Leveraging Technology to Build Your Career

By Dr. Sean Stein Smith, CPA, Lehman College – August 28, 2018
Leveraging Technology to Build Your Career

Technology is a force that is driving innovation in virtually every aspect of the economy. The accounting profession is not immune to this paradigm shift in how work is conducted, information is communicated and data is reported. But how do you get started with understanding and applying it to your firm or organization? And how can you leverage these tools to build your career?

Technology Trends to Watch

Technology has been a buzzword in the accounting profession for a long time, but recently has become more important than ever. Blockchain, artificial intelligence and cryptocurrencies represent separate technologies that are powerful individually, but truly represent a shift in business practices when combined together and applied to address business problems. Accounting professionals do not have to be technology experts or specialists nor understand the minutia or how different platforms functional on a granular level to understand the application for accounting. These definitions are not meant to be all-inclusive or exhaustive but rather a working framework to start the conversation within your organization.

  • Blockchain is a decentralized ledger technology tool that, by combining several existing technology options that already exist, create a platform able to share information in an encrypted and near-continuous manner between different members of the blockchain network. Encryption, peer-to-peer capability and the ability to do business in a nearly real-time manner are just a few of the attributes that make blockchain appealing.
  • Cryptocurrencies are perhaps the most high-profile example of how blockchain technology has entered the marketplace. Bitcoin is usually the aspect of blockchain most practitioners are familiar with and comfortable discussing. In short, cryptocurrencies are an application and tool that run on the underlying blockchain technology, and accounting professionals are already being impacted. Income tax implications, reporting changes, the uncertainty that still hangs around the classification and documentation of cryptocurrencies, and the recently created proliferation of ICOs will continue to drive conversations moving forward
  • Artificial intelligence is a computer program or suite of programs (think Office) that can either augment or eliminate altogether the need for human involvement. Whether it is improving the quality and efficiency of audits, reducing the amount of time practitioners have to spend preparing tax returns or simply streamlining existing processes, AI is already having a substantial impact on how accounting work is performed.

Ssimply understanding and being aware of what these different technology tools are is, by itself, not enough to advance you career and develop as a professional. Being able to understand and implement these tools, however, represents the next steps toward being able to leverage technology for professional growth. Consider the following:

  • Does the technology make sense? Just because there is a new technology available in the marketplace does not mean that it will also make sense for you or your clients. Perhaps the easiest example are cryptocurrencies; they are an exciting and innovative technology, but with the uncertainty surrounding regulation now and in the future, it might just make more sense for your client to wait until this uncertainty is reduced.
  • Figure out where to start. Once you have identified that a certain technology or platform is indeed a good fit for you and your organization, figure out what processes will benefit the most from increased technology integration. Examples might include automating and streamlining calendar functionality, using AI to help you better manage email, or even leveraging technology to handle customer service phone calls.
  • Engage with your clients. Perhaps the most important step in adopting and implementing new technology tools and platforms is also one that is all too often overlooked. Even though practitioners and organizations may be extremely interested in utilizing emerging technologies and tools, different clients may not necessarily be as interested in adopting emerging technologies. Either way, as a CPA, and especially as a manager who may have responsibility for business development, it is an aspect of fiduciary duty to keep clients and customers informed of any changes in services or processes that are coming down the lane.
  • Educate your employees. As a manager you are often in charge of your employees’ training and development, and this is especially true when it comes to technology adoption. In addition to the technical complexities that will inevitably accompany new technical tools and platforms, employees may also feel some anxiety about what technology means for current roles and responsibilities. An effective manager is part technical expert and part coach. Ensure that sure your employees know that technology is not a threat but rather an opportunity to embrace higher-level, and higher-margin, tasks.

Technology is already embedded in many aspects of the accounting profession, but the pace of technological integration does not appear to be slowing. As the user experience improves and costs are lowered, it is inevitable that more firms and practitioners will start to adopt said tools. By thinking about technology holistically, CPA and non-CPA managers can leverage emerging tools and platforms to improve current and future performance.

Sean D. Stein Smith

Sean D. Stein Smith

Sean Stein Smith is a professor at the City University of New York – Lehman College. Sean also is the chairperson of the NJCPA's Emerging Technologies Interest Group (#NJCPATech). He serves on the Advisory Board of the Wall Street Blockchain Alliance, where he co-chairs the Accounting Work Group. Sean is on the Advisory Board of Gilded, a TechStars ’19 company. He is also a Visiting Research Fellow at the American Institute of Economic Research.

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