You’ve probably realized by now that the accounting profession has reached an inflection point. Professionals’ trust between the vendors that create and distribute the essential technology they use is strained at best. And with automation once again at the forefront, the very nature of accountant tasks are up for debate.
In short, we needed a non-sponsored, real chat with actual practitioners who, by all accounts, know what it’s like to be a tech-forward accountant. Moreover, they know that’s not what the profession is comprised of and, despite being innovative, have struggled with tech adoption over the years. This is what our recent Flash Briefing, “Getting Real: The Accounting Tech Decisions You Need to Make Today” conducted in tandem with CPA Trendlines was all about.
The panel we had knew, as we do, that there’s a lot of noise around technology’s role in the present and future of the accounting profession, a lot of which can come from the vendor community or even industry organizations. Not that these entities don’t have their place, or have not been helpful in their pursuits, but for the average practitioner, it can only add to the noise and confusion.
So, when we decided to have last week’s live chat, we had to ask: What is it going to take for the accounting profession to move forward with confidence, positivity and strength? The following is a summary of the highlights of our live discussion with Kenji Kuramoto, co-founder of Acuity, Kellie Parks, CPB, founder of Calmwaters Cloud Accounting, and Chad Davis, CPA and co-founder of LiveCA.
Given that we only had an hour, our goal was to just have a real conversation and plant some seeds in attendees’ minds about three core issues of most concern to practitioners when it comes to technology adoption: Overall Processes and Selection, The Tech Stack, and of course the role of AI.
Overall Processes and Selection
The first step in any processes is typically perceived to me the most vexing. When it comes to accounting technology or any tools to run the practice, with the myriad of choices and aforementioned marketing noise, it doesn’t make it easy. However, our panelists had some insights in this department beginning with what to avoid.
“Sometimes I see that people go after what the shiniest thing is, what their friends are doing,” said Kellie. “[They tend to look at] what has the big names out there that possibly maybe solving a problem that they don’t even have, or that they’re not going to interact with properly.”
Which she added was really only part of the biggest missteps accountants make when selecting technology. Kenji even admitted that he and his firm have been guilty of looking at the “new and shiny,” so he doesn’t blame firms that do, particularly when there has become so much to choose from.
“When you look at how many tech solutions there are, I think folks are feeling a little flatfooted. I think it’s all hard to get started because there are so many choices,” said Kenji. “I see that being a little bit paralyzed of like… how do I attack this massive ecosystem, this huge market? I think that’s a place where, and I think very understandably people get stuck there. I get it like you’re just like, “Where do I even start?”
So, how do firms get unstuck and feel less intimated by the seemingly growing ocean of choices to run their practices and conduct necessary client work? Chad’s approach: feedback, training, and know what problems you’re solving for out of the gate.
“Really identifying the issues that pop up that will give you more benefits to actually switching or to maybe leaning into more training,” said Chad. “I think that there’s a lot of options that you can do to mitigate this issue, and that’s why I’ve been on a big kick for continual training of your team. I just think I see too many people not investing in that feedback loop that’s standardized and objective.”
The Tech Stack
It’s difficult these days to have a technology selection discussion with accounting practitioners without mentioning the tech stack. What is it, what should be in it, what shouldn’t, and of course, how to you begin one that works best for your firm?
Overall, these are, as the moniker suggests, your technology building blocks that you need to do the work you do. Seems simple, right? Not so much as previously indicated, the myriad of choices of apps and systems to work on, and with clients, continues to grow.
More than that, not everything works together as well as practitioners need it to, or were told it would. Add in the fact that each firm’s needs vary depending on how they function and the services they provide and the confusion and frustration can compound. So, what is a firm to do to build its own tech stack?
There are theories ranging from starting with a practice management system to following a set formula of apps, beginning with core accounting or tax that all have integration partnerships. The real answer is somewhere in between, but less complicated than you think according to our expert panel.
“When you’re always solving a problem that you have, and trust me if we go and ask our team they will tell you about all the problems we’ve got are in workflow,” said Kenji. “It’s a very good starting point [for building a tech stack]. It may not be that for everybody, but it’s got to be at least in some of the first few starting points of what workflow system is going to help facilitate the work you do inside your firm and help your team members.”
Another way to look at building a tech stack that is best for your firm is by looking within at how you function. Even though, yes there are a lot of choices, it can be simplified as Chad Davis explained.
“What was really important for us was to use an online tax system. Since day one on the document management we’ve been using Dropbox,” said Chad. “Why do we not use anything else? We tried. It just failed. Different people didn’t want to use things. As long as we got our metrics that were important to us I’m super happy. That’s why I never really go into, “Hey, here’s the practice management system for you. Here’s the tax system for you.”
A final suggestion from the group, when dealing with integration issues (outside of developing deeper partnerships with vendors so that tools actually do work together in the way accountants expect) is to get to know tools like Zapier or Make as your APIs of choice.
AI’s Role in Accounting
While there easily could have been an entire hour devoted to views on AI in accounting, the panel was a lot more pragmatic and even welcoming about the prospect of this next level of automation in the profession.
All of them have done “something” with AI tools as, by and large, it is still in the experimental stage for most accounting professionals. While they agreed some of the trepidation about AI in accounting is warranted, as with anything new and unproven, they urged their accountant colleagues to just get curious and not so cautious.
Chad Davis, in particular, is very excited about the role AI will have in transaction coding, auditing, chatbots and ChatGPT itself.
You know how LiveFlow connects into QuickBooks and it brings it all into Google Sheets? I asked ChatGPT to walk me through how to do that for Xero, “ said Chad. “Now I have my own apps working right inside of Google Sheets that connect into Xero that give me all the stuff in.”
For most practitioners that aren’t quite as tech savvy, there are still opportunities for AI to work for you. As Kellie mentions, you just have to be willing to try.
“When I think of like, “Oh my gosh, I’m building things in technical,” I say yikes, that seems really hard,” said Kellie. “I do love the point about using ChatGPT is a little bit of a co-pilot. I’m going to have my little system I’m going to ask things to and get that dialogue.”
Ultimately, technology adoption at the firm level has to be where firm leaders and staff are comfortable. But most of all, the group stressed that the do need to try and see what indeed does work best and enjoy doing it in the process. And if you are a firm leader, then be curious and, well, lead.
“If you’re a leader in your firm, show your peers and the people you work a sense of curiosity, of interest. I can’t tell you how important that posture, that culture has been for us,” said Kenji. “We don’t know what’s going to happen…I don’t know what’s going to happen, but we’re going to be curious about that.”
There was a Lot more to say on all of these topics during our hour-long chat. You can see and hear the entire discussion here.