summit CPA uses dynamic forecasting and key performance indicators with their clients to help them transcend their focus from simply “being in the black” to longer-term financial health and wealth. With the mission statement, “Changing the way people think about accounting,” the next big step for the Summit CPA Group is to help make this level of service a norm rather than an exception within other accounting firms.