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CPA Survival Toolkit: Part 1 – Your “Must-Knows” & “Must Dos”

Jun 1, 2021

Part 1 of CPA Survival Toolkit series

CPA Survival Toolkit: Part 1 – Your “Must-Knows” & “Must Dos”
To meet the rapidly changing demands of the accounting profession, the next generation of CPAs must have a digitally focused skill set and a strong portfolio of soft skills in communication, critical thinking, and collaboration, among others. It is critical for organizations of all sizes to engage in upskilling initiatives to ensure CPAs continue to thrive in the future. Accounting programs at colleges and universities can also play an important role by integrating essential digital competencies and soft skills into the curriculum.

Some of the notable technological advancements changing the business landscape include cloud computing, 5G, data analytics, artificial intelligence, robotic process automation (RPA), blockchain, augmented reality, and virtual reality. The disruption caused by these digital innovations is often referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution,1 a term coined by Klaus Scwhab, executive chair of the World Economic Forum. The need to shift to remote work arrangements as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic only accelerated the adoption of technology. These disruptive forces will likely contribute to a growing skills gap and eliminate certain tasks traditionally performed by accountants in the years ahead. 

According to The Future of Jobs Report 2020 prepared by the World Economic Forum,2 43% of businesses surveyed expect to reduce their workforce due to technology integration by 2025, while 34% plan to expand their workforce. More jobs will be eliminated as a result of technological advancements in the next five years than the number of jobs that will be created.
CPAs who possess the right set of digital skills will not only reduce the possibility of being replaced by technology, but they will also be positioned to participate in the sector of the economy where workforce expansion will occur due to increased technology adoption.
In addition, by 2025 the amount of time spent on tasks at work by humans and machines will be equivalent. CPAs who possess the right set of digital skills will not only reduce the possibility of being replaced by technology, but they will also be positioned to participate in the sector of the economy where workforce expansion will occur due to increased technology adoption.

Client Expectations of Technology Proficiency

Increasingly, clients expect their accountants to combine traditional service offerings with strategic advising or consultancy services, including technology-related matters.

A survey conducted by Sage Group found that 82% of clients expect accountants to advise on finance and accounting technologies.3 As the report notes, “An accountant that can advise on technology and digital transformation, growth, and compliance, is a much more valuable proposition to the client base.”

It also found that 83% of accountants believe that new technologies and a culture of digitization will require them to make substantial investments to keep pace with the market. Yet, the workforce of many organizations may not possess the requisite skills necessary to excel in this digital era.

Firms must be prepared to bridge the digital skills gap through upskilling efforts. PwC defines upskilling as “the expansion of people’s capabilities and employability to fulfill the talent needs of a rapidly changing economy.”4

In other words, upskilling is educating and training your employees with new knowledge and skills to perform their jobs better. 

Upskilling Leaders

Several high-profile organizations are leading the way in upskilling. For example, Amazon will invest $700 million to provide 100,000 employees with upskilling programs in high-demand areas, such as cloud computing and machine learning.5 Similarly, Accenture announced a plan to spend $1 billion annually to train almost every worker at risk of losing a job to automation.6 

Global public accounting firms are also engaged in upskilling efforts. EY recently invested $530 million in upskilling initiatives. PwC will be investing $3 billion into job training for all of its 275,000 employees over the next three to four years. Deloitte will spend $2 billion to upskill 4,000 workers on technology jobs. All of these organizations recognize that upskilling is the key to developing a resilient workforce.7

Digital Upskilling 

The next generation of CPAs can help future-proof their careers by developing various levels of proficiency with emerging technologies. The EY Foundation’s competency framework is useful for understanding the range of competencies that CPAs should develop around emerging technologies. EY’s three competency levels consist of Awareness, Working Knowledge, and Master.

At a minimum, CPAs should be at the Awareness level (the ability to understand the subject matter at a basic level, but with a limited ability to apply this understanding) of the technologies and applications listed below.

CPA Must-Know Technologies

  • Artificial Intelligence – A broad term in which machines or software programs simulate human behavior. AI includes the subfields of machine learning (algorithms that enable machines to learn and improve without explicit programming) and deep learning (algorithmic models that rely on artificial neural networks).
  • Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality – Digital technologies that enrich human experiences and senses, such as lenses and filters on social media apps to a complete virtual world.
  • Blockchain – Distributed ledger systems whose transactions are highly secure through cryptography and viewable by any authorized user on a network.
  • Data Analytics – Refers to the process of organizing information, developing hypotheses, and creating models that allow users to gain insights, answer business questions, and assist with decision-making. Visualizations are often an essential component in communicating the findings.
  • Data Mining – The process of finding patterns and relationships by analyzing large volumes of data. Also known as Knowledge Discovery in Databases. Data mining is one of the steps of data analytics.
  • Programming Languages – Instructions or code that allow humans to communicate with computers.
  • Robotic Process Automation – Software applications that automate business processes across platforms.

For summaries of each of these must-know technologies, see the next article in the CPA Survival Toolkit series: Part 2—Technologies.

Reprinted with permission from the Pennsylvania CPA Journal, a publication of the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

1 Klaus Scwhab, The Fourth Industrial Revolution (2017). 

2 The Future of Jobs Report 2020.

3 Sage Group, The Practice of Now 2020.



6 Lauren Weber, “Accenture Retrains Its Workers as Technology Upends Their Jobs,” The Wall Street Journal (June 23, 2019).


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About the Author

Cory Ng, CPA, CGMA, DBA, is an associate professor of instruction in accounting at the Fox School of Business at Temple University in Philadelphia and a member of the Pennsylvania CPA Journal Editorial Board. He can be reached at

Brian Trout, CPA, CMA, DBA, is an assistant professor of accounting and finance at Millersville University in Millersville. He can be reached at