While I’m excited about our profession today, I think we all recognize that this is a time of, as David Bowie puts it, “Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes!” This summer, we welcomed Allen Lloyd and Molly Holahan to the MSCPA. We also thanked (though we can never really thank them enough) Jane Egan and Margaret Herriges for all that they’ve done for the MSCPA over the years. In my day job at the University of Montana, we’ve very reluctantly bid a “Happy Retirement!” to Dr. Teresa Beed, who decided that 41 years at the university was finally enough. (Doing the math in my head now . . . I’ll have to teach until I’m 72 if I want to be at the university as long as Teresa!)
In case you haven’t heard, the MSCPA offices have changed location, too. The new location is right by Big Dipper ice cream in Helena, so I’m now looking for more excuses to drop by. At the annual conference in June, we also welcomed a new set of officers and board members. Thank you to all that have been willing to serve! Those of you who have been on the board know what I mean when I say that I’ve never had so much fun working so hard.
Everywhere I turn, it seems there are more changes, and they’re happening faster and faster. That accelerating pace of change is rapidly becoming the new normal. As CPAs, we’re probably all acutely aware of the power of compound interest. Interest grows exponentially; slowly at first, then rapidly in later years. Over the course of history, the Law of Accelerating Returns has applied to technology, too. And it appears that we’re about to enter the steep part of the exponential curve. For some really interesting background on where we’re at with technology today, I encourage everyone to take a look at https://waitbutwhy.com/2015/01/artificial-intelligence-revolution-1.html. Things that were considered “science fiction” only a few years ago could actually happen within some of our lifetimes (which might interfere with my plan to teach until I’m 72!).
Our profession is not immune to these changes. In fact, the accounting profession is on the forefront of technological change. Recent articles about the coming changes range from pessimistic, doomsday pieces (https://www.wired.com/2017/02/robots-will-soon-taxes-bye-bye-accounting-jobs/) to more optimistic discussions about the opportunities that change brings (https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2017/07/20/how-ai-is-reshaping-the-accounting-industry/#f918a4737f30 and http://www.businessinsider.com/artificial-intelligence-is-an-opportunity-for-accounting-2017-3).
What isn’t likely to change is the need for people to make decisions about the future. I’ve always tried to teach my students that accounting isn’t simply a matter of journal entries or debits and credits (though it’s good to know how to do those). It’s about measuring and recording what has happened in an organization so that decision-makers can figure out what to do next. Even though the benefits of artificial intelligence and other new technologies are impressive, I’ve yet to see anyone who can perfectly predict the future. There will always be uncertainty about “what to do next,” and CPAs can help decision-makers deal with that uncertainty.
In order to do that, though, we need to be ready for the changes that are coming. We need to be willing to learn new technologies and adapt to new business models and ideas. The stereotype of the CPA as an eye-shade wearing “bean counter” stuck in a basement office needs to die a long-overdue death. That may have been a good business model in the past; it won’t work in the future.
For better or worse, change is coming. Let’s make sure that it’s for the better!