Accounting has always been a complex job, and it has only become more complex over time. Early CPAs in the late 19th century didn’t need to know things like accounting standards, reporting requirements, or even income tax because they didn’t exist yet. Of course, things are much different for accountants in 2022. Today’s professional must navigate a myriad of rules and regulations, possess detailed knowledge of specific industries, and on top of all that, have the skills necessary to court and retain customers.
And that’s not even getting into technology.
The fact is, the amount of knowledge required to be a competent professional accountant has increased dramatically, and it will continue to do so as the profession becomes ever more intertwined with technology.
Wesley Hartman, chief technology officer of accounting firm Kirsch Kohn & Bridge, as well as founder of automation solutions provider Automata, said one of the challenges is the sheer number of different software packages professionals need to know how to use. He noted a recent conversation with a colleague, who said he couldn’t log into a portal. There was a lot of back and forth between them until Hartman realized they were using an old method, even though he had already announced a new one.
“I don’t blame that person because there’s so much going on now with technology and different software that we have to use. We just signed up for another rental accounting software to just run that part of our business. So , accountants in the industry must learn all this, instead of going back 30 years, [when] a lot [was] knowing tax law and maybe some software to capture information,” he said.
Shawn Slavin, president of the Information Technology Alliance, made a similar point, adding that expanding the knowledge base required for accountants means more time is needed to educate and train them, and also that it becomes harder to be one in the first place. . He noted that when he got his first college degree, he came out with 132 hours of classes, 32 of which were in accounting, and that was enough to get started.
“Today, the AICPA requires a master’s degree with 150 college hours, but that’s only scratched the surface. … Most of my peers out of college had little technical background, but I couldn’t imagine being an accountant today without strong technology.You need strong technology skills in this industry, [as well as] strong interpersonal skills, whether in public or private. The learning curve of being able to enter an intermediate or high level accounting pathway is so steep. It’s just higher hurdles today than when I came out. It’s a bit intimidating,” he said.
Sean Stein Smith, CPA and professor at Lehman College who founded the Institute for Blockchain and Cryptoasset Research, said this change has happened because increased capabilities through technology have also increased customer expectations. With real-time analytics and other technology-driven strategic services, the image of the accountant has shifted to one more integrated with information technology, who is well positioned to be the trusted advisor to whom accountants aspire. He pointed out that this requires knowledge of not just technology, not just accounting, but how the two intersect through business processes.
“As you have more apps, more automations, more payment options, your internal controls, your cybersecurity policies, your cyberinsurance, your risk management needs to be updated and evolve to [reflect] how your business processes have changed and how those changes impact your company’s internal control structure,” he said.
And while, yes, more technology requires more skill in using that technology, Smith didn’t see that as a downside, as these developments have created many new opportunities for people who wouldn’t normally have entered. in the profession.
“It’s opened up a lot more opportunities for a lot more people and a more diverse set of people in the pipeline. As we have more and more automation and more and more technology in our jobs and roles, all of that also gave the individual a more positive outlook. Every conference was always about how to be a trusted business advisor. Now we have the automation, tools and technology to actually become that trusted business advisor and to break out from simple compliance, tax or audit… There is always the fuss and the heartburn, but overall it has had a positive impact on the field and the individuals in it. work,” he said.