A Q&A with Innovation Advisory Council Member Chaleise Fleming, CPA, CFE
According to consulting firm McKinsey Digital, “every company needs to become a tech company,”
CPA firms are no exception.
Tech transformation has been a key part of the conversation about the changing role of the CPA for years. But while thought leaders are quick to say you need it, few seem to take the time to break down what tech transformation actually means.
Tech transformation has been a key part of the conversation about the changing role of the CPA for years. But while thought leaders are quick to say you need it, few seem to take the time to break down what tech transformation actually means. This is especially true if you’re a smaller firm that doesn’t have the IT budget of a Fortune 500 company.
“For small-to-medium sized CPA firms, implementing new technology is often more daunting due to limited staff and resources,” says Chaleise Fleming, CPA, CFE, manager for tax services at Greenwalt CPAs
and a member of INCPAS’ Innovation Advisory Council. “Smaller firms often do not have a main IT person in house for tracking and researching new technologies, and it can be very hard to implement major technological change.”
But that doesn’t mean tech transformation is impossible! Smaller firms are still implementing new technologies and rethinking their work. Is your firm ready to start?
Chaleise shares more of her insights on the processes, trends, and challenges of tech/digital transformation below.
What is tech/digital transformation?
Tech/digital transportation is when our technology changes and transforms how we do business and offer services. It can include technologies replacing tasks previously done by a person, like replacing manual input and processes, or helping to simplify our processes.
What are different types of transformation?
CPA firms are seeing tech/digital transformation in many ways. A lot of the manual data input type work done previously by staff is being replaced by technology that autofills and autoflows the information directly from a scan. Many firms are trying to shift towards more consulting focus versus compliance as a result. We are seeing this transformation in our software and processes. For example: apps to answer work calls via a cell phone, apps that let clients take photos of receipts to track and record expenses, various virtual meeting platforms. The list goes on and on.
Even the way of doing business is changing as a result of technology. Our clients and employees can be remote or even in different states. Clients can reach new clients across state lines. We can have clients we have never met in person, etc.
What might this look like for small-to-medium sized CPA firms?
For a lot of small-to-medium sized firms, we are seeing tech/digital transformation relating to workpapers and paper processes. Many smaller firms are going paperless, or looking into paperless options. We are also seeing more e-sign features for signing engagement letters and even tax returns. Many CPA firms have also switched to paperless time input, billing, etc.
We now have technology within tax software to scan and pull 1040 data from PDFs and workpapers into the return automatically versus manual input. Banking sync software allows bank transactions to automatically pull into accounting software. Accounting software is becoming more cloud-based and some can even be accessed via an app on a cell phone.
Many small/mid-sized firms are looking into or implementing more cloud-based software and remote work features.
What technologies should CPA firms look into and implement? Why is it important to start implementing now?
A lot of the technologies I just mentioned—automatic data pulls, paperless billing, etc.—are becoming more mainstream and even expected of CPA firms. New hires are going to expect paperless and remote work options. Clients are going to want e-signature and easy tax organizers that allow them to upload PDFs or pictures from their phone.
What first step should a CPA firm take for tech transformation?
The first step, and often the hardest step, is making the decision to start looking into new technologies and begin the process of implementing within a firm. With all the new technology out there and the ever-changing list of options and software, this can be a very overwhelming step.
But being open to discussing new technologies and how they can and will impact a firm, and taking those first steps to understand and start to implement that technology, is critical. The pace of change is very fast. Things like paperless firms and working from anywhere were once a rarity but are becoming the norm, even for smaller firms.
Thank you, Chaleise, for sharing your insights!
Technology is and will always be an investment. But the longer you put off initial conversations and explorations, the more of an investment you’ll need to make to stay relevant and capable. Need some jumping off points? These questions will help get you started:
- What are our immediate pain points? (slow, manual data input; not meeting client expectations for paperless billing, etc.)
- What is our current client experience like? What expectations are we meeting? What are we not meeting when it comes to our processes?
- What do we want to get out of our technology? (faster turnaround, more clients, new services, etc.)
- What tech implementation have we done in the past? Was it successful? How can the experience be improved?
- How can tech support the firm’s overall strategic vision and goals?
- What is a realistic timeline for tech transformation? How can we implement phases?
As always, INCPAS is here to be a guiding resource. Visit our Emerging Technologies
page for CPE opportunities, accounting tech news, and more.