President & CEO, CPA.com
Earlier this month, we held our annual AICPA/CPA.com Executive Roundtable, a gathering of accounting technology executives, thought leaders and CPA firm partners. More than three dozen vendors packed our boardroom to talk about their software and solutions, and how these innovations can serve accountants and their clients.
It was a very impressive group, one that provided a good indicator of the change coming to the profession. As AICPA President and CEO Barry Melancon said during his presentation, you probably won’t recognize what accounting firms will be doing within a decade.
Some themes emerged during the two-day event. Here’s a few of my takeaways:
What are your thoughts? I’m looking forward to continuing the conversation at AICPA ENGAGE, our Digital CPA Conference and other events this year.
Software Engineer- ing & IT, RoseRyan
Consultants who are great at what they do have the skills required and the experience to match what their clients need, and they have a whole bunch of other must-have abilities that don’t quite fit on the résumé. The following traits are just some the attributes that turn a “good” consultant into a great, in-demand consultant:
Consultants who have these seven habits are a special group (we call ours the dream team). They’re experts in their field who are willing to do anything they can for the client. They have above-and-beyond attitudes. And they are all about follow-through, professionalism and thoughtful, quality work.
Matt Lentzner heads IT at RoseRyan, an award-winning consulting firm of finance and accounting aces in Silicon Valley who expertly guide companies forward in any stage of their business lifecycle. He joined RoseRyan in 2005 and serves on the firm’s management team. RoseRyan tackles short- and long-term assignments for clients, from the startup needing an interim CFO and scalable infrastructure to the large enterprise managing tricky transactions and complex compliance issues.
Director of Professional Development & Community, CPA.com
More times than I can count lately, I have heard “that is something from a sci-fi movie,” regarding consumer technology. Mark Zuckerberg has programmed his house to automate as soon as he arrives. Does this make anyone else think of the opening credits of the Jetsons when George arrives home? (I just aged myself perhaps.) So what does this all mean for our business life?
A year ago I wrote, “Do I have to think about that?” If we look at what was referenced here, that is what Zuckerberg did; he automated to a level few of us would get to, but look where we are. Did you get an Amazon Echo or Echo Dot for Christmas? If so you are probably still figuring out all you can do with it. We bought one for my 70-year-old dad; he can now say “living room lights on” and voilà! No tripping over a cat in the dark reaching for the light. Families can fill up the grocery shopping list using Alexa instead of yelling at dad to remember to add “x” to the list. It enhances our ability to collaborate and communicate. Accounting Today recently wrote about a company in England that is now going to use “Alexa” technology in accounting apps for accountants and their clients. What is next?
Sixteen years ago, many accounting professionals didn’t think paperless was possible, and now we have artificial intelligence (AI) in our offices. Deloitte is using it to extract information from complex documents, KPMG is using it for audits. Expensify has built in an artificial intelligence assistant called Concierge. Mac computers have it built into the operating system. (As we can see this is not just for the largest firms.) Daniel Burrus teaches us to ask, is the use of AI a hard trend or soft trend. A hard trend is defined as a trend that is a future fact, we know it will continue to develop, like we know band width will continue to improve. I would say AI is a hard trend; more technology is leveraging AI to support us and functioning well within the tools.
The question for you is, where do you see it helping your daily activities? Are you communicating those suggestions to your software providers, or are you in a position to build an app? Are your clients considering this advancement and how it impacts their industry? We are leaving the realm of sci-fi and entering a state of expectation and anticipation! I am excited to see how this all continues to develop. What are you excited to see next?
Founder & CEO, RoseRyan
One of the greatest compliments is when clients consider us a trusted advisor. Recently, some encouraging words came from a client that was just getting used to a new accounting method. After working with this startup for months on an assignment, our consultant made them aware of an approach that would give them a more accurate view of their business. “My encouragement to you is to keep pushing us toward ways of working that would be better for us, not just the way we have always done them,” our client wrote in an email.
Not every client we work with needs to make significant changes to their processes, and we wouldn’t just go in and overhaul a client’s way of doing things (unless we were specifically asked to, of course), but there are times when employees and managers get stuck in their ways. We all do. Or we’re not able to see some strategic choices ahead. We all need trusted advisors who can pull us out of our rut, show us a better way, provide us with a new perspective, or just enlighten us on what others in our field are doing.
Similarly, many of us are in a position to be a trusted advisor. Whether you’re a CFO aiming for a tight relationship with your CEO, or a consultant wanting to be viewed as a business partner – and not merely as a “vendor” – the term “trusted advisor” is a coveted label. It can take awhile to earn such a status, but once you do, you’ll have a whole new level of respect and a stronger working relationship that can lead to longer and better professional engagements.
Anyone who aims to be a trusted advisor and keep that status needs to have the following traits:
Altruism: Trusted advisors always put the clients’ needs ahead of their own. During RoseRyan engagements, we sometimes observe companies getting bogged down with manual processes that could be automated. We could keep our mouths shut about how the client can work more efficiently – and rack up the extra billable hours that result when things take longer to complete. But that is not what’s best for the client, and won’t earn us their trust and loyalty in the long run. By always viewing ourselves as an extended member of our client’s team, we are more likely to come up with solutions and processes that are in their best interest.
The ability to listen: A trusted advisor listens carefully to what clients say and don’t say. The client may not always know exactly what they need or the right questions to ask. A trusted advisor is always asking questions, assessing the situation and offering recommendations. Trusted advisors are also listening for cues on the corporate culture so that they don’t overstep their bounds when it comes to how and when to make suggestions or implement changes.
A deep well of experience: Specific knowledge of a topic will get you only so far with a client. You may know the ins and outs of lease accounting rules, for instance, but what will really impress a client is your ability to confidently discuss how the rules have been implemented at other companies and play out in real life. Experience all feeds into my next point, as well; someone who has had practical experience and exposure to various corporate situations knows how to adjust to a client’s unique needs.
Adaptability: No client wants someone coming in from the outside with a big ego or an overbearing attitude who insists on doing things their way. This is especially true when a company is in the midst of a big change, like taking on new accounting software or becoming SOX compliant for the first time. Internal politics can really come to a head during such transitions, and stress levels can be high. A trusted advisor has a knack for understanding the politics, rising above it, and using a diplomatic yet direct approach to keep the client moving down the right path, in an efficient manner.
Candidness: Honesty is the best policy in any partnership, and that’s particularly true between clients and consultants. Being up-front with clients is a value we highly value, even when it involves awkward or tough conversations. If we have information that will help a client, we share it, hopefully with the right sense of urgency and diplomacy. For example, we pointed out to a finance leader when the privately held company’s finance department needed additional skills to transition the business to the public markets. We went above and beyond to help draft a new organizational chart, which incorporated the talents the company already had on the team as well as new ones to consider, such as people who had experience with SEC reporting.
Becoming a trusted advisor is a privilege that can easily evaporate if you are not careful. When you keep the qualities I mentioned in mind, you can differentiate yourself and become a respected partner.
The rewards of taking the time and effort to be perceived as a trusted advisor are too good to pass up. It engenders long-term client relationships with loyalty and repeat business. It can also lead to more challenging work, which we welcome wholeheartedly. We’re the type of people who thrive on a good challenge and love to have interesting work to sink our teeth into.
When one of your business partners has evolved into a trusted advisor, hold on to that person or firm and see what else they can do for you. They are not always easy to find.
Kathy Ryan is a founder and the CEO of RoseRyan, an award-winning consulting firm of finance and account aces who expertly guide companies forward in any stage of their business lifecycle. The firm’s dream tackles short- and long-term assignments, from the startup needing an interim CFO and scalable infrastructure to the large enterprise managing tricky transactions and complex compliance issues. Since 1993, RoseRyan has amassed a wealth of experience working with more than 700 clients of all kinds and sizes, primarily in the San Francisco Bay Area’s tech and life sciences sectors. Accounting Today named Ryan to its list of “elite” managing partners, and she’s proud of the firm’s collaborative and friendly culture, which has been lauded as a Great Place to Work and a Top 100 Workplace in the Bay Area.
CPA, Director, Wiss & Company, LLP
Many of us work at traditional firms and are the key players in the client accounting service area. It can be a challenging position at times as we don’t have a big internal network. Having an extended family in our professional lives has so many advantages. We are able to discuss client issues, software selection, staffing needs and business development challenges. At times our relationships expand beyond our work lives and we learn about each other’s families and personal interests. Developing these meaningful relationships keep us connected and provides resources throughout the year. As we face new challenges or want to revisit relevant topics, we have each other to lean on.
As the years pass, many of us look forward to seeing colleagues and friends at the annual Digital CPA Conference. The camaraderie amongst the participants and vendors is so evident and it continues to develop from year to year. Attendees discuss everything from practice development to practice management. We share ideas in both formal settings like the round table discussions and training sessions and also hold individual conversations at lunch and social hours. We discuss changes to our practice since we last spoke or share experiences with new colleagues. Discussions about the latest software and how we are using these new tools in our practice is always a hot topic. Having the software vendors present leads to more in depth and informative conversations, as well.
CPA.com organizes the annual Digital CPA Conference. The conference is planned almost a year in advance including the theme, the selection of courses, keynote speakers, instructors and social events. In addition to the CPA.com team, an advisory board is selected to assist in the planning process. Each year the conference is filled with great courses, motivating speakers and most importantly effective networking. As a result of this year’s conference, I set a few main goals for the FWRD practice here at Wiss. I am working with our marketing team to enhance our proposals to include more specifics about our services and to help set clearer expectations for clients. In addition, we are enhancing our technology package by adding a document fetching and OCR enabled software which members of the community are having great success with. Finally, we plan to standardize our assessment process to help gain efficiencies and increase response time during the proposal and onboarding phases.
I look forward to interacting with this amazing community throughout the year and eagerly await DCPA17, as I know it will be another fantastic event. My suggestion, if you don’t have a community to rely on and learn from then set a goal to find that group of professionals in 2017.
Carolyn is the leader of the FWRD practice. Carolyn's strong abilities to understand each FWRD client's needs provides immeasurable benefits to the business owners as they grow. FWRD clients say that Carolyn's advisory services and strong relationships with them ensures the highest standards of service and results for their business.