Although the accounting world has long since evolved from a manual-centric numbers industry into one that increasingly features advisory services, it is clients’ ever-complex needs – as well as automation software that frees CPAs from lower-level tasks – that is helping usher in wider-ranging CPA service offerings. These may include technology expertise/services, outsourced chief financial officer roles, and tailored advice on nearly every topic imaginable. Select New Jersey accounting firms are even engaging with legal cannabis trade-related services. Meanwhile, the accounting industry itself is adjusting to internal changes as it experiences a dearth of CPAs, and – human capital shortage or not – working CPAs are connecting with their clients more frequently than ever.
“Most of the staff here spends very little time behind their desks punching numbers into a screen,” says Leon Grassi, chief marketing officer and head of business development at Sax LLP. “That’s just the truth of it. We’re sitting down in front of clients where every day is a little bit different; we’re trying to find out why [a] client isn’t making as much money as we all know they can.”
Expressing similar sentiments is Daniel T. Fiorentino, CPA, CGMA, principal at Wilkin & Guttenplan, P.C., who adds that businesses’ “panic” during the coronavirus pandemic – and the help they needed with government programs – has brought them closer to their accountants: “We got closer [to our clients] with that, and we’ve been able to maintain those relationships. [The relationships] opened new opportunities for different areas … beyond tax planning or anything like that,” he says, citing cybersecurity consulting as well as improving clients’ own accounting processes as examples.
Tied to these closer client relationships is accounting firm knowledge: Many companies seek outsourced CFOs not only in and around finance/business, but also in investment banking, private equity, understanding the markets, investing in cryptocurrency, and for overall technology matters.
“The lines are blurring, and CFOs are now involved in the digital transformation discussion,” Sax LLP’s Grassi says, describing how his firm can guide businesses on all the above topics, and also provide actual outsourced Sax LLP CEOs via the firm’s Outsourced CFO Team. “Finding a good CFO who has all that experience in one person is a little bit of ‘a needle in a haystack.’ Organizations like ours act as consultants. … We are sort of outsourced CFOs already to our clients; we fit that need very well because we have the expertise in all those new service areas that an in-house CFO may not necessarily have.”
Specialized knowledge and services can expand even further. Sax LLP’s Grassi details how his firm not only acts as a broker that can help business clients purchase their own various software platforms, but that Sax LLP provides IT managed services via a partner, including feet-on-the-ground cybersecurity and related services such as, for example, disaster recovery.
Sax LLP additionally has a network of cybersecurity attorneys and insurance brokers it can access, and the firm itself can advise regarding software/hardware necessary for building a cybersecurity solution – or any aspect of a broader technological transformation. Grassi says, “We architect the end-to-end higher-level solution and then make sure those dots are connected so that when the cyber insurance guy puts the policy in place – and the lawyer reviews it to make sure that the website and contract language is appropriate – we [ensure] that everything they’re saying on both sides can actually work.”
He adds, “We don’t approach that [technology] engagement as the accounting firm that happens to provide technology consulting; we come in as a business advisor who has expertise in a lot of different areas, including technology.”
Grassi stresses: “The ‘accounting firm’ header isn’t the right title anymore … it’s become a smaller part of what we do. He also says, “We aren’t just the ‘accounting firm’ anymore – that’s the trend.”
While CPA firms are often expanding their services, the industry is experiencing the aforementioned shortage of accountants, creating a strain for some CPA firms. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) notes that a stunning 75% of CPAs were at or near retirement age in 2019, against the backdrop of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projecting a substantial 136,400 new openings for accountants and auditors each year between 2021 and 2031.
Anecdotally confirming this conundrum is Christopher Barchetto, CPA, partner, at Smolin Lupin: “It’s my conclusion that there are fewer accountants available to do the work. I think [for] those firms that are the size of my firm and under, the profession is starting to age, and not necessarily backfilling [with new CPAs].”
He adds, “If things continue to trend the way they are trending, the word is going to get out, and colleges are going to hopefully promote study in accountancy.” For now, accountants are busier than ever servicing their clients.
Whether more people enter the accounting profession does not subtract from rising accounting automation software, which, again, often allows CPAs to forgo focusing on many time-intensive, lower-level tasks.
Related trends are now often centered on coordinating one automating system with another, such as integrating workflow management tools with scheduling tools. Automation software can also, for example, identify specific transactions in the general ledger and then segregate them for special review.
That said, automation may have its limits, paving the way for even more accounting firm advisory services in yet-to-be-determined realms. Sax LLP’s Grassi says: “Even with all of the digitization, automation and AI, at the end of the day – if I am an entrepreneur, business owner, etc. – I want somebody sitting across from me who has done this before. [They] understand the implications of all of these decisions I am making, can manipulate, aggregate and understand the data, and then explain to me the right thing to do. That’s what a business advisor is by nature; that’s the future.”
He concludes, “We are businesspeople with expertise in accounting. The evolution of this game will be consulting firms capable of delivering a very wide array of services.”
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