Advancing technology spells big changes for CPA firms’ talent model

Recently I wrote about digital disruption in public accounting. Then I followed up with how digitization in industry is affecting what clients need and expect from their professional services firm.

Today, I’d like to swing the lens around again and focus on what all this means for the talent model in audit firms of the future.

More non-CPAs will ascend to leadership

That’s my first observation. Consider what’s happening with the Big Four. Notwithstanding deep roots in audit and tax, these firms claim 40% of the consulting market worldwide.

To understand why, look to digitization. Accounting firms gain uncommon insight into their clients’ operational challenges, which leads to data-driven findings and lessons from clients in similar situations. The result is, while CPA credentials are essential to some lines of service, an intimate knowledge of operations—along with the ability to add process and technology value—is just as important to others.

This brings me to my next point.

Crossover skills will become the key to advancement

Automation is eliminating much of the labor-intensive work that has been a major reason for companies to engage outside assistance. This work includes rote tasks (such as data entry and ticking and tying) as well as more complex, specialized ones (like modeling and forecasting).

As a result, accountants and consultants alike will spend more time solving ever-tougher problems for clients. This will require a wider range of technical skills along with soft skills to interact with senior executives. It also will demand a level of comfort with ambiguity plus the ability to learn on the fly. Professionals with a knack for this kind of entrepreneurial approach will thrive.

How would firms find this kind of talent? Not by accident, which is the basis of my final prediction for now.

Firms will broaden their recruiting horizons

Even core audit and tax functions will benefit from people with backgrounds in programming, analytics, engineering, design and more. This will parallel a shift in verticals toward industry veterans—imagine scientists for biotechnology, clinicians for healthcare and former civil servants for public sector.

At the entry level, some service lines will partner with universities to cultivate dedicated programs of study around the technical skills they need. Others will get more involved with existing programs by delivering guest lectures and developing internships. Consulting firms will also nurture ties with faculty who can identify promising students and encourage a career in professional services.

The takeaway? Get ready for change

Digital disruption is looking more and more like a long-term phenomenon. One effect will be to reshape the talent needs of professional services firms. Whatever this means in the way of education, experience and skills, one qualification will be non-negotiable: adaptability in a fast-changing environment.


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