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Episode 64:

Next to Come: Accounting's Future

David Hartley


Jeremy Clopton welcomes David Hartley to The Upstream Leader for Episode 64, and their conversation focuses around the challenges of leading accounting firms into the future. The impact of hybrid work environments, the role of technology, and the shift to advisory services will all play a large role in shaping the direction the profession takes in the coming years, and David stresses that just carrying on as things currently stand is not likely to bear much fruit. He breaks down the power of young professionals who are up to date with modern tools, the efficiency gains this signifies in real terms, and the need for leaders to be willing to take a chance on implementing strategies that utilize both.

About the Guest

David Hartley is a business and technology executive with over 30 years of continuous innovation and leadership including experiences as a Chief Information Officer, Big Four consulting and audit. David currently serves as a partner in charge of the Advisory Practice at Anders CPAs + Advisors, guiding the strategy for the value-added services at Anders, including Virtual CFO (VCFO), Anders Technology (Technology Services Provider), Forensic Valuation and Litigation Services (FVLS), Healthcare Consulting and Provider Enrollment, and State and Local Tax (SALT), among other areas. David was formerly VP & CIO at Arch Coal (now Arch Resources), where he was responsible for leading Arch’s technology with a focus on optimizing business processes along with enhancing safety and environmental efforts. With vast experience including designing and implementing technology strategy, leading both large and small high-performing teams, planning and executing M&A transactions and large complex integrations, David also hosts the But Who’s Counting? podcast.

Highlights / Transcript

Hello everybody, and welcome to The Upstream Leader. I am excited today to be talking about the future of the CPA profession—and tell you what, it’s a topic that frankly, I’m a little surprised that I haven’t talked about yet on the podcast. We really haven’t had anything, it’s just directly discussed: “Okay, where are we headed, and what does that look like?”

So I’m excited for the conversation. To have that conversation with me here today. I’ve got Dave Hartley. Dave is a CPA who believes in the future of the CPA profession that it looks a lot different than its past. David is spearheading the growth and innovation efforts at Anders CPAs + Advisors, where he leads the firm’s advisory practice. A lifelong technologist, recognized innovator and successful business executive, Dave continuously shares his expertise and lessons learned with other CPAs and business owners to help them find their own success. Dave, welcome to the show.

Thanks, Jeremy. It’s great to be here. It’s a great topic. I’m looking forward to discussing it.

Yeah. There’s a lot of different directions that we could head as we think about the future of the profession. But before we do, I’m going to start us off the way I start off every episode, and that is, how did you become the leader that you are today?

Okay. Thanks, Jeremy. That’s an interesting question. So I guess the way that I would answer that is I would say, so I’ve been in this game for over three decades. So I think it’s through a lot of hard work, but, I think also one of the things I was very fortunate early in my career, that I had some great role models. And, so I grew up in Big Four, so I spent a decade at EY, and in that time, had some great exposure to some great professionals who really taught me what it meant to be a professional, how to do client service, what are the things that, you know, good leaders are you know, really excelling at versus, you know, others. And I also started in audit. And in audit, you get a chance to see all kinds of different environments. And I think I personally believe there’s no better place to start a career than in audit, in public accounting, because you see so many different environments.

So I would say that’s how, you know, a whole lot of hard work over several decades, made me the leader that I am today, but I think that actually, to tie it into what we’re going to talk about in this episode. I actually think that’s one of the challenges that, you know, when you think about how the profession is evolving—and we’ve got more remote work, we’ve got more virtual people—and so that opportunity to be in the same room with people that have a lot of experience that you can learn from is a lot harder to do in the remote world. And I think that’s one of the changes in the profession that we’re going to have to figure out, how do we deal with that and how does that work? So just a few thoughts on how I would respond to that, Jeremy.

So, Dave, let’s just jump right into that because that is something I hear a lot from firms when we’re talking with them, and specifically talking with firm leadership, is people today, they’re not learning at the same rate, all these things, right? And one of the questions that I’ll ask is great, if they’re not as good as you were, how did you become so good? And so many people have the same answer you just shared, right? “Oh, I had great role models. I had people that poured into me. They spent time. They helped me grow.” My question then becomes great, when was the last time you did that for somebody? And the common answer that I get is “Not that we’re not in the same room, I’m just too busy.”

So how do we overcome both of those challenges in your mind—the fact that we’re too busy, and we’re not in the same room—how do we create that exceptional environment that so many leaders today grew up in, how do we get that same benefit in the future?

I think that’s a great question, and I think a lot of organizations are really struggling with that today. When I look at, you know, probably the number one word that comes to mind as part of that question is it has to be intentional. You have to set out that this is what we’re going to do, and to achieve this outcome, these are the things that we’re going to do, and then you have to be disciplined about sticking to it. And there’s so many things that if you have a remote workforce, and at Anders, we’ve got about 430 employees—and of that 70 are spread all across the country. And so we have a hybrid environment, which in my opinion, is the hardest. I think if you’re all remote, I think that’s hard, but you can do it. Fully in office, I think that’s easy. When you do hybrid, I think that’s the hardest of them all.

And I think that if you’re not intentional—you have to decide what are you going to do to achieve and get folks developed, and I think you’re going to have to, you know, whether that’s committing to in-person retreats, whether that’s to you know, make sure that if one person is remote, then everybody’s remote. Everybody goes back to their office and joins that way, as opposed to just being the remote participants who’s on the wall in a conference room, who has a miserable experience, because they’re really not part of the meeting. And I think those types of things, if you’re not intentional and i f you want to achieve that outcome, give some thought to well, then to do that, I need to do a, b, and c, and then if you’re not intentional in scheduling that time—because we all are way too busy. We’ve got too many distractions. It’s hard to focus. But if that’s something that’s really important, then, you know, you’ve got to make it a priority, you’ve got to schedule time to do it.

But part of the challenge in that, is there are through email, text messages, there’s always something in front of us that is an immediate requirement that has to be done. When you’re talking about developing someone, that takes months, years, decades to do that. And so you’re likely to see the return, you know, further out, whereas you’ve got a fire in front of you today that you have to fight. And that’s why if you don’t make it intentional, the fire always wins. The fire is always going to be the thing that you run to unless you’re able to actually prioritize the things that strategically, are going to make a difference for you and for your firm, and that’s why you’ve got to focus on that.

And being disciplined, to keep that long-term view, also really challenging, when you’re you’re facing those fires, those crises, the emergencies that are popping up. And, I love what you said that in person, it’s easier. All remote, it’s easier. I would argue in both of those, you still have to be intentional and disciplined, it’s just there are fewer barriers. Is it safe to say that the future of the profession is the hard way, though, is the hybrid environment? Is that the future, or are you seeing something else in on the horizon?


Well, I do think that will become the dominant model. And I think when you look at the research, it’s coming out in early 2024, I think it supports that. But I do think that’s another great strategic decision for firms to make, which is, do we want to be fully remote, do we want to be fully in person, or do we want to be hybrid? And I think strategically, depending on how you see the future, you know, that can have a huge difference in how you spend your time, what you prioritize, because there’s a lot of things that you have to do, depending on which of those three models that you choose.

And I think that, you know, once again, you’ve got to be intentional, you’ve got to be disciplined, and that has to be on the radar. But from my personal perspective, I do think that’s going to become the model of the future, because I think it is too—given how constrained we are in talent right now—the fact that I can now recruit anywhere in the country, and if my vision aligns and I can find people anywhere in the country that believe in what I believe in and be a part of it, then I think that’s going to give you the best workforce regardless of geography.

And so I think right now, remote work is getting a bad knock because I think there are people who went to remote work because it’s easy to hide. And unless you have a lot of discipline management in place, then people do, you know, if that’s what they want to do, it’s easier to do it in that environment, than an in-person environment. So I think as a result of that, you know, it’s kind of getting a bad knock, but if you find people that really embrace and want to do remote work right, and are truly aligned with your vision and mission, then I think you can make great things happen.

So as a leader, if I’m trying to figure out how to shift my firm to a firm of the future, do I need to automatically embrace hybrid, or would you say that there’s the opportunity for some firms to be full in-office firms, and for others to be full remote? Do you think it’s going to be more of a kind of a bell curve where you’ve got the kind of the edges, you’re going to have some full remote, some full in-office, and that’s going to probably really attracts certain people, right? They’re going to want that, and they’re going to be looking for that. And for those individuals, that’s going to really be your attractor. And the majority are going to fall in that bell curve. Is that kinda where you’re seeing it headed?

I would agree with that. I do see that. And I think what you have to find, rather than initially rush to any one piece, I think you have to decide and really think through from a strategic planning standpoint: What is it that you want to be? Where are we going? And I think a lot of CPA firms, you know, they really don’t know that, or they don’t have that in terms of we just do what we do, and we serve our clients and they come to us and they love us. And that’s great, but in terms of what you really want to be, is there a specific vision, mission, that you’re trying to achieve because that’s what you need to figure out.

Okay, if we want to specifically serve dental practices or coffee shops or where we want to be the experts in this area, or we want to be generalists, and we just want to dominate this particular geography—I think all of those decisions are key. And then that should drive your, well, if that’s what we’re going to be, then we need to be fully remote or we need to be fully in-person. But it just depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. There’s definitely no one size fits all on this in my book.

So if we think about the fact that certain firms are going to be remote, some may be in-office, but most are going to be hybrid.


That change in and of itself. Is going to have a significant impact on the future of the profession, and what talent development looks like, what mentoring, so many of the people things. What do you see coming that is going to help overcome some of those hurdles to make the people side of the firm so successful? Because as I think about it, most of the skills that people need to learn, you don’t learn it sitting in front of a computer, right? You’re not learning it from a webinar necessarily—it’s so much of that interaction with another great role model, another great leader. And now we’ve—I don’t want to say we put up a barrier—but maybe there’s just a bit of a hurdle to getting that same experience. You talked about being intentional, being disciplined. What else is going to impact a firm in the future’s ability to be successful in that regard?

Yeah. Well, I think one of the key things is, you have to embrace technology. So I think going back to our previous point, I think you do need to decide what you want to be, because from a people standpoint, you want to get your people aligned with that vision and mission. And here’s who we are, here’s what we do, here’s what we stand for. You want people that look at that and say, yeah, that’s what I want to do! I want to be a part of that.

So I think, you know, one of the key pieces of that to truly have an effective remote environment is you have to leverage technology. And there are different tools that you can use, and different things that are out there that will really help make those things happen from a connectivity standpoint. And, you know, so I think you have to be intentional about technology, and I think just in general, that sort of, you know, kind of an opener for, I think technology is going to have a significant impact across the profession in lots of different areas. And so I think really figuring out as a firm, if that’s important for you, then also making that a strategic priority.

So especially smaller firms sometimes struggle because they don’t have the internal resources to do a lot with technology, but there are now better services that you could subscribe to. You know, one of the things that I’m seeing now is sort of the rise of the AI note takers. And that so if you’re a firm and you’re looking to get started on something, try some of these AI note takers, because when you see what they’re capable of, it’s like, wow, okay! So maybe that’s what this AI hype is about! And so that kind of an easy way to get started, but I think just in general, you have to have a progressive mindset. You have to be willing to embrace technology, and try new and different things, which historically is not really a strength of the CPA profession. But I think that’s going to be, you know, that’s going to be a key to the firms that truly thrive in the future.

So let’s go ahead and just address the elephant in the room on the technology side of things. Because I’m on board with you. And I love AI notetakers—I am very pro technology. My backgrounds in analytics, everybody knows I love the data and I love the technology. So many people are afraid that it’s going to replace them, or it’s going to make our profession not as valuable. I fundamentally disagree with that, but I’d love to hear, what are your thoughts? Does technology replace accountants, or is it something that makes accountants even better than they’ve ever been, or somewhere in between?

Yeah. I think it does change the role of an accountant because when you think historically, even when I started an audit, you know, what did I do? How did I learn? It was a fair amount of fairly low level repetitive work that I did and that’s how I learned. Now I think, you know, AI and other technologies, I think, are going to do a lot of that average work. Things are going to be automated. So a lot of the things that maybe you spent 20, 30, 40 percent of your time on, depending on your level within the organization and what your role is, you know, some percentage of your time can now be automated through these technologies. I think the question is, when you think about that, it’s like, well, then how do I differentiate? And I think that goes back really to the root of the profession, which is, we serve clients, and we help people achieve their goals. And therefore, that frees up more time for us to really do that, because how many times do you get to, you know, it’s 4 or 5 o’clock in the day, and you’re just done with your work that you had to get done, and now you’re onto the, oh, now I can do those things that, you know, are strategically important, or I needed to call this person, or, yeah, I needed to make this connection.

You know, all the people things, the creativity, the communication, the relationship with people, all of those things, the technology is going to free up more time for that. So I think it does reshape and repurpose what a CPA and what a professional is, and I think it’s up to, you know, progressive practitioners to really embrace the tools, create this free time, and then decide, how am I going to use that? Some people already are like, I’m going to use that for leisure. So I’m going to go down from a 45 hour week to a 35 hour week. And for people that choose that and that’s their goal, that’s great. Others are like, okay, I can go from 40 to 30 hours—now with that 10 hours, here’s how I’m going to use it. And I think that’s one of the things that you also have to be intentional about is going after that opportunity, and then once you have it, then making sure you’re reinvesting.

And for different people, there’s different definitions of success. So that can be, you know, getting more leisure time. It can also be, you know, I want to learn this new skill, I want to focus in a different area, I want to spend more time on mentoring. I want to spend more time on business development. I want to grow my network. I think there’ll be more opportunities for that. The tools are just a mechanism to help us get there.

I’m glad you clarified how somebody was going to use free time. Those two words freak a lot of people out in the profession day when they hear free time. It’s like, everybody’s afraid somebody’s going to be twiddling their thumbs. By the way, I’ve never actually walked through an office and seen anyone physically twiddling their thumbs, although that is, right? This big fear that free time is a bad thing. But I want to go back, actually. I do want to explore, what does it reshape the accountant into? I believe that’s probably headed toward that advisory direction, which I want to explore with you, but I want to go back and ask for clarification. Because I would imagine somebody is listening to this, and they heard you say, “I learned when I was early in my career by doing those low level, repetitive tasks, and those are going to be automated.” So the question that I hear a lot is, that’s great that those are automated. How do those people learn what they would have learned by doing those tasks? And I’ve heard some firms say, hey, we could have automated it. They need to learn how to do it first. So how help me reconcile, how do we bridge that gap?

And I think that’s a great question. And I think the answer to that—I don’t know that a lot of people know the answer to that question, but I think it is, it’s exactly the the dynamic that you just outlined, which is, I think it is a problem. Because if you approach things the way you approached things in the past and those things are automated, then suddenly you’re going to have people with three, four, five years of experience, that don’t know the things that you, in the past, expected them to know. So we’re going to have to change how we train. We’re going to, it’s, you know, and once again, it comes back to being intentional. We’re going to have to approach things in a different way.

And, you know, for firms that choose to continue to do certain things because people need to learn, is that the most efficient way for people to learn? I mean, you know, let’s take tax—how many tax returns does somebody need to do before they can master and move up to the next level? Is it 40? Well, maybe that’s not enough. Is it 400? Maybe. Is it 4,000? Eh, you probably don’t need to do 4,000. And that’s the point where I think it’s way too easy to just say, yeah, just keep doing it the way that we’ve always done it and do 4,000 tax returns, when actually, after 400, somebody’s mastered everything and is ready for what’s next.

So I think we have to be agile and nimble, actually looking at that. And I do think it is going to free up time. And I think when you look at, you know, some of the things that’re coming out, when you look at what CEOs are saying in their earnings calls. You’re going to hear more and more about, it is going to create capacity. Now the interesting thing in the CPA profession is that is something we desperately need because the flip side of that argument is the pipeline issue. We have not done a great job marketing the profession, and so we have fewer and fewer people coming into the profession while we have a lot of people retiring. So on one hand, we desperately need people. On the other hand, we have this technology that can create some capacity for us, and possibly repurpose our time from lower level non-value added activities, to very high value, fun activities, and I think that’s part of the dynamic. And I think that’s going to play—that balance is going to play itself out over the next several years, if not decades.

Fun is a great concept, and I absolutely love that you put that in there because that’s one of the reasons that so many people, myself included, got into the profession, is it was fun. We enjoyed what we did, and then enjoyment is so important to, you know, maintaining engagement for the long term. It’s so easy to lose that when you just get busy, you’re going through the motions. And one of the things that you’ve alluded to that I see a lot, and I see coming down the pike as well is, as people embrace technology, and, you know, they repurpose their time, and it shapes what an accountant is into something more, it seems that what it’s shaping an accountant into, is an advisor—and I know for some people, that’s a bit of a triggering word, and I get that—but an advisor that’s really going to have a lot of fun because now you’re out there helping clients achieve goals, not just helping clients check boxes. Is that what you’re alluding to when you say that an accountant is going to be different in the future than they are today?

Yeah. And and I think for me, I can give you a very personal example. So when I started my career—we’re going back to the nineties—audit was very much a rear-view mirror, you know, job. So everything that I was doing and after doing it for two or three years, I felt like, okay, what’s the value that I’m truly creating? I’m making sure that people do the right things, and that’s important, and that’s valuable, and I’m making sure they did it right. But at the end of the day, how am I changing outcomes? How am I making things better?

And for me, that was one of the things I struggled with, with audit, which is why I then went to technology audit, and then ultimately went to consulting. So I think for me, professionally, that worked, but I think that’s part of the shift, and, you know, whenever I have this discussion, some people are always like, oh, we’ve been doing that forever. But I do think underlying the profession, historically, we’ve ridden the audit and tax horse for a hundred years. And now a lot of that is looking in the rear-view mirror. And it’s looking at past results. It’s doing the accounting for that and that’s all super important. But I think the future is much more, and this is what we hear clients coming to us and saying: “That’s great that you can do all that stuff, but that’s table stakes. What I need from you—I need you to get me better outcomes. I need you to help me run my business better. I need insights. I need creativity. I need to know about the things that I don’t know about, that I should know about.”

And that’s the role of a CPA is to really understand, have a deep client relationship, have a deep understanding, and then create value, and bring because we have that financial expertise and that financial acumen, that point of view, the vast majority of people don’t have that point of view. So by us bringing that to our clients, we can create immense value. And I think that’s the shift that’s going to happen over time, is that more and more of the work that looks in the past is going to be automated, and the value really is going to be created by whether you call them consulting services or advisory services—but things that really deliver value to clients and help them solve problems. And the world is becoming increasingly complex. There’s more issues that companies have to deal with, more things they’re supposed to know, so the role of the CPA, in my view, becomes even more important in the future than it has been historically, because we are the one that can tie all of those things together. And I think more so than any other profession that is already trusted, we are in a perfect opportunity to capitalize on that, and to really redefine what it means to be a CPA and really bring a lot of value as part of that process.

I agree with that a hundred percent Dave. So let’s dive into that just a little bit here. The profession is changing—we’re going to become more advisory in the future, we’re going to be focused more on outcomes and goals, less on the rearward looking things. We’re going to embrace technology more. Arguably, we’re going to have to change a little bit more quickly. Our environment’s going to be different—it’s going to require more intentionality and discipline. That’s everything that we’ve talked about so far.

So if I’m listening to this and I’m thinking that’s all fine and well, I’m at a place where we’ve got some experienced leaders that still embrace the mindsetAudit is better than advisory. Independence trumps all. Yes, we could probably get a $200,000 advisory engagement out of this client every year, but we’ve done the $20,000 audit for the last however many decades, so it doesn’t matter what the opportunity could look like.” So we’ve got that mindset.

I find that often, we also, when you see that, that there’s also a mindset that young people aren’t as good today as they were 30, 40, 50 years ago. We undervalue team members. We don’t challenge them to be excellent. We let them get by with doing whatever because we’re afraid we might lose them, even though we arguably don’t necessarily want to keep them, right? So we’ve got all of those things happening at the same time, that were needing to make all of these changes that you just talked about. What can an individual leader—say partner, senior manager, manager, in the accounting profession—do? What is it that they need to be doing to start to bridge the gap between “the way we’ve always done it is the way we should always do it, our newer people aren’t good enough, I’ve got to do it myself, and I don’t have the time to train them even though I know that’s how it happened.” How do we bridge the gap from there to, “we’re going to become advisors, we’re going to be intentional and disciplined, and embrace technology, and recognize we’ve got to change.” If I’m a leader and I’m sitting right in between those two, what do I do?

Yeah. And I think there are a lot of people in that situation today, so I think that’s a very real perspective. Part of what I would say also is, we’ve made great strides in diversity. Are we where we need to be? No, we’re not. But we are making strides, especially in my, you know, limited 30 years of being in the profession. But when I think about, you know—one of the things I struggle with, I think the traditional model of the CPA firm where all the power is at the top is actually shifting. Because what I find, now I’ve been doing this for three decades, and I find some of the younger professionals that come in off campus, or early in their careers, some of the things that they’re doing, and how they solve problems is fascinating to me because it is very different. My way would have taken three hours and may have gotten the right answer. They can do it in 30 minutes, and they have analyzed—and it’s a superior answer.

So I think, you know, are there questions about work ethic? Are there questions about, yeah! There’s a lot of those things. But I think if you go back, you know, 30, 40, 50 years, probably you’re going to see a lot of things that were relatively consistent, but that’s just the part of growing up, that’s just a part of figuring out, do I want to be a professional? Yes or no? Those first couple of years in the profession are part of that decision making process. So not everybody’s cut out to be a professional, and that’s okay. They can go do something else. But I think sort of figuring that out.

But at the end of the day, that diversity of thought and really recognizing and appreciating that in some ways, the power used to be at the top. Now in some ways, if you can harness the power of your younger professionals, who probably in college got trained on Python and Tableau and all of these different tools, which maybe in your firm you’re not using, but these younger folks could help you figure out how to embrace those things. So I think you just have to understand, and if you’re that leader that’s stuck in the middle, I think you have to educate yourself and you have to have a point of view.

If you get comfortable with the fact that I’ve got 20 years left in my career, five years left in my career, and it’s pretty much going to stay the way that it is now, you can ride that horse and do whatever. If you look the other way and say, yep, that’s the future, is more consulting, advisory services, more future-focused, then I think you have to make a plan for what does that mean? And if you are an organization that’s resistant to change, then what can I do to influence the outcome? Whether that’s working with younger professionals, you know, there’s a lot of different things that you could do: Trying to educate the more senior members of the firm, whether if you’re part of a network by going to other firms and find out what other firms are doing and what’s working for them.

I mean, I think, you know, one of the things that’s great about this podcast and others is that there’s more people than ever sharing their insights about what’s working, and what’s not, than ever before. Whether you call them accounting influencers or folks with visibility, you can tap into those folks, and everybody has access to these things. These podcasts are out there, they’re available. You just have to invest the time, whether it’s through reading or listening to podcasts to get yourself educated, and then from there, have a point of view, set some goals—I want to start using three new applications by the end of the year. I want to get these younger professionals trained on a, b, and c. I want them to train me on certain things. That’s the kind of stuff that if you set a goal and then start marching towards it, but first, you have to figure out what that goal is. What do you truly believe is going to happen? And then you as a leader need to get there and bring others along with you. And I think that’s really the challenge.

That works really well for those leaders in the middle. So let’s take it from perhaps another perspective. I’m a senior partner, say I am five years away from retirement. Maybe I’m seven years away from retirement. And I know that everything that we’ve talked about is a great thing. I see it, but I am absolutely terrified. And I would imagine that at Anders you’ve probably experienced that at some point, that as you got into technology and you started doing more progressive things, there was at least one partner over the years that was like, I get it, but I’m terrified of it, and I don’t know what to do.

Mmm hmm.

So if you’re that partner who’s just a bit fearful of the unknown and, “how do I even do this,” what would you say to them?

Yeah. Well, I think, Jeremy, and I’ve heard you speak before, I’ve heard some of your other podcast guests. And I think it really is, you know, for someone that’s that close to retirement, they’re from the era where you did not admit vulnerability. You did not say, “I’m freaked out. I don’t understand this. I don’t get it. I’m scared of it.” You would never say that. And I think now where we are today, you’ll find younger professionals that are very open in talking about those kinds of things. And so I think the, you know, it’s a very different time, a very different era. And if you’re a leader and you’re in that position, I think it’s okay to say, hey, here’s what I’m struggling with—I’m trying to decide what should I do and who can help me. And I think you’d be surprised. I think it’s always interesting that when people ask for help, they’re very surprised that people are actually willing to help them. And I think if, you know, if I had a senior partner and not just at my firm, but any firm, that walked in and said, hey, give me a ten minute thing on this because I don’t understand it, I would be more than happy to make that ten minutes and help somebody advance their understanding. And I think across the profession, there’s a lot of people that would do that.

But it starts with that person being willing to admit their fear, and then to actually exert the energy to doing something about it. You know, if your time horizon’s three years, yeah, you’re probably going to be fine. If it’s 5 years, I think it starts to get very questionable. If it’s 7 years or more, then I think you’ve got to seriously deal with it. But the other thing is that, you know, it goes back to a word we used earlier, which is “fun.” Which is some of these tools are amazing. I work with ChatGPT, and I make a point to stop in my day when I’m about to do something and to actually step back and say, could ChatGPT help me with this? Well, okay, well, yeah, maybe I’ll try it this way. So I’ll put something in, I’ll do a prompt, and some of the things that it comes back with is absolutely fascinating. Now it’s to the point where it’s not just giving me you know, sort of an answer to my question, but now it’s also suggesting and recommending things, which is wild.

And now I’m starting to work with Copilot as part of the Microsoft suite. And so, these tools can amaze you, but you just have to be willing to try them. And that’s one of the things I’ve tried to do because in a lot of ways, AI solves problems we didn’t know we had, because we always did it this way. So it’s like, yep, here’s the problem. I’m going to do what I’ve always done, boom, boom, boom, and it’s going to take me six hours. Now somebody that knows these tools will look at that same situation and solve that problem differently. And if by using the tools or whatever, they’ll get it done in 30 minutes, or they’ll get it done in an hour.

And I think that’s part of the shift that, is it okay that somebody still does it and it takes six hours? Is it okay that somebody does it and uses a tool and gets it done in a fraction of the time? And I think that’s one of the things that, you know, for more experienced professionals, when you give somebody an assignment, you think is going to take a full day and they’re coming back to you in 30 minutes and it’s done, you know, is that okay? And I think people that learn how to use the tools and how to embrace them, I think it’s just going to be fascinating. And leaders at whatever level have to be open to looking and actually sort of embracing some of these things that are coming at us so fast. It is kind of mind numbing trying to keep up.

Yeah, it is. So let’s flip it the other way, because I know we’ve got some our early career professionals listening as well. “I see the future,” right? They’re saying, I know what’s coming. I know tech. I can use ChatGPT or Copilot, or I can do all these things, if only I was in a place that allowed it, right? The firm that I’m in, they’re too old school, they’re too archaic. I’m not a huge proponent of “You’ve got to leave to find a better place.” I would argue that in a lot of firms, there’s probably more openness to trying new things than most people believe—they’re just maybe afraid to ask. So if I’m one of these early career professionals and I am all-in on technology and I see a better path forward, but I feel like I’m getting met with resistance, what do I do?

And Jeremy, I think you’re exactly right. I think they’re, it’s so much easier to just keep doing what we’ve always done, even though the leaders are probably thinking, I know there’s a better way, but I don’t have time to do it. And I think if somebody, I think, younger professionals, I would recommend this: Take a risk. Raise your hand and say, hey, I’ve been doing this, and I now think that we could do it better this way using this tool, and I’d like to try this. And I think what you’ll find, I would estimate 80, 90 you know, percent of shops would say, as long you’re not putting, like, client data into public tools and that kind of stuff, and there’s, you know, you’ve got reasonable cyber controls in place, those types of things. But I think you’ll find an openness to try these things, but a lot of times the people in power don’t have the time to be able to spend on that, whereas a younger professional may have more time to be able to do that, and a different skill set.

And I think that’s a perfect combination for someone to make a mark for themselves in a firm by saying, that’s the guy that will take on anything, and he will make us better, and he or she will solve this problem that maybe we didn’t even know we had, and I’m so glad this person is on our team. And isn’t that what every young professional wants to be? Highly valued, having an impact, making a difference? And you’re using and bringing your unique skills to the table. So that’s one of the things that I would encourage. Don’t assume just because you nobody’s come to you and said, hey, do this, I would assume that somebody somewhere wants you to do that, and so I would try it. And if maybe you find the first person says no, I wouldn’t stop there. I would keep identifying use cases and saying, I want to try this, I want to try that. And once you have a success or two, then that’s when things will really pick up. And I think that’s how a younger professional can really differentiate themselves, you know, starting their career at a firm.

It was worth thinking about the future of the profession and talking about the future of the profession. I love that piece of advice, Dave, because what it says is if you want to be at a firm of the future, take the initiative to go help create it. Don’t wait for somebody else to do it. If you’ve got the ideas, you’ve got the ambition, be the catalyst for your firm to become the firm of the future. Don’t go wait until you can just find one, or, you know, somebody else says we can do it. I love that advice for early career, heck mid-career, late career professionals. If you want your firm to be the firm of the future, be the catalyst to go make it happen. There’s so many opportunities. There’s so many things that we’ve talked about over the course of the last half hour or so that they aren’t huge changes—are there significant long term impacts? Oh, most definitely. But a lot of what you’ve shared, Dave, can be implemented in incremental changes of, I’m not going to go all-in with everything, but I’m going to try this, and then I’m going to try that, and then I’m going to figure out what works and what doesn’t, and I’m just going to continue to iterate until we get better and our firm is the firm of the future. It’s not like there’s a deadline to become it. You’ve got time. It’s a long term play. Right?

Exactly. And I think that, you know, like, take AI note takers. That’s a great easy example because you can go to your firm and say, hey, I’ve heard a lot of great things about this, I went to a conference, I listened to a guy on a podcast, and people are raving about this stuff. I want to try it. So you be the person that says, okay. I’m going to go out. I’m going to evaluate five tools. I’m going to bring them back with a recommendation. And then we’ll try them. Most of these tools, you can go on month to month trials. There’s not huge implementation costs. And then once you pick the one, get it ratified, okay, let’s try this. Then start sharing the outcomes. Start sharing the outcomes with the people in the meeting. Hey, just so you guys know, I invited this AI note taker to the meeting. Here’s, you know, here’s the link to the recording and the notes, and by the way, you can click and then give a quick training—record a five minute video of you looking at that and teaching people how to use it. And I think that’s how you can become a thought leader. And that’s just one example, but you start to think little things like that for ways that you can improve things, and then teach others, that will build your reputation as the go-to person for the future.

And when it comes to being a thought leader, it’s always great to be a thought leader within the firm before it happens outside the firm. Be that expert. I love that.

So Dave, as we wrap up the episode here, I mean, there are so many different things happening for the future of the profession. If you were thinking about one or two key resources for somebody who’s wanting to learn more on how to design the firm of the future, or how to implement some of this, is there a book, a podcast, a TED Talk, a, you know, anything that comes to mind where you’re like, this is what somebody needs to be looking at—it’s going to be impactful for them as a leader.

Yeah. Jeremy, I’m actually going to take that question. I’m going to go a slightly different direction with it.

Please do.

Which, I think that is an example of what’s going to become really valuable in the future, which is curating. Because right now, if somebody goes out and searches for, you know, teach me how to be the CPA from the future, they’re going to get 400 podcasts, 7,000 videos, and they’re not going to have any idea where to start. So this abundance of information, this proliferation, is a real challenge. And I think that’s as we look at what’s going to be important in the future, that’s going to be key. So if I could, and so to answer your question, think of the value of a person that could say, these are the five things that you need to do: You need to read this book. You need to watch this video. That’s an example of the power of sort of curation and that skill set that’s going to become increasingly valuable for CPAs in the future.

So now, that being said, let me come back to your question specifically, which is I don’t necessarily have you know, one or two sources or anything. What I would recommend, if you go to Accounting Today to the Top 100 people in Accounting Today, I am a huge LinkedIn person. And I learned so much from looking at what other professionals are doing on LinkedIn, and they’re very willing and open to share their expertise. So Jeremy, I know you’ve had some guests on this podcast, but find an accounting influencer, find a thought leader that resonates with you, and then start following their stuff.

There are people that are cranking stuff out in FP&A, Financial Planning and Analysis. So let’s say you’re not in public accounting, but you’re in the finance function of a midsized company. If you start embracing this, and finding some of these things, I just downloaded yesterday a 161-page guide on how to use AI in FP&A to create value and free up time. That’s the kind of thing that if you go out there and look and start looking at what other, you know, people are connecting with, that’s where you’re going to find so many of these resources that are out there and available. That’s one thing I’d recommend.

Connect with me on LinkedIn. I post a lot about AI, different technology related topics specifically as it relates to the CPA profession. So,, is where you can find me on LinkedIn. I repost a lot of things that I find really valuable. So you’ll probably pick up some of those. Find somebody that you really connect with, that they share things in a format that you really like, whether that’s a daily podcast, whether it’s a video series, you know, whatever it is. Like at Anders, we produce, we have four different podcasts that we produce, each one with a slightly different targeted audience. Find a source that you trust and then start experimenting and finding it. But if you’re not out there looking, you’re not going to find it. So that being inquisitive, that willingness to go out and try things, I just learned a ton that way, and I would encourage other professionals to reach out and try that as well, and start, you know, finding the things that really connect with you.

60 episodes in, that’s the first time somebody has given that answer. I really appreciate that. And I love the idea: Find the thought leaders in your area and go follow them and see what they share. What a great thing about 2024 is, we are at a time and place where people are willing to adopt a mindset of abundance and share information and knowledge freely with people that aren’t into their industry, with their competitors, with anybody and everybody. There’s this collective desire to learn and to teach and what a great opportunity to do that.

Dave, I have thoroughly enjoyed this conversation. We have talked a lot about the future of the profession. I know that there’s probably a ton more that we could probably talk about, but I appreciate you taking the time to join me today here on The Upstream Leader.

Yeah. And that’s one of the exciting things, which is, this is just the beginning of the conversation. And this journey is going to play itself out over time. So it’s going to be a fun ride, and I encourage others to be part of it, and see if you can be part of designing what is your own future and the future of your firm. So, Jeremy, thanks. Been great to visit with you today.

Thanks so much, Dave. Have a great day.


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