Expert predictions for 2017 in accounting

The accounting industry is evolving at a rapid pace. Every year new trends develop, technologies make their impact, and client needs evolve. 2017 is going to be no different. 

To give you insight into the emerging opportunities your accounting practice should take advantage of, and the threats that you should prepare for, we asked five of the top movers and shakers in the industry to gaze into their crystal balls. 

  • Jason Blumer — Thriveal CPA Network in the United States

  • Jennifer Warawa — Executive Vice President of Product Marketing at Sage

  • Greg Sheehan — CEO and co-founder of Rightway in New Zealand and Australia

  • Mark Wickersham — Author, trainer and the UK’s leading thinker on pricing for the accountancy profession

  • Steph Hinds — Head Ninja of Growthwise in Australia

What are the biggest opportunities 2017 will bring accounting firms? 

Mark: With the increased automation of compliance, we can start doing the sort of things we came to the profession to do—making a difference to people's lives, helping businesses improve and increasing their profits. Accountants won't disappear because of technology, but what will change is the definition of the accountant. Our role will change, and we have to change with that. 

Jennifer: If you're thinking about advisory services, you have an opportunity to be the expert on emerging technologies and helping it make sense to your clients. The consulting opportunities are absolutely endless because people don't know how it's going to affect them yet.

Jason: I think with all this technology, our profession is being more humanized, because software is taking away the things that used to keep us in an office. Now we can actually solve human problems that have a financial component.

Steph: I think data is the huge immediate opportunity for us. You get all of this live data that you can decipher and then give your client the action points. It's not just financial statements and cash flow that we've got access to now, it's literally everything. Having every single finite little detail allows us to really propel businesses forward.

Greg: Let’s move away from debits and credits and look at other opportunities to help the customer. We can help them with strategy, working out their sales processes, their brand, or how they build teams. We are so well placed as accountants to sit right down in the cockpit of each business and get the entire view.

Accountants won't disappear because of technology, but what will change is the definition of the accountant.
Mark Wickersham

What will be the biggest threat to accounting firms in 2017?

Greg: The biggest threat is ourselves—not looking at change and how you're going to respond to that. It's time to start believing in yourself.

Steph: We get so caught up in the day-to-day stuff, but we don't tend to step back and take a look at the opportunities in front of us, at our teams, and at the opportunities that are coming through. Not wanting to step outside and try 100 new things, knowing that 99 of them are going to fail, is a huge threat in our industry.

Jennifer: Charles Duell, the commissioner at the US patent office, said, "Everything that can be invented has been invented." He said that in 1899. I use that quote to tell accountants, "we're just at the beginning." The biggest threat is getting comfortable and thinking that we've already arrived, because there's so much opportunity and so much more change coming.

Jason: Software is great, but the plethora of it could be the threat. Software just overwhelms a lot of people. If they're not really sure why they picked one in the first place, and how they can commit to it in their firm, it could hurt them in the future.

What is one action accountants should start doing in 2017?

Mark: We’ve got to start doing more for clients and changing people's lives. And one way of doing this—which I think accountants can own—is helping clients with their pricing. We know that most businesses have no idea how to price, but most accountants do.

Jennifer: When someone is an expert, they tend to think they know everything about a subject. Even if you know a lot about technology or you know a lot about accounting, if you can be curious about different perspectives, you'll open yourself up to new opportunities and new perspectives.

Jason: Try to sell something brand new that you’ve never sold before. Just attempt to create a brand new piece of value. Make up some kind of financial review session, give it a name, give it a price, and try to sell it. You'll learn so much about yourself and so much about pricing.

If you can be curious about different perspectives, you'll open yourself up to new opportunities and new perspectives.
Jennifer Warawa

What is one action accountants should stop doing in 2017?

Jennifer: For me, 2017 is going to be about focus. It's more about picking off those two or three big rocks that are going to make the biggest impact in my life, and going after those—not trying to do everything.

Steph: There are some things that I wish I'd just taken and run with much faster, so my big aim is going to be zero procrastination.

Jason: We're growing in our firm to a level where I'm not producing the technical work, but still want to have oversight and review. I’m trying to stop that so that I can focus on what I'm supposed to—grow the firm.

Mark: Stop giving stuff away for free. I would guess that every accounting firm is giving away tens of thousands of value every year, which is going straight off the bottom line. When I ask why it's because they don't know how to charge it. Start valuing the difference that we can make to people's lives.

Greg: I'm terrible at saying yes to a lot of stuff, and I get really busy doing a whole lot of stuff that is not critical. I saw a quote I thought was gold— “If you're asked whether you want to be involved with something, unless it's a hell yes, it's a no.” Because then you're involved with the stuff that you really love and the stuff that's going to make the biggest difference.

These predictions were shared during the webinar, 2016 in review and what's on the horizon. You can watch the full video here.

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