Setting the Course for Future CPAs

By Ralph Albert Thomas, CPA (DC), CGMA, CEO and Executive Director, NJCPA – March 31, 2021
Setting the Course for Future CPAs

The role of the CPA continues to change for the better. With each new technological advancement, tasks become more efficient and CPAs become more strategic, specialized and customer- and data-centric. Though the COVID-19 pandemic has altered our sense of day-to-day normalcy, CPAs have risen to the challenge and become better analysts, planners and business partners. Going forward, the use of technology, artificial intelligence and robotic process automation will enhance those skills — and enable more to develop. 

The Illinois CPA Society’s (ICPAS) insightful report, CPA Profession 2027: Racing for Relevance, shows just how much influence technology will have on CPAs over the next few years and what implications there will be for the profession. The report explains why CPAs “need to be looking at the turns ahead and positioning themselves to race toward relevance.” And making the shift towards being the most trusted and strategic business advisors is how CPAs “stay in the race for relevance.” We at the NJCPA could not agree more. 

The report has seven key predictions for what the CPA profession may look like in 2027. These include:

  1. Tech races ahead. As firms, companies and consumers pour more energy and investments into technology solutions for everything from simple cashless payments to bookkeeping and tax prep, HR, supply chain management and more, not only must CPAs implement the technologies relevant for their firms and companies now, they must keep pace with what’s to come for them — and those they serve.
  2. Worker demand and demands change. Long term, the automation
    and displacement of so many jobs promises to reshape CPAs’ firms and the organizations they serve — and so will the social and generational changes unfolding before us. Workers will mostly be agile digital natives who demand greater flexibility. They’ll participate in a much larger project-based and gig economy, and they’ll be more socially conscious than ever before — and they’ll expect their employers and the brands (i.e., companies and organiza­tions) they support to be the same.
  3. Expectations evolve. CPAs will be expected to better leverage their deep insights into companies’ and clients’ financial lives. Companies and clients will need and expect their CPAs to proactively provide strategic guidance and insights in all areas of their businesses and lives that are based on their unique needs and goals. 
  4. CPA firms retool. Apart from the highly specialized niche firms chugging along for a few more laps, the CPA firm as we’ve known it will soon run out of gas and be forced from the race. Moving forward, firms are likely to continue racing down the merger, acquisition and rebranding path as they jostle to position themselves for new growth opportunities in advisory, consulting and other professional services.
  5. Corporate finance refocuses. Technology systems will generate data that organization leaders will look to CPAs and corporate finance staff to analyze and use to build further strategic insight, thus marrying finance and management into a partnership focused on driving profitability and growth.
  6. CPAs reset skills. Digital and soft skills will be the top requirements of CPAs in the future — strategic thinking problem solving, analyzing and interpreting data, communicating high-level insights, technology aptitude and agility, creativity and curiosity, innovative thinking and business acumen. This follows in line with the AICPA’s “CPA Horizons 2025 Report,” which describes the CPA as the trusted advisor who, in addition to providing core CPA services, develops solutions to complex problems. 
  7. The CPA population stalls. There will be significantly fewer CPAs in 2027 than in 2019. They’re facing increasing competition for positions they’ve typically held in both public accounting firms and in the corporate sector — all while AI and automation are reducing the overall demand for human talent. 

Ralph Albert Thomas

Ralph Albert Thomas

Ralph Albert Thomas, CPA (DC), CGMA, is the CEO and executive director of the New Jersey Society of CPAs. He was appointed by New Jersey Senate President Sweeney to the New Jersey Economic and Fiscal Policy Working Group in 2018. He was also previously appointed to the AICPA Foundation Board and the inaugural AICPA National Commission on Diversity and Inclusion. Ralph is a lifetime member and former national and chapter president of the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA), was appointed chair of the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy’s (NASBA) State Society Relations Committee, and is a member of the accounting advisory boards of Lehigh, Rutgers, Seton Hall, Montclair State, Felician, Thomas Edison universities and Middlesex County College. He can be reached at rthomas@njcpa.org.

More content by Ralph Albert Thomas:

Learn more from Ralph Albert Thomas:

This article appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine. Read the full issue.